Astrology and Television

Press Release from the ITC: Consultation on Paranormal Programming

The aim of this consultation exercise is to seek views on a proposed change to section 1.10 of the ITC Programme Code which deals with The Occult and Psychic Practices.

Responses should be sent, to arrive no later than 19 September 2003, to:

Julia Snape, Programme Code Consultation, ITC, 33 Foley Street, London W1W 7TL

Or e-mailed to: Julia.Snape@itc.org.uk.

All responses will be made public unless confidentiality is requested.

Consultation on Paranormal Programming

1. In 2001 the ITC published, after consultation, a revised Programme Code. One change made was the replacement of the old section on 'occult' material, which simply prohibited all 'demonstration of exorcisms or psychic or occultic practice in factual programming except where they were the subject of legitimate investigation'. Such a swingeing ban seemed inappropriate and the revised Code stated that:

Actual demonstrations of exorcisms and occult practices such as those involving supposed contact with spirits or the dead, are not acceptable in factual programming except in the context of a legitimate investigation. They should not, in any case, be shown before the watershed.

Horoscopes, palmistry and similar 'psychic' practices are only acceptable where they are presented as entertainment or are the subject of legitimate investigation. They should not include specific advice to particular contributors or viewers about health or medical matters or about personal finance. They should not be included at times when large numbers of children are expected to be watching.

Fiction programmes containing 'psychic' phenomena should not normally be scheduled before the watershed, although a fantasy setting, for example, may justify such a scheduling.

2. While the distinction between rules relating to the 'occult' and the 'psychic' was helpful, uncertainties remained on where the differences lay, particularly in the area of mediums claiming clairaudient or clairvoyant powers. Consequently, later that year the ITC and BSC published a research report that they had commissioned, Beyond Entertainment?, which examined attitudes to the paranormal and where viewers might draw the line on what may be shown on television.

You can download the Beyond Entertainment report from www.itc.org.uk/uploads/Beyond_Entertainment.pdf - you will need Acrobat Reader installed on your computer.

3. The results indicated that it was widely felt that 'supposed contact with the dead' should be considered occult only when it involved the purported invocation of unknown spirits or negative forces. In other circumstances, clairaudience and clairvoyance were usually seen as relatively harmless, though respondents felt some uncertainties and that restrictions should still apply.

4. The Living TV satellite channel has for the past two years been broadcasting in daytime hours programmes, notably Crossing Over and 6ixth Sense, in which mediums purport to make contact with the dead relatives or friends of members of their studio audience. In May 2003, the Commission met to consider whether such programmes complied with the Programme Code. Its decision was that the programmes did breach the Code, but would not have done so if they had been more clearly presented as entertainment. The Commission stated that the programmes could continue to be shown provided that this was rectified. The programmes now include an announcement, before and after transmission making clear that these are purely entertainment programmes and that there are different views about the claims of mediums as to the veracity of the experience.

5. The Commission also ruled that the Code should be amended and clarified for the benefit of licensees in the light of the research and developments in certain types of paranormal and psychic programming. The amendment would take place following a consultation on the proposed changes.

6. The ITC would therefore like to hear views on a proposed new section which sets out to make clear the distinction between that contact with the dead that falls to be considered as occult, and consequently prohibited, and that which can be accommodated under certain conditions. This is achieved, in part, by identifying clairvoyant and clairaudient practices which are presented as entertainment or in the context of legitimate investigation as a discrete segment with its own set of conditions.

7. The proposed new section 1.10 is as follows:

Actual demonstrations of exorcisms and occult practices, such as those involving the purported invocation of unknown spirits or negative forces, are not acceptable in non-fictional programming except in the context of a legitimate investigation. They should not, in any case, be shown before the watershed.

Horoscopes, palmistry and similar 'psychic' practices are acceptable only when they are presented as entertainment or are the subject of legitimate investigation. They should not include specific advice to particular contributors or viewers about health or medical matters or about personal finance. They should not be included at times when large numbers of children are expected to be watching.

Demonstrations of clairvoyance, clairaudience, and similar practices are acceptable only when they are clearly and explicitly presented as entertainment, or when they are the subject of legitimate investigation. When presented for entertainment purposes, measures should include announcements before and at the end of programmes to indicate their nature as entertainment, and appropriate acknowledgement of the existence of differing opinions as to the true nature of clairaudience and clairvoyance. Programmes should not include specific advice to particular contributors or viewers about health or medical matters, the law or personal finance or include advice which might significantly influence behaviour in relation to personal relationships. They should not include advice which might be damaging or upsetting to those concerned or which might unduly disconcert the likely audience. Programmes should not be included at times when significant numbers of children are expected to be watching.

Fiction programmes containing 'psychic' phenomena should not normally be scheduled before the watershed, although a fantasy setting, for example, may justify such a scheduling.

8. It is intended that the clause, 'when large numbers of children are expected to be watching', be interpreted to mean that such material can be shown on widely available free-to-air channels such as ITV, Channel 4 and Five only after the watershed. This reflects the overall size of audiences to such channels and the finding of the research that viewers were concerned about the showing of this material on 'mainstream' channels.

9. It should be emphasized that the ITC is not concerned here with issues about the validity or otherwise of psychic practices, nor with the status of spiritualism as a religion. Section 7.8 of the Programme Code prohibits religious programmes from including claims about the "special powers or abilities (of living people) which are incapable of being substantiated." The programmes here, which do not involve the purported invocation of unknown spirits or negative forces, are being considered purely as entertainment. The Commission has made clear that it believes that programming of this sort is acceptable on Living TV provided that the entertainment nature of the material is made clear. Living TV is a service available only on cable and satellite. Its overall audiences are of restricted size (about 1% of total viewing) and the proportion of child viewers very small. The definition of 'significant numbers of children' is intended to be restrictive.

The key issues upon which views are sought are:

How appropriate and/or adequate are the conditions set out in the new paragraph in section 1.10?

If necessary, what other conditions or restrictions might be considered?

Note on Definitions:

Paranormal refers to forces and agencies which are beyond scientific explanation. Forces of a paranormal nature are generally referred to as psychic phenomena; agents of paranormal phenomena are generally referred to as psychics, practitioners of which include:

Clairvoyant - an individual who can obtain impressions of information that is not known to others. These may come in the form of mental images, pictures or 'visions' for example. Clairaudient - an individual who obtains information that is not known to others - in the form of mentally hearing a voice, for example. Medium - an individual who obtains information specifically from a person who has died.

Respondents to ITC's Beyond Entertainment? research regarded psychic as implying positive intent with positive consequences. It is thought to involve passive, indirect communication (often via a medium). It was seen as enlightening and about information gathering. Occult was seen as having negative intent with negative consequences, or as having positive intent with potentially negative consequences. It was viewed as active, direct communication with an unknown force. It was felt to be about influence and change. (Beyond Entertainment? p11)

You can visit the ITC website at www.itc.org.uk

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