Why Starz is being punished for a viewer's picture

Music channel Starz has been found in serious breach of broadcasting rules after it repeatedly screened a viewer-submitted image found on far-right websites.

The channel will now have to screen full details of Ofcom's investigation at a time to be determined by the regulator.

Starz will however keep its licence to broadcast - the channel was subsequently sold to new owners.

In its investigation, Ofcom found repeated breaches during the afternoon of 11th March 2018, starting at 14:30 when Starz broadcast the image submitted by a viewer alongside a music video. According to Ofcom, it depicted a cartoon caricature of a Jewish person which conformed to racist antisemitic stereotypes. Ofcom said the image shown could be found on various far right websites.

During the next 51 minutes, the image was reshown in rotation with photographs submitted by other viewers.

At the time, Starz consisted of showing back-to-back music videos with part of the screen given up to showing texts and pictures submitted to the channel by viewers. Ofcom found a single moderator was responsible for overseeing all the texts and images being submitted. Once the issue became apparent, the viewer was banned from submitting any more material and an apology appeared on the screen later that day.

Starz was owned by Columbia Pictures Corporation (the company behind Sony Pictures Television) when the breach took place.

In December 2018, the channel and sister channels Chart Show TV, Chart Show Hits and The Vault were sold to Trace Music. Trace told Ofcom that it was unaware of the breach of broadcasting rules when it bought the channel.

Trace said that it is proud to be a company that focuses on diversity and that it “fights
relentlessly against all forms of discrimination and racism”. It said that the interactive content on Starz has been on hold since then “to avoid any issue” and until a “rebranding exercise” for Starz had been finished and “a robust interactive service is identified”.

It also asked that the Trace name “should not be associated or mentioned in any Ofcom communication…regarding this issue (implying that Trace is responsible for the breach or that Trace was even aware of the situation when the service was acquired)”.

However Ofcom said it considered it appropriate that the buyer of a licensed business should receive the same penalty as the seller of the business would have done.

It said:
"In such circumstances, the potential impact of a statutory sanction incentivises the buyer to carry out appropriate due diligence when making an acquisition in order to factor the risk into the price it pays for the business. In that way, the seller who was responsible for the breach (Columbia Pictures in this case) ought still to be impacted by the imposition of the sanction."

Starz is currently only distributed on Sky. At the time of the breach in March 2018, the channel was also carried by Freesat.