Ofcom updates guidance on protecting children in programmes

30 March 2015

Ofcom has today issued new guidance to broadcasters to ensure they protect the welfare of children taking part in TV and radio programmes.

The protection of under-18s is a fundamental concern for Ofcom. Today’s guidance sets out the steps broadcasters should take to protect children in programmes before, during, and after they are aired.

Broadcasters need to think carefully about factors that may affect a child’s welfare during programme making or as a result of appearing on TV or radio. Factors like age, maturity, the subject matter, as well as previous life experiences, can affect how they may respond to such exposure.

Today’s document updates Ofcom’s earlier work in this area, which focused on broadcasters putting the welfare of child participants at the heart of editorial and production decisions. This update is based on findings from subsequent investigations, expert input and feedback from industry.

Protecting children from harm

The guidance, which builds on rules in Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code that sets standards for content on TV and radio, includes advice to broadcasters on:

Risk assessments - broadcasters should consider conducting thorough and ongoing risk assessments, both of risks to the child’s health and safety and to their emotional wellbeing.

Expert advice - broadcasters should consider whether it is appropriate to seek expert advice to determine the best interests of children who take part.

Best practice - the new guidance also explains the need in some cases for broadcasters to advise young participants and their families on any likely media and social media interest. It also sets out steps they should consider when helping participants and their families deal with any negative consequences, such as online bullying, after broadcast.

When children and young people participate in programmes, broadcasters should also consider what information may need to be given to viewers. This is because the level of care taken to protect under-18s is not always clear to the audience.

Tony Close, Ofcom Director of Content Standards, Licensing and Enforcement, said: “Ofcom takes the protection of children extremely seriously, whether they are viewers or listeners, or actively taking part in programmes.

“This guidance follows careful analysis of our past investigations and decisions. It’s an important step in protecting the physical and emotional welfare as well as the dignity of children who take part, or are involved, in TV and radio programmes.”

The guidance reflects findings from recent investigations, including:

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

  1. Under the Broadcasting Code, Rule 1.28 states that due care must be taken over the physical and emotional welfare and the dignity of children who take part or are involved in programmes. This is irrespective of whether consent has been given by the participant or by a parent or guardian. Rule 1.29 states that people under 18 must not be caused unnecessary distress or anxiety by their involvement in programmes or by the broadcast of those programmes.
  2. In 2007 Ofcom published guidance for broadcasters on the participation of young people in programmes, reflecting the need for the welfare of child participants to be at the heart of editorial and production decisions. The 2007 guidance followed research by Ofcom and supported the existing Broadcasting Code rules in this area.
  3. Ofcom acknowledges that broadcasters’ compliance decisions in this area will depend on the individual child, the level and nature of their participation and the nature of the programme.