Producer speaking to presenters on a TV studio set

TV clips on social media – what they mean for broadcast complaints

Published: 23 August 2023
Last updated: 23 August 2023

Social media is changing how we see and engage with TV content. It’s increasingly common to see clips from TV shows popping up on our timelines and feeds, allowing us to get a glimpse of a programme, even if we didn’t watch it in full at the time it was broadcast.

Sometimes, these clips can be controversial, featuring strong, provocative views or content that you might find offensive or harmful. And they can often get enormous amounts of attention. All it takes is for a clip to be shared by one or two high profile social media accounts with lots of followers, and the views snowball.

And, given the nature of some social media algorithms and feeds, we can often be shown this content even when we’re not actively looking for it. So we might end up seeing something that we wouldn’t have chosen to view in the first place.

Social media is driving more complaints

We’ve seen some relationship between clips being posted on social media, and subsequent volumes of complaints that Ofcom receives about the programmes from which they’re taken.

These clips can prompt strong reactions from people viewing them, who may want to complain to Ofcom. But this can mean people are compelled to complain about a programme they might not have seen, and are forming their opinions based on only short snippets that don’t necessarily represent the full context of what was said or shown on the full programme.

Ofcom cannot assess broadcast content on the basis of clips shared on social media. We assess programmes in full – making our decisions based on the content that is actually shown on the broadcast channel that we license.

It’s also worth remembering that a large volume of complaints doesn’t mean we are more likely to take action against a particular programme. We assess programmes that receive just one or two complaints alongside those that attract high numbers of complaints, and base our decisions on the rules set out in the broadcasting code, not on how many complaints we’ve received.

Context is key

When assessing programmes, we take a number of important contextual factors into account. This might include, among other things: whether a warning was broadcast before a particular programme was shown; the time of day it was broadcast; whether the content of a programme was in line with what the audience was expecting to see; and whether a range of views were included.

But these factors might not be apparent in an edited   social media clip.

For example, a clip might only show a presenter or contributor expressing a view or an opinion that some people might find offensive or partial. So for people who see that clip, that’s the only view that’s represented.

However, in the wider context of the full programme or series there might be different views presented which challenge the opinion captured in the clip.

Freedom of expression is paramount

Finally, at the heart of our decision-making on TV complaints is broadcasters’ right to freedom of expression, and the right of you, the audience, to receive a range of information and ideas.

There is no right not to be offended by what you see on TV or hear on radio. Just because you dislike or are offended by a particular broadcast – whether that’s in a clip or a full programme - broadcasters have a right to freedom of expression. That means they have editorial freedom to transmit programmes that include controversial and challenging views, so long as the programme complies with the rules set out under our Broadcasting Code.

And where broadcasters fall short, Ofcom can step in to take action on behalf of viewers and listeners.

For more information on how we deal with broadcast complaints, take a look at our explainer video.

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