ITV wrong over psychic claim repeat

ITV2 breached standards with a repeat of the Montel Williams Show in which a "desperate" couple were told by a psychic their missing son was dead - even though he turned up alive last year, Ofcom has ruled.

The episode was originally shown in the US in 2003 and saw the presenter interview the parents of Shawn Hornbeck, who had been missing for many weeks, with no clues to his whereabouts. His parents sought information from psychic Sylvia Browne, a show regular who told them in the programme that Shawn was dead, Ofcom said.

The psychic was incorrect - as the boy, who was aged 11 when he went missing, was found in 2007 and re-united with his parents.

Two viewers were concerned that "the so-called 'psychic'... was demonstrably wrong, and wrong in such a heartless and hurtful way that there is little excuse for broadcasting the programme..., certainly in the format it was shown". One complainant questioned whether such output, broadcast on ITV2 in February this year, should be shown as entertainment.

ITV2 admitted breaching rule 2.1 of the Broadcasting Code, which relates to protecting viewers against offensive material.

The programme had been re-broadcast without amendment and the broadcaster apologised for any offence caused. ITV2 said it had not been alerted to the issues and had it been made aware of the developments the programme would not have been broadcast in this form.

It has removed the programme from its stock and discussed the matter with programme distributors, as well as reviewing similar material in other episodes.

The broadcaster believed the programme's treatment of the subject matter was suitable for broadcast "in principle", although it may not have been to everyone's taste.

But Ofcom ruled that it was "inappropriate to allow parents who were desperate to know what happened to their missing son to seek the services of a psychic on air, saying: "Such material was likely to offend viewers."

Ofcom also found that a demonstration of the paranormal in this case could result in participants acting on information that could be harmful to them and the Hornbecks could have stopped searching for their child, for example. But it noted the programme originated in the US and was therefore most unlikely to cause harm to the Hornbeck family.