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Why independence matters in regulating TV and radio

Published: 11 November 2021
Last updated: 16 March 2023

Many people know Ofcom for our work in regulating UK broadcasting. But there're also quite a few misunderstandings about this aspect of what we do. Here we look at how we carry out work in setting and enforcing broadcasting standards – including the legal frameworks that we work within.

As the UK’s independent broadcast regulator, we oversee content standards for television and radio services. We are responsible for a range of areas including protection of under-18s, harmful and offensive material, due impartiality and due accuracy, and unfair treatment and unwarranted infringements of privacy. Importantly, we need to apply those standards in a way that always takes account of the importance of freedom of expression.

These standards are set out in the Broadcasting Code, and we produce accompanying guidance to help broadcasters comply with the Code. We also enforce a more limited set of standards on video on demand services as well.

People can complain to Ofcom via our website. Every year, we assess thousands of programmes on TV and radio, to see if they’ve broken our rules. In the last year alone, we assessed over 11,000 cases about broadcast content.

When a broadcaster falls short of the standards set in our Broadcasting Code, we will take action. These are often finely-balanced decisions.

We investigate following our published procedures which contain clear, transparent and fair processes. It’s vital that our decisions are always reached independently and impartially, particularly when they concern complex, controversial or highly emotive issues.

This is why decisions about television and radio content are made by a specialist broadcast team within Ofcom. This team acts and makes decisions independently of the rest of the Ofcom Executive and the Ofcom Board. It consists of expert, experienced specialists, whose conclusions are based entirely on the facts and evidence of the case, free from any political or commercial influence.

To inform our decisions, we often commission research on audiences’ expectations of harmful or offensive content as attitudes on these issues change over time.

We publish the outcome of every complaint we receive and publish detailed decisions on any programme we find in breach of the Broadcasting Code. If we consider a breach is serious, deliberate, repeated or reckless, we may consider imposing a sanction, such as a financial penalty, a direction not to repeat, or – in the very most serious cases – removing a licence to broadcast.

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