How to use the Code

Published: 19 February 2024
Last updated: 19 February 2024

The Code is set out in terms of principles, meanings and rules and, for Sections Seven (Fairness) and Eight (Privacy), also includes a set of “practices to be followed” by broadcasters. The principles are there to help readers understand the standards objectives and to apply the rules. Broadcasters must ensure that they comply with the rules as set out in the Code. The meanings help explain what Ofcom intends by some of the words and phrases used in the Code. The most relevant broadcasting legislation is noted under each section heading so readers can turn to the legislation if they wish.

When applying the Code to content, broadcasters should be aware that the context in which the material appears is key. In setting this Code, Ofcom has taken into account (as required by section 319(4) of the Act) the following:

(a) the degree of harm and offence likely to be caused by the inclusion of any particular sort of material in programmes generally or in programmes of a particular description;

(b) the likely size and composition of the potential audience for programmes included in television and radio services generally or in television and radio services of a particular description;

(c) the likely expectation of the audience as to the nature of a programme’s content and the extent to which the nature of a programme’s content can be brought to the attention of potential members of the audience;

(d) the likelihood of persons who are unaware of the nature of a programme’s content being unintentionally exposed, by their own actions, to that content;

(e) the desirability of securing that the content of services identifies when there is a change affecting the nature of a service that is being watched or listened to and, in particular, a change that is relevant to the application of the standards set under this section;

(f) the desirability of maintaining the independence of editorial control over programme content.

These criteria have informed Ofcom’s approach to setting the Code and therefore must be taken into account by broadcasters when interpreting the rules.

The Code does not seek to address each and every case that could arise. Broadcasters may face a number of individual situations which are not specifically referred to in this Code. Examples included in the Code are not exhaustive. However, the principles, as outlined in the following sections, should make clear what the Code is designed to achieve and help broadcasters make the necessary judgements.

In applying the Code to BBC ODPS, the on demand nature of the service should be taken into account. Specific provision is made in certain rules for BBC ODPS.

To assist further those who work in broadcasting, as well as viewers and listeners who wish to understand broadcasting standards, guidance to accompany the Code will also be issued by Ofcom on the Ofcom website and will be reviewed regularly.

Broadcasters should be familiar with their audiences and ensure that programme content can always be justified by the context and the editorial needs of the programme. (In the Code, the word ‘programmes’ is taken to mean both television programmes and radio programming, and programmes made available on BBC ODPS.)

Broadcasters may make programmes about any issue they choose, but it is expected that broadcasters will ensure at all times that their programmes comply with the general law, as well as the Code.

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