LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A reality television programme which featured children as young as eight apparently living without adult supervision broke the broadcasting code, Britain's communications regulator ruled on Monday.
Ofcom said that while the Channel 4 series "Boys and Girls Alone" had put adequate safeguards in place to protect the children's welfare, the first episode of the four-part documentary had not done enough to explain this to viewers.
"The information in this specific episode about the safeguards in place was insufficient to reassure viewers about the welfare of the children who participated in the programme," the regulator said in its ruling.
The programme, which showed 10 boys and 10 girls aged between eight and 12 years old as they apparently experienced life without adults for two weeks, attracted 180 complaints, including concerns from psychologists and anti-child cruelty charity the NSPCC.
The broadcaster said it had carefully considered the impact of the programme, intended to explore how children would behave and manage when given autonomy to create their own communities, on the participants and their families.
"The programme-makers and Channel 4, in consultation with a number of experts and professionals, including emotional and clinical psychologists, considered all the possible side effects of participation for the children," it said in its submission to Ofcom, adding it was never intended to be a social experiment.
The children were encouraged to complete everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning and managing money, but several incidents -- including a scene in which a nine year old boy was shown complaining he was hungry after his attempt to cook instant noodles failed because he did not know how to boil a kettle -- attracted concern.
But Channel 4, which said it had received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the families involved, said the children were never left to go hungry for extended periods of time and that chaperones would step in and provide food if necessary.
Ofcom ruled that the safeguards put in place by the broadcaster, including continuous monitoring by parents and crew, were "numerous and comprehensive" and that the children were not caused unnecessary distress or anxiety by their involvement in the programme.
But in ruling that the first episode had breached its code, Ofcom acknowledged that some viewers found the series challenging and that more should have been done to provide adequate information to protect viewers from offence.
Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Steve Addison