New rules to protect people in TV and radio shows

29 July 2019

Ofcom is today proposing new rules to ensure that people who take part in television and radio shows are properly looked after by broadcasters.

We already have rules placing responsibilities on broadcasters around participants in programmes, and specific safeguards for people under-18.[1]

But there has been growing openness and concern in society about mental health and wellbeing in recent years. Ofcom has also seen a steady rise in complaints expressing concern about the welfare and wellbeing of people who take part in programmes.

Against this backdrop, we have been reviewing our existing protections for programme participants.[2]

New safeguards

Today we are proposing to add two new rules to our ‘Broadcasting Code’ to protect the welfare and wellbeing of people taking part in programmes on TV and radio.[3] These would include reality shows, documentaries, news and current affairs, phone-ins, quiz shows, talent contests and other forms of factual and entertainment programmes, but not drama, sitcoms or soaps.

The proposed rules are:

  • Due care must be taken over the welfare, wellbeing and dignity of participants in programmes.
  • Participants must not be caused unjustified distress or anxiety by taking part in programmes or by the broadcast of those programmes.

These rules reflect the fact that very different forms and levels of care may be appropriate, depending on the person participating, a programme’s format and the nature of the participation.

We also wish to ensure that the proposed new rules do not make programmes less likely to feature people with vulnerabilities, as there is a clear public interest in their representation on TV and radio.

Guidance to support the rules

We’re planning to issue guidance to help broadcasters interpret and apply the new rules, and we are consulting today on the principles it should contain.

For example, guidance might include what broadcasters should do to look after participants before, during and after production. It would also consider editorial techniques involving participants, such as the use of lie detectors.

Taken together, the proposed rules and guidance are designed to ensure that broadcasters apply a consistent standard of care to people who take part in shows.

Tony Close, Ofcom’s Director of Content Standards, said: “People who take part in TV and radio shows must be properly looked after by broadcasters, and these rules would ensure that happens.

“These new safeguards must be effective. So we’re listening carefully to programme participants, broadcasters, producers and psychologists before we finalise them.”

Next steps

We are inviting feedback on the new rules and guidance by 23 September 2019. We will then issue our final decisions in the winter.


1. What rules already exist to protect people in programmes?

Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code currently requires broadcasters to provide due care, and to avoid unnecessary distress or anxiety, for participants who are under 18. This is supported by detailed guidance on the measures broadcasters should take to protect minors before, during and after production.

The Code requires broadcasters to meet ‘generally accepted standards’ in their programmes. This includes providing context to minimise or avoid offence that might be caused when programmes feature humiliation, distress, or violation of someone’s dignity.

The Code also gives recourse to people appearing in programmes to object to an unfair portrayal, or to an unwarranted infringement of their privacy.

For more, see Rules 1.28, 1.29, 2.3 and Sections Seven and Eight of the Broadcasting Code (PDF, 1.2 MB).

2. Since we began examining these issues, events surrounding the cancellation of ITV’s Jeremy Kyle Show in May 2019 – and high levels of public concern about aspects of reality and other types of TV programmes – have underlined the importance of our review.

3. The proposed new rules would appear in Section Two of the Broadcasting Code which deals with ‘Harm and Offence’ – appearing as Rules 2.17 and 2.18.