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Protecting People in TV and Radio

There has been a steady rise in mental health problems for programme participants, and some deaths, according to Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator in the United Kingdom.

As a result, new rules unveiled by Ofcom means broadcasters need to protect the wellbeing of people who take part in television shows and radio programmes.

What are the New Safeguards from Ofcom?

The strict rules that already exist for TV channels provide some protection for program participants – especially those under 18.

Nevertheless, there has been growing openness and increased concerns about mental health issues and wellbeing.

Ofcom admitted that the increase in complaints about participant welfare was the main driver behind a review of existing safeguards.

Note: The original review took place in July 2019. The outcome proposed the addition of two new rules to the Broadcasting Code.

Despite excluding drama, sitcoms, and soaps (e.g. operatic drama), the new safeguards address a multitude of television and radio shows, including:

  • Certain kinds of factual and entertainment programmes
  • Documentaries
  • News and current affairs
  • Phone-ins
  • Quiz shows
  • Reality shows
  • Talent contests

Introducing new rules to protect people taking part in TV and radios shows requires different levels of care. It will depend on the actual person, the format of the programme, and how the participant is going to interact during the broadcast.

Ofcom’s primary proposals for further protections and safeguards, include:

  • Taking due care over the well-being, welfare, and the dignity of participants in these kinds of programmes.
  • Taking steps to ensure ‘unjustified distress’ or ‘anxiety’ through participation does not occur for participants of the programmes.

Note: Ofcom acknowledged strong public interest in this kind of representation. Hence, the new rules should not make programmes less likely to feature people with vulnerabilities.

Existing Rules Protecting People in Programmes

Certain rules and safeguards already exist to help protect people taking part in TV shows and radio programmes, including:

  • The Ofcom Broadcasting Code (with Cross-promotion Code and On Demand Programme Service Rules). It mandates broadcasters to provide due care and avoid unnecessary distress or anxiety for participants under the age of eighteen. Furthermore, other detailed guidance supports the measures that broadcasters should employ to protect minors (both before, during, and after any productions).
  • Having to meet ‘generally accepted standards’ as part of their programme creation strategies. In short, they must provide context to minimise or avoid offence (e.g. caused by developing programmes that may feature distress, humiliation, or the violation of dignity).
  • Allowing people who appear in programmes to seek recourse (e.g. submit an objection to an unfair portrayal or an unwarranted infringement of their privacy).

New Guidance to Broadcasters from Ofcom

Following an in depth consultation, the aim of the new guidance is to help TV and radio broadcasters interpret, and then apply, the new regulations.

For example:

Ofcom unveils new rules for broadcasters of TV and radio shows.Even though most TV channels take good care of participants before, during, and after their productions. Further safeguards may place a bigger consideration on certain aspects (e.g. using lie detectors).

Simply put, any amendments to the existing rules should ensure that there is a consistent standard of care applied to people who take part in television and radio programmes.

The Director of Content Standards at the Office of Communications (Ofcom) commented further about the new rules and proposals. He said:

People who participate in TV shows and radio programmes expect to be properly looked after. Thus, new rules and stricter shielding help to ensure that it happens.

These new safeguards need to be effective. That is why we listen carefully to programme participants, broadcasters, producers, as well as psychologists.

Introducing stronger protections for participants of programmes received broad support from stakeholders. As a result, amendments to Section Seven of the Code should go ahead.

Furthermore, the introduction of two new Practices also helps to ensure broadcasters protect participants if they may be at risk of significant harm.

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