Ramsays Great British Nightmare
Channel 4, 30 January 2009, 21:00 - 23:00
Ramsay’s Great British Nightmare follows the chef, Gordon Ramsay, as he takes on failing restaurants and attempts to turn them around. He tackles amongst other things, poor management, inferior cooking and unacceptable levels of hygiene.
Ofcom received 51 complaints from viewers about the programme broadcast on 30 January 2009 from 21:00. They objected to the frequency and sustained nature of the use of the most offensive language (i.e . “fuck”, “fucking” and “fucked”).
Ofcom noted that the first two parts of the programme, broadcast between 21:00 and 21:40, contained 115 instances of the most offensive language.
Ofcom considered Rule 2.3 of the Code (offensive content must be justified by context).
Ofcom Decision: Breach of Rule 2.3
In assessing the wider context of this programme, Ofcom noted that:
the channel provided pre-transmission information about the level of language in the programme: “strong language from the start and throughout”
this was a two hour programme compared to the usual one hour
the contributors as well as Gordon Ramsay used the most offensive language;
offensive language was often used at times of emotion and stress which typifies the series as a whole.
The likely audience expectation for this programme
Ofcom recognised that Ramsay’s Great British Nightmare differed slightly from the usual Kitchen Nightmares strand in as much as it was a two hour special featuring not one but two failing restaurants. The result was that parts one and two
of the programme where Gordon Ramsay traditionally gives his unvarnished opinion - and which often results in confrontation - was twice as long. As a consequence this amplified significantly the effect of the language on the viewer.
Given the programme’s well-established reputation for using the most offensive language, Ofcom accepts that the vast majority of the audience comes to the programme with certain expectations. However, on this occasion there were 115 examples of the most
offensive language i.e. “fuck” and its derivatives, in the first 40 minutes of the programme. In the first 15 minutes there were a total of 37 examples. The second part of the programme, between 21:20 and 21:40, contained a further 78 examples. Ofcom
also noted that much of the offensive language was delivered in an extremely intense and at times aggressive manner. The most aggressive scene, which Channel 4 admits contributed to the overall tally of strong language in the programme, occurred in part
two of the programme where, at approximately 21:30, a restaurant chef angrily berated his boss shouting the word “fucking” at him 30 times in less than two minutes.
The broadcaster and the audience has a right to freedom of expression. Importantly, the programme purports to show real life situations and record them as they unfold. (However, we note that in the acquired American version of this programme Ramsay’s
Kitchen Nightmares USA, the level of strong language is considerably less, but in very similar intense circumstances). As Channel 4 points out the audience expects to see the drama and conflict played out before some form of resolution is reached.
Therefore, to limit completely the transmission of a programme such as this would be a disproportionate restriction and could result in a chilling effect on broadcasters’ output. Nevertheless, freedom of expression may be limited and should at all times
be balanced by the requirement on the part of the broadcaster to apply generally accepted standards to ensure adequate protection for members of the public from offensive material. In Ofcom’s view, by broadcasting this particular programme at this time
after the watershed, Channel 4 did not apply generally accepted standards. This is due to the unexpected and sheer intensity and level of swearing in the first two parts of the programme. The strong language had not been used as a comedic device or as
part of a characterisation but was at times extremely aggressive and, as described by complainants, “gratuitous” and “unreal”. Ofcom therefore concluded that it was not warranted since there was not sufficient editorial justification or context in this
programme for the level and intensity of swearing in the first two parts of the programme, transmitted between 21:00 and 21:40.
The audience has a good understanding that as the evening progresses the context changes and material is likely to become more challenging and may contain frequent and strong language. However, where viewers have established expectations for a particular
programme, at a particular time, broadcasters should carefully consider the impact of any significant editorial changes which may subsequently challenge those expectations. It was clear to Ofcom that the frequency and nature of the most offensive
language in the earlier parts of this programme and at the time it was broadcast deviated seriously and significantly from previous editions, because this was the first time Channel 4 had broadcast a two hour edition of Ramsay’s Great British
Nightmare , starting at 21:00. As a direct consequence the scale, frequency and way in which the most offensive language was delivered in the first two parts of this programme, went significantly beyond what could be reasonably anticipated by regular
viewers - at this time of the evening – and resulted in a breach of the Code.