New protections for people taking part in TV and radio shows

18 December 2020

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

We launched a review of protections for participants in programmes in light of the growing openness and concern in society about mental health and wellbeing. in recent years we have also seen a steady rise in complaints about the welfare of people taking part in programmes.

We are today announcing new, strengthened protections under our broadcasting code. This comes after we consulted with broadcasters, programme-makers, healthcare professionals, and former programme participants and their representatives.

New safeguards

Expanding our fairness rules in the broadcasting code

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 who are 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 where 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 rules, people taking part in programmes must also be informed about any potential welfare risks that might arise from their participation, and any steps the broadcaster or programme-maker intends to take to mitigate them.

Strengthening our offence rule under the broadcasting code

We are strengthening the wording of our ‘generally accepted standards’ rule. This means material which might 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 might cause offence to audiences.

Introducing new guidance for broadcasters

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

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

The new measures will apply to programmes that begin production on or after Monday 5 April 2021. Before then, we will publish our guidance for broadcasters.