How Ofcom deals with TV and radio complaints

25 March 2014

We've set out below a simple summary of the process. However, please refer to our detailed procedures for full information.

If you want to submit a specific complaint to Ofcom please do so within 20 working days of the broadcast of the programme.

If you click on Make a Complaint you can answer a few quick questions to check that Ofcom is the right regulator for your complaint. If we're not, we'll give you details of the right body. If we are, there's a short form you need to complete to submit your complaint.

Ofcom receives thousands of complaints from viewers and listeners every year about standards on TV and radio. We assess each complaint carefully to see if our rules may have been broken.

If we decide the complaint doesn't raise issues warranting further investigation, we'll close the complaint and publish a record of this in our Broadcast and On Demand Bulletin, which is published every fortnight.

In some cases we decide a complaint raises issues warranting further investigation. We publish a list of our new investigations each week.

An investigation is a formal process which can take some time depending on the complexity of the issues involved.

Ofcom can also launch investigations in the absence of a complaint from a viewer or listener.

We publish the results of our investigations in our Broadcast and On Demand Bulletins. We might judge that an issue is in breach, resolved or not in breach of our rules. We keep an archive of our Broadcast and On Demand Bulletins for you to explore. 

We hold these decisions on broadcasters' compliance records. If a broadcaster breaks the rules repeatedly, or in a way we consider to be serious, Ofcom has the legal powers to impose sanctions on them. Possible sanctions include a substantial fine, shortening or even taking away the channel or station's licence to broadcast. We publish all Sanctions Decisions on our website.

We've set out below a simple summary of the process. However, please refer to our detailed procedures for full information.

If you want to submit this kind of complaint to Ofcom please do so within 20 working days of the broadcast of the programme.

If you click on Make a Complaint, you can answer a few quick questions to check that Ofcom is the right regulator for your complaint. If we're not, we'll give you details of the right body. If we are, there's a form you need to complete to submit your complaint.

Please note the complaint is your sole chance to set out your case to Ofcom. Therefore, please provide us with full details of how you believe the programme was unfair to you and/or how it unwarrantably infringed your privacy. Your complaint should include relevant examples of how and why unfairness/infringement of privacy was caused to you.

Once we have received your complaint (which we refer to as a fairness and privacy complaint) we may make an Entertainment Decision (i.e. consider whether we can take the complaint forward for investigation) based on the factors set out in the Procedures for making a fairness and privacy complaint. We will send you a copy of our Entertainment Decision which will include a full explanation of why we either can or cannot investigate your complaint. All recently entertained fairness and privacy investigations are included in Ofcom's published list of new investigations each week.

If we decide that we cannot entertain your complaint the case will be closed.

If we decide that we can entertain your complaint we will ask the broadcaster for a response to it and then consider the case put forward by both you and the broadcaster. Using this information we assess the complaint carefully to reach a Preliminary View on whether our fairness and privacy rules may have been broken. A copy of the Preliminary View will be sent to you and the broadcaster and you will each have an opportunity to comment on it before we make a final decision (the Adjudication) which is published on our website. An investigation is a formal process which can take some time, depending on the complexity of the issues involved. You should be aware that during the course of an investigation we will need to contact you and may need to ask you for additional information. If you do not provide that information by the requested deadline, we may take this to mean that you no longer wish to pursue your complaint and we will therefore close it.

You should also be aware that at any point during either the entertainment or investigation stage, the broadcaster may suggest, via Ofcom, a way to resolve your complaint. For example, a broadcaster may offer to write a letter of apology to you or edit a particular section of the programme before re-broadcasting it. If the broadcaster makes such an offer we will pass it to you. If you accept this offer we will consider that the complaint has been resolved and the case will be closed.

In exceptional circumstances Ofcom can also launch fairness and privacy investigations in the absence of a complaint from a viewer or listener.

We always publish, in full, the final Adjudication of every fairness or privacy complaint that we entertain. The Adjudication will normally include your name as the complainant (unless publishing your name would itself be unfair to you or be a breach of your privacy).

The final Adjudication on a complaint will be either upheld, upheld in part or not upheld. The Adjudication will be published in a Broadcast and On Demand Bulletin on our website. See our Broadcast and On Demand Bulletins archive for examples of previous fairness and privacy Adjudications.

Please note there is no internal review or appeal process for final Adjudications. However, as noted above, you and the broadcaster will each have an opportunity to comment on the Preliminary View before the final decision is made and the Adjudication is published.

You should be aware that if Ofcom upholds your complaint it does not necessarily mean that the broadcaster will be required to broadcast a summary of Ofcom's decision. In addition, Ofcom cannot require the broadcaster to: broadcast a correction or apology; edit the programme prior to any re-broadcast; or, pay you compensation. 

We hold all our decisions on broadcasters' compliance records. If a broadcaster breaks the rules repeatedly, or in a way we consider to be serious, Ofcom does have the legal powers to impose sanctions on them. Possible sanctions include a fine, shortening or even taking away the channel or station's licence to broadcast. See our Sanctions Decisions page to read previous sactions decisions.

We've set out below a simple summary of the process. However, please refer to our detailed procedures for full information.

Ofcom licenses radio and television stations to broadcast their services. Those licences contain a number of requirements such as the broadcaster's obligation to provide Ofcom with information and recordings. Some of the licences also contain rules about what type of content may be broadcast, for example the type of music a radio station plays, a community radio station's commitments or the amount of subtitling on TV.

We have published procedures about how we handle complaints about all of these issues.

If you want to submit a specific complaint to Ofcom please click on Make a Complaint. We may judge that your complaint does not raise issues warranting full investigation. Or we may decide that there are issues we need to look into further. Either way, we'll write back to you with the outcome of your complaint. This may take some time depending on the complexity of the issues involved.

We'll normally publish the results of our investigations in our Broadcast and On Demand Bulletins or the relevant broadcast licensing section of our website. We might judge that an issue is in breach, resolved or not in breach of our rules. You can explore the archive of Broadcast and On Demand Bulletins.

We hold these decisions on broadcasters' compliance records. If a broadcaster breaks the rules repeatedly, or in a way we consider to be serious, Ofcom has the legal powers to impose sanctions on them. Possible sanctions include a substantial fine, shortening or even taking away the channel or station's licence to broadcast. You can read our Sanctions Decisions page to see previous sactions decisions.