BBC broke epilepsy rule with flashing Olympics logo, rules Ofcom

The BBC broke broadcasting rules when it included a video logo designed for the London Olympics in three separate news bulletins, according to a ruling published by Ofcom today. People complained that the animation was likely to cause epileptic seizures.

The communication industries regulator said that it received eight complaints about the broadcasts, including one from the British Epilepsy Association. The animation portrayed the Games' controversial logo diving into a swimming pool using flashing images. The images were broadcast on BBC1 on 4th June and 6th June as part of a report on the launch of the 2012 Olympics logo.

Certain types of flashing images may trigger seizures in viewers who are susceptible to photosensitive epilepsy (PSE). The Broadcasting Code therefore contains a rule to minimise the risk to viewers who have PSE.

Rule 2.13 of the Code states: "Television broadcasters must take precautions to maintain a low level of risk to viewers who have photosensitive epilepsy. Where it is not reasonably practicable to follow the Ofcom guidance, and where broadcasters can demonstrate that the broadcasting of flashing lights and/or patterns is editorially justified, viewers should be given an adequate verbal and also, if appropriate, text warning at the start of the programme or programme item."

The BBC accepted that a section of the news report "may have been a risk to viewers with PSE" but did not believe it was in breach of the rule.

The BBC explained that it had been given no indication that the logo might be problematic and argued that its expectation was that a major public body would already have taken steps to ensure compliance and that the graphics would have been tested for photosensitivity and be safe for broadcast.

The broadcaster added that it transmitted the material in good faith and its initial assumption – given that it was given no time to assess the material – was that it was safe for broadcast. It was only alerted to the problem by calls, texts and emails from viewers.

Ofcom's guidelines state that content which contains rapid scene cuts and/or where there is a change in screen brightness between cuts, should be reviewed with special care. In particular broadcasts must not exceed the maximum allowed three 'flashes' within a second, known as the Harding test.

The regulator tested the excerpt of the promotional Olympic video and found that the majority was unproblematic. However, it noted that "a brief sequence of 45 frames – around 2 seconds in length – contained an excessive number of 'flashes' that were clearly in breach of the guidelines."

The ruling added: "Irrespective of the source, it is the responsibility of the broadcaster to ensure that material it transmits complies with Ofcom's Broadcasting Code. This responsibility is particularly important where there is the potential to harm viewers."

"The broadcast of this material was therefore in breach of rule 2.13," it said.

Last month the UK's advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), cleared a television advert for Dolce & Gabbana watches which allegedly caused one woman to have an epileptic seizure.

D&G's advert included flashing images but had been submitted to and passed the Harding test. The ASA said that it was not inappropriate for the advert to be broadcast.