Channel 4 is facing an Ofcom investigation after broadcasting a fake “emergency news” message warning that the UK was about to be hit by a devastating cyber attack.
The somber message, broadcast by “GCHQ”, warned viewers to “remain calm” in the face of an imminent cyber attack by a foreign power, which could cut off Britain’s power and water supplies.
The film, broadcast “live” before celebrity glasses at 8:59pm on Friday, it was actually a stunt track for a new Channel 4 cybersecurity drama, The undeclared war.
Channel 4, which is currently fighting government plans to privatize it, said it wanted the ad to be “believable and puzzling”.
Viewers complained that they were “confused” by the broadcast, which urged people not to “panic buy” because the government would distribute rations.
Ofcom has been asked to investigate whether the film, also broadcast as a radio spot, breached broadcast rules restricting news “simulation” in drama.
Channel 4 admitted that the film was inspired by the famous 1938 Orson Welles War of the Worlds radio broadcast, which spread panic throughout the United States when listeners believed that the United States was under attack by a Martian invasion.
The announcer believes there were enough clues within the trail to alert viewers that the film was fictional.
The message, delivered in the somber 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 Minister, I’m an actor,” Lester tweeted after the film raised concerns. “And I don’t have blonde hair anyway.”
However, one viewer said: “I saw this and was really confused if it’s real or not. It wasn’t really explained and then he announced ‘Undeclared War’ on the screen. I don’t know if this should be on TV or not.”
Another, who complained to the broadcasting watchdog, asked: “Isn’t it against Ofcom’s rules to broadcast an announcement or feature that could be mistaken for a real-life emergency news broadcast…? The announcement of the Undeclared War could have violated that.”
On a radio version of the track, listeners heard: “We have learned that the UK is under threat of an imminent cyber attack from an as yet unknown foreign power. Your safety is our priority.”
The broadcast, broadcast on commercial radio stations during commercial breaks, seemed to mysteriously break off after 30 seconds.
Ofcom’s broadcast code states: “Simulated news (for example, in dramas or documentaries) must be broadcast in such a way that there is no reasonable possibility that the audience will be misled into believing that they are listening to or watching real news.” The regulator did not respond to a request for comment.
Set in a post-pandemic 2024 in the run-up to the UK general election, the drama follows a leading team of analysts buried deep in the heart of GCHQ working in secret to prevent a cyberattack on the country’s electoral system. .
Zaid Al-Qassab, Channel 4’s director of marketing, said: “Since Orson Welles first terrified the nation with his war of words broadcast, the idea of feeling like the nation is at the center of a drama has excited audiences.
“Channel 4’s new drama, The undeclared war, is so relevant to our current global context that we wanted viewers to feel the danger to our way of life. We believe this campaign really brings the reality of cyber warfare into people’s homes.”
Lynsey Atkin, Executive Creative Director of 4Creative, Channel 4’s in-house marketing agency, said: “It’s not often that the darkest possibilities of the modern world are exciting to explore, but it’s been fascinating developing this campaign and working with Peter Kosminsky to make it as believable and puzzling as possible.”
The network can only hope that the gimmick 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 film. the government inspectorhe said: “The series draws deeply on the lesser-known arm of the UK intelligence infrastructure, GCHQ.”
“The story we can now tell sheds an extraordinary and revealing light on the hot, undeclared warfare 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, he 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 cybersecurity industry on both sides of the Atlantic, allowing a “realistic picture of the threat facing the Western world” to be portrayed in the drama.
Other broadcast hoaxes
War of the Worlds
Orson Welles caused a panic across the United States with his realistic radio dramatization of a Martian invasion of Earth. In New Jersey, terrified civilians packed highways seeking to escape marauding aliens.
People begged the police for gas masks to save them from the toxic gas and asked the power companies to cut the power so the Martians wouldn’t see their lights.
Welles returned to the airwaves to assure listeners that the story was pure fiction.
The BBC received more than 30,000 calls from shocked viewers, unaware that the 1992 paranormal Halloween special starring Michael Parkinson and Sarah Greene investigating strange events in a family home was a spoof.
The parents claimed that their children had been petrified. The BBC has never repeated the show in its entirety, but this year the BFI named it one of the 100 biggest game changers on BBC television.
Chris Morris Channel 4’s subversive satire exposed celebrities and politicians willing to sign up for charity drives without due diligence.
Singer Phil Collins, comedian Richard Blackwood and Tomorrow’s World host Philippa Forrester were among those lured to promote a fake charity on air.
Does spaghetti grow on trees? The BBC’s current affairs program misled viewers with a 1957 April Fools’ Day report showing a family in Switzerland “harvesting” spaghetti from tree branches.
“The biggest hoax any big-name news outlet has ever pulled,” CNN said decades later.