Following a steady rise in complaints over recent years about the welfare of people taking part in TV and radio programmes, Ofcom conducted a review of its Broadcasting Code to ensure it was up to scratch.
Ofcom's main focus was on the mental health and wellbeing of participants, particularly vulnerable people and others not used to being in the public eye.
Ofcom consulted with broadcasters, programme-makers, healthcare professionals, and former programme participants and their representatives. That review has now concluded and, in December, Ofcom announced new, strengthened protections under the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.
Expanding the fairness rules in Section Seven of the Broadcasting Code
The main change comes in the form of a new requirement for broadcasters to take 'due care' over the welfare of people who might be at risk of significant harm as a result of taking part in a programme.
As mentioned above, the measures are aimed at protecting vulnerable people and others not used to being in the public eye. Broadcasters will need to take due care where, for example, a programme is likely to attract a high level of media or social media interest; the programme features conflict or emotionally-challenging situations; or it requires a person to disclose life-changing or private aspects of their lives.
The measures do not apply where the subject matter is trivial, or a person’s participation is minor - or when the broadcaster is acting in the public interest, as is likely to be the case for most news and current affairs programming.
Under these new fairness provisions, people taking part in programmes must also be informed about any potential welfare risks that might be expected to arise from their participation, and any steps the broadcaster or programme-maker intends to take to mitigate these.
Here is a link to the current Section Seven of the Broadcasting Code.
Introducing new guidance for broadcasters
Ofcom has promised to publish new guidance to help broadcasters comply with the new requirements, including examples in the form of a ‘risk matrix’ to assist broadcasters when considering what level of care to provide to participants in different editorial situations.
When will the changes come into effect?
The new measures will apply to programmes that begin production on or after Monday 5 April 2021.
“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.” - Adam Baxter, Ofcom’s Director of Standards and Audience Protection