Ofcom's new guidance on protecting under eighteens in programmes

12 December 2007

12 December 2007

Ofcom has today published new guidance for broadcasters on the participation of young people in programmes, reflecting its belief that consideration of their welfare should be at the heart of editorial and production decisions.

The guidance follows research by Ofcom and supports the existing Broadcasting Code rules in this area. It sets out recommendations for broadcasters to assist them in complying with the Code rules on under eighteens.

Depending on the genre of the programme and the level of participation involved, these may include:

  • Development of clear guidelines for production staff working with under eighteen participants;
  • Appropriate background checks on a participants social, family, health and educational circumstances and a thorough risk assessment if necessary;
  • Communicating appropriately with under sixteens, by providing meaningful, child-friendly information, to ensure they are fully informed about the likely outcomes of their participation;
  • Advice to programme makers to highlight to parents or guardians both the positive and negative likely outcomes of participation to ensure they are better able to help their child understand what participation means;
  • Depending on the programme genre, it may be helpful to seek advice from an appropriately qualified professional (such as a child counsellor or psychologist);
  • Where practicable, ensuring there is a single, consistent point of contact with whom the participant is able to liaise throughout the production to oversee the child’s welfare; and
  • Careful consideration of the programme format and its likely impact on the participant is recommended. For instance, springing high impact surprises on under eighteens in 'live' or 'as live' programmes where conflict or highly emotional situations may be involved, could cause harm and/or distress. Similarly, in genres which involve young children in competition with others, performance anxieties and pressure to succeed may be issues.

Ofcom's Broadcasting Code has clear rules in place to protect under eighteens who participate in programmes. These place a specific requirement on broadcasters to exercise 'due care' over the physical and emotional welfare and the dignity of under eighteens who take part in programmes. The Code also requires that people under eighteen must not be caused unnecessary distress or anxiety by their involvement in programmes or by the broadcast of those programmes.

Ofcom's research shows that both adults and children value and enjoy young people being represented in programmes. However, the consequences of participation may vary widely depending on the age, maturity and individual circumstances of the child or young person involved. Guidance was seen as a way of helping to safeguard the welfare of under eighteens during the different stages of their participation in programmes.

The new guidance together with the research report are available from the Ofcom website at: www.ofcom.org.uk

Ends.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. The Ofcom Broadcasting Code rules state that:

1.26 - Due care must be taken over the physical and emotional welfare and the dignity of people under eighteen who take part or are otherwise involved in programmes. This is irrespective of any consent given by the participant or by a parent, guardian or other person over the age of eighteen in loco parentis.

1.27 - People under eighteen must not be caused unnecessary distress or anxiety by their involvement in programmes or by the broadcast of those programmes.

2. Earlier this year, Ofcom commissioned research to gain a fuller understanding of the existing measures taken by broadcasters to protect participants aged under eighteen, specifically in non-fiction programmes. Ofcom met with expert academics and children’s groups to explore recommendations, and commissioned qualitative research involving parents and children across the UK, to understand their views on the issues.