Ofcom offers more protection for radio participants

People taking part in radio and TV programmes must be properly looked after by broadcasters, under new rules introduced by Ofcom.

Ofcom launched a review of protections for participants in programmes in recognition of the growing openness and concern in society about mental health and wellbeing.

There has also been a steady rise in complaints about the welfare of people taking part in programmes in recent years.

So today, new, strengthened protections under the Broadcasting Code are being announced. This follows consultation with broadcasters, programme-makers, healthcare professionals, and former programme participants and their representatives.

Ofcom says: “We are introducing 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.

“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.

Ofcom is strengthening the wording of its ‘Generally Accepted Standards’ rule. This states that material which may cause offence to viewers and listeners must be justified by the context.

Treatment of people who appear to be put at risk of significant harm as a result of taking part in a programme is now included as an explicit example of material that may cause offence to audiences.

New guidance to help broadcasters comply with these new requirements will be published soon. This will include an example of a ‘risk matrix’ to assist broadcasters when considering what level of care to provide to participants in different editorial situations.

Adam Baxter, Ofcom’s Director of Standards and Audience Protection, adds: “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.”

The new measures will apply to programmes that begin production on or after Monday 5 April 2021. Ahead of that date, the regulator will publish its associated guidance for broadcasters.