29-1-2010 | Westlife X Factor performance broke epilepsy guidelines

29 January 2010
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The British media regulator Ofcom has ruled that Westlife's performance on 'The X Factor' in October 2009 breached broadcasting regulations because it could have triggered epileptic seizures in some susceptible viewers.

The show used flashing laser effects which Ofcom said could have triggered seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy and as a result, the performance should have carried a warning.

Three UK viewers complained to Ofcom about the flashing images. While the flashing lights were only used in two short 3-second segments, the intensity was five times greater than limits set by Ofcom (3 flashes per second is the limit). However the regulator also said that even the lower intensity flash effects that were used ran for "relatively extended periods of time" and posed a further risk to viewers.

The show was broadcast on ITV in the UK and on TV3 in Ireland. Channel TV, the ITV company which was meant to ensure the programme complied with broadcasting regulations, agreed that the show did not meet the required standards "for a very short portion"

It said that "industry standard technology" checks during the rehearsal had not triggered "any warning signs" but post-transmission tests using different digital technology showed the limits had been exceeded.

The UK has broadcast guidelines on flashing images in place but there are no such guidelines in Ireland. The introduction of broadcast guidelines is something Brainwave has been calling for for some time and last year, we organised a very successful meeting on the subject in Dublin with Professor Graham Harding, one of the worlds' leading expert on photosensitivity and inventor of the technology used to analyse broadcasts for breaches of the resulations.

For more information on photosensitive epilepsy and the need for broadcast guidelines in Ireland, see http://www.epilepsy.ie/index.cfm/spKey/news.brainwave/spId/DCD96D54-FC20-AC60-FCAF0E65FF4F1F3C.html

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