Channel 4 faces Ofcom probe over ’emergency news’ stunt to promote cyber attack drama The Undeclared War | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack


Channel 4 is facing an Ofcom probe after broadcasting a fake “emergency news” message warning that the UK was about to be hit by a devastating cyber attack.

The sombre message, delivered from “GCHQ”, warned viewers to “remain calm” ahead of an imminent cyber strike from a foreign power, which could cut off Britain’s energy and water supplies.

The film, broadcast “as live” before Celebrity Gogglebox at 8.59pm on Friday, was in reality a stunt trail for a new Channel 4 cyber security drama, The Undeclared War.

Channel 4, currently battling Government plans to privatise it, said it wanted the stunt ad to be “believable and unnerving”.

Viewers complained that the were “confused” by the broadcast, which urged people not to “panic buy” food because the Government would issue rations.

Ofcom has been asked to investigate whether the film, also broadcast as a radio advert, breached broadcasting rules which restrict the “simulation” of news in drama.

Channel 4 admitted that the film was inspired by Orson Welles’ famous 1938 The War of the Worlds radio broadcast, which spread panic across America as listeners believed the US was under attack from a Martian invasion.

The broadcaster believes there were sufficient clues within the trail to alert viewers that the film was fictional.

The message, delivered in the sombre style of a Covid government briefing, is voiced by actor Adrian Lester, who plays Prime Minister Andrew Makinde, and Simon Pegg in his role as Head of Operations at GCHQ, Daniel Patrick.

“I’m not actually the Prime Minster, I’m an actor,” Lester tweeted after the film prompted concerns. “And anyway I don’t have blonde hair.”

However one viewer said: “I saw this and was really confused whether it is real or not. Wasn’t really explained and then announced ‘Undeclared War’ on screen. Don’t know if this should be in TV or not.”

https://twitter.com/DanLit2007/status/1535356914686730242

Another, who complained to the broadcasting watchdog, asked: “Is it not against Ofcom rules to broadcast an advert or feature that could be mistaken for a real-life news emergency broadcast….? The Undeclared War advert might have just breached that.”

In a radio version of the trail, listeners heard: “We have learnt that the UK is under threat of imminent cyber attack by an as-yet-unknown foreign power. Your safety is our priority”.

The transmission, broadcast on commercial radio stations during ad breaks, appeared to mysteriously cut short after 30-seconds.

Adrian Lester plays Prime Minister Andrew Makinde in the cyber-thriller (Channel 4)

Ofcom’s broadcasting code states: “Simulated news (for example in drama or in documentaries) must be broadcast in such a way that there is no reasonable possibility of the audience being misled into believing that they are listening to, or watching, actual news.” The regulator did not respond to a request to comment.

Set in a post-pandemic 2024 in the run-up to a UK general election, the drama tracks a leading team of analysts buried in the heart of GCHQ secretly working to ward off a cyber attack on the country’s electoral system.

Zaid Al-Qassab, Channel 4 chief marketing officer, said: “Since Orson Welles first terrified the nation with his War of the Worlds broadcast, the idea of feeling that the nation is at the centre of a drama has thrilled audiences.

“Channel 4’s new drama, The Undeclared War, is so relevant to our current global context that we wanted viewers to feel the jeopardy to our very way of life. We think this campaign really brings the reality of cyber war into people’s homes.”

Lynsey Atkin, executive creative director, of 4Creative, Channel 4’s in-house marketing agency, said: “It’s not often the darkest possibilities of the modern world prove exciting to delve into, but it’s been fascinating developing this campaign and working with Peter Kosminsky to make it as believable – and as unnerving – as possible.”

The network can only hope that the stunt, and associated drama, written by Wolf Hall director Peter Kosminsky, a former Jeremy Corbyn-supporter, does not further inflame relations with Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries.

Kosminsky, who explored the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly in Channel 4’s Bafta-winning The Government Inspector, said: “The series is based deep within the least-known arm of the UK’s intelligence infrastructure, GCHQ.”

“The story we’re now able to tell casts an extraordinary, revelatory light on the hot, undeclared war taking place right now in the world’s newest and most invisible domain of conflict – cyber.”

Mark Rylance, who starred in Kosminsky’s BBC Wolf Hall adaptation, plays a Cold War veteran brought back from retirement by GCHQ to combat the heightened threat level.

Kosminsky and his team gained access to the cyber security industry on both sides of the Atlantic, allowing a “realistic picture of the threat faced by the Western world to be depicted in the drama.”

Other Broadcast Hoaxes

The War of the Worlds

Orson Welles caused a nationwide US panic with his realistic radio dramatisation of a Martian invasion of Earth. In New Jersey, terrified civilians jammed highways seeking to escape the alien marauders.

People begged police for gas masks to save them from the toxic gas and asked electric companies to turn off the power so that the Martians wouldn’t see their lights.

Welles returned to the airwaves to assure listeners that the story was pure fiction.

Ghostwatch

The BBC received more than 30,000 calls from shocked viewers, unaware that 1992 Halloween paranormal special starring Michael Parkinson and Sarah Greene investigating strange events in a family home, was a spoof.

Parents claimed their children had been left petrified. The BBC has never repeated the programme in full but it was named this year by the BFI as one of the BBC’s greatest 100 Television Gamechangers.

Brass Eye

Subversive Chris Morris Channel 4 satire exposed celebrities and politicians willing to sign up for charitable campaigns without due diligence.

Singer Phil Collins, comedian Richard Blackwood and Tomorrow’s World presenter Philippa Forrester, were among those lured into promoting a bogus charity on air.

Panorama

Does spaghetti grow on trees? BBC current affairs show fooled viewers with 1957 April Fools Day report showing a family in Switzerland “harvesting” spaghetti from tree branches.

“The biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled,” CNN said decades later.





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