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Monday, September 27, 1999 Published at 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK


Watchdog raps TFI Friday

Chris Evans under fire for causing distress to children

Channel 4 has been formally warned by a television watchdog after a competition on Chris Evans' TFI Friday show reduced a child to tears.

The Independent Television Commission said that the "last one to blink" competition breached its code of conduct for broadcasters.

The code warns that care should be taken to "avoid causing any distress or alarm to children involved in its programmes".

It also says that prizes associated with children's programmes should normally be lower than those on offer to adults.

[ image: The ITC said TFI Friday broke its code of conduct]
The ITC said TFI Friday broke its code of conduct
The show introduced the competition on 18 June but it was dropped two weeks later when it proved too distressing for its young contestants.

It involved two children sitting face to face, staring at each other until one of them blinked. The one that managed to hold out won a new car or speedboat.

The first time the programme ran the contest, the defeated seven-year-old boy was seen on the verge of tears.

The following week, presenter Evans admitted that the boy had been "devasted" and that a number of viewers had complained.

He added that the boy had nonetheless been well-consoled, showing him surrounded by toys and singing, and went on to run the competition again.

However, the second time, a young girl cried after losing out on a £15,000 speedboat and Evans was seen commenting to his off-screen producer: "We can't do this again".

A week later the competition was run using adults.

'Evidence of distress'

Channel 4 told the ITC, which regulates commercial TV companies, that the parents had been aware of the nature of the contest and given their consent for their children to take part.

But, in its judgement on Monday, the ITC said it "was not convinced that the children did not suffer distress".

It added: "The distress may have been temporary, as Channel 4 asserted, but this was impossible to establish."

It was particularly concerned that the item had been continued for a second week "despite the evidence of distress".

[ image: Howard Stern: His language led to Channel 4's first warning over TFI Friday]
Howard Stern: His language led to Channel 4's first warning over TFI Friday
This is the first intervention against a Channel 4 show this year.

TFI Friday, which is made by Evans's Ginger Media Group company, ran into trouble in June 1997 over an interview with US "shock jock" Howard Stern.

Evans was seen visiting Stern's New York studio with a camera crew. But the brash Stern asked: "Who the f*** is this guy?"

Earlier this year, a UK survey carried out for the industry magazine Campaign found that viewers had become tired of the programme.

Viewing figures also show the early edition of TFI Friday losing out to BBC Two's The Simpsons - even though episodes of the US cartoon have already been shown on Sky One.

The first show of the current series, on 10 September, attracted just 1.14m viewers at 1800 - compared to 3.72m for The Simpsons at 1820 on BBC Two, according to figures from industry organisation Barb.

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