Channel 5 found in breach over Eamonn & Ruth’s 7 Year Itch

Ofcom has found that Channel 5 breached the Ofcom Code when it broadcast footage of a 13 year old girl dancing, alongside comments about the sexual nature of dancing in Eamonn & Ruth’s 7 Year Itch. The mother of the girl complained that it was inappropriate to include footage of her 13 year old daughter while ‘references to strippers and fertility were made’. The programme, which explored methods couples used to reinvigorate their marriages, included the couple meeting a cognitive psychologist, Dr Lovatt, at a dance competition, to discuss the effectiveness of dance therapy in improving sexual intimacy between couples.

In response to being asked why people find dancing attractive, Dr Lovatt discussed the influence hormones can have on dancing, including saying ‘the way a woman dances is influenced by her fertility levels across the monthly cycle…’ Footage of the complainant’s daughter dancing with another young female dancer was shown, as Dr Lovett continued to say: ‘There have even been studies looking at strip clubs in America, that found that table dancers in America earned higher tips when the girls were at the more fertile stage of their cycle, which is incredible. As a human race, we are still animals. We are born to dance.’

Channel 5 and the programme maker had understood that it had filmed only a dance competition with older participants, and that looking at the dancers at the time they had thought they were over the age of 16. They had since realised that they had filmed a category which included dancers under the age of 16. It accepted that, given her age showing the footage of the complainant’s daughter in that context was inappropriate. Once the matter had been brought to Channel 5’s attention it edited the footage out of the programme, told the complainant it had done so and made sure the original version would not be repeated or made available on demand. It also apologised to the complainant for any distress caused, but did not believe it was in breach of the Code.

Ofcom found that Channel 5 had breached Rule 7. Whilst the complainant’s daughter’s appearance in the programme was fleeting, she was identifiable as her face was unobscured. Similarly, whilst it was clear that Dr Lovatt’s comments were not specifically referring to her, the footage of her and the other dancer served as an illustration to the comments about the sexual nature of dancing. Further, whilst Channel 5 had permission from the dance competition organisers to film and had put up filming notices, it was unclear whether either the complainant or her daughter had seen them. In any event, they did not give any details of the nature of the programme and Ofcom found it unlikely that the complainant would have consented to her daughter being included in a programme about adult relationships. In conclusion Ofcom said: ‘we considered that juxtaposing footage of Mrs J’s daughter in a programme of this nature in conjunction with the sexual nature of the comments made by Dr Lovatt relating to a ‘strip club’ and the fertility levels of ‘table dancers’, was unfair to her in that it associated her with adult and sexualised behaviour.’

The ruling is a reminder to take care when filming under 16s or people who might be under 16. Under Rule 7.1 of the Code where a contributor is under 16 consent should normally be obtained from a parent or guardian. Programme makers will also want to take care in relation to the context in which they use contributions from those under 16 to ensure they do not inappropriately associate them with adult themes and/or portray them unfairly.