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Ofcom updates broadcaster guidance on protecting participants in TV and radio programmes

06 April 2021

For programmes beginning production on or after 5 April, Ofcom’s new protections for individuals taking part in TV and radio programmes will apply. These amendments follow a consultation process in recognition of the growing concern in society about mental health and aim to address the rise in complaints concerning the potential distress suffered by participants in programmes.

The first update is to Rule 7 of the Code, which requires broadcasters to take due care over the welfare of a contributor who may be at risk of significant harm as a result of participating in a programme. Under the new provisions, broadcasters are required to properly inform participants regarding the potential risks and take necessary steps in order to mitigate these risks.

This new practice is intended to protect vulnerable individuals and other contributors who are not accustomed to being in the public eye, which in turn will require broadcasters to conduct their own risk assessment in order to highlight any risk of significant harm to the contributor. Broadcasters will need to take due care if, for example, a programme is likely to attract a high-level of media or social media interest or feature emotionally-challenging situations. A non-exclusive list of who is considered to be at risk of significant harm can be found in Rule 7.15.

The second amendment is the strengthening of the ‘offence’ rule under Rule 2 of the Code. This states that material which may cause offence to viewers and listeners must be justified by the context. Such potentially offensive material now includes the treatment of people who appear to be put at risk of significant harm as a result of taking part in a programme.

Adam Baxter, Ofcom’s Director of Standards and Audience Protection, said: “People taking part in TV and radio programmes deserve to be properly looked after. Our new protections set a clear standard of care for broadcasters to meet – striking a careful balance between broadcasters’ creative freedom and the welfare of the people they feature.”

For advise on internal safeguarding policies and codes of conduct, you can contact a member of our TV team here.

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