Ministers were plunged into a damaging new ‘spin’ row last night after it emerged they have lavished almost £2million of taxpayers’ money on television documentaries.
The two most controversial broadcasts – both funded by the Home Office – raise the profiles of Police Community Support Officers and immigration staff.
Both Pcsos, dubbed ‘plastic police’ by critics, and immigration officials have come under fire in recent years and are in need of positive coverage.
The £400,000 programme about immigration staff, Border Force, has yet to be broadcast by Sky One.
But critics say the police show Beat: Life on the Street, which was screened on ITV1, shows Pcsos in a largely sympathetic light.
Approval ratings for the officers rose drastically after the first series was shown two years ago.
In total, £800,0000 has been spent on the broadcasts.
Ministers are so pleased with the way it changed the public’s perception that they have commissioned a third series, to be broadcast next year.
The programmes have been described as all but indistinguishable from regular TV documentaries.
Ofcom is now due to carry out an investigation into whether the series breached strict codes that force broadcasters to reveal whether any programme is subject to outside sponsorship.
The TV watchdog demands sponsorship ‘must be clearly identified (by reference to the name and/or logo of the sponsor)’ and that ‘credits must be broadcast at the beginning and/or end of the programme’.
The relationship between the sponsor and programme must be ‘transparent’, it adds.
But critics claim the only reference to the Home Office was a glimpse of its logo on an advertisement before and after each episode.
Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: ‘Ministers must explain this dubious use of taxpayers’ money. The public want police on the streets not propaganda on their television screens.
‘Yet again we see this Government’s preference for spin over sustained action to cut crime.’
A spokesman for the Police Federation said: ‘Many police officers would question whether the money would have been better spent elsewhere.’
The Government has funded at least eight television series or individual programmes in the past five years, at a cost of around £1,910,000.
Subjects range from an Army expedition to climb Everest to a warning screened on a cable television channel for African expats living in Europe that they should not bring certain types of meat and plant into the UK.
Opposition MPs have also questioned the decision to fund The Border Force programmes, which are due to be screened shortly and focus on teams at Heathrow Terminal 3, Calais and Dover.
Liberal Democrat culture spokesman Don Foster said: ‘It sounds to me like they are crossing the line between party political propaganda and what is helpful to the public.’
Ofcom said it was in the initial stages of looking at the police programme to see if a formal investigation was required.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We do not influence the content of these programmes after they are commissioned and they adhere to Ofcom’s strict guidelines.’
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