What does Ofcom cover?

02 April 2017

We deal with most content on television, radio and video-on-demand services.

Ofcom also regulates BBC content (except the BBC World Service).

If your complaint is about something you have seen or heard in a BBC programme, you may need to complain to the BBC first. The Make a Complaint page will let you know if this is the case.

You can refer your issue to Ofcom for assessment if you are not satisfied with the BBC’s response.

We accept complaints directly about the other TV and radio broadcasters that we regulate.

We also regulate some video-on-demand services. See a list of these, and how to contact them.

Most types of broadcast advertising are handled on our behalf by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

If you're not sure whether you should submit your complaint to us or another body, visit the Make a Complaint page, answer a few quick questions and we'll tell you where to complain to.

What are Ofcom's rules?

To find out more about Ofcom's rules click on the links below.

Our rules for television and radio programmes are set out in the Broadcasting Code. The rules in the Broadcasting Code also apply to the BBC iPlayer.

This code is the rule book that broadcasters have to follow and it covers a number of areas, including:

  • protecting the under-eighteens: for example from offensive language, sexual material and violence through appropriate scheduling, including the watershed on TV;
  • harm and offence: for example protecting the audience from the use of offensive language and the portrayal of sex and violence which is not justified by the context of the programme;
  • crime, disorder, hatred and abuse: ensuring that programmes do not incite crime, include hate speech which is not justified by the context of the programme, or reward criminality;
  • religion: dealing with the proper treatment of religious beliefs and the protection of vulnerable audience members from exploitation;
  • news and current affairs: maintaining due accuracy in news and due impartiality in news and current affairs;
  • elections and referendums: during which there are specific rules about treating candidates fairly;
  • fairness: ensuring that individuals and organisations are not treated unfairly in a programme;
  • privacy: ensuring that the privacy of individuals and organisations is not unwarrantably infringed during the making of, or within, a programme;
  • references to brands on television: for example rules to make sure that programmes don't become like adverts by promoting products and brands, such as rules governing programme sponsorship and product placement (where a brand has paid to be included in a programme); and
  • references to brands on radio: to ensure that listeners know when a brand has paid to be included in radio programming.

To help ensure that broadcasters follow the rules in the Broadcasting Code, we publish detailed guidance for broadcasters on what the rules mean and how we apply them.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) handles complaints about most types of broadcast advertising on our behalf and enforces rules in the BCAP Code: the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising. However, there are some areas of that Code which Ofcom enforces. These include:

  • the prohibition on 'political' advertising which promotes a political cause or point of view;
  • sponsorship and product placement on television and all commercial communications in radio programming; and
  • interactive television services using premium rate telephone lines or text messages, for example psychic and chat channels.

The Code on the Scheduling of Television Advertising sets out rules on the amount of advertising allowed on television.

Subtitling, sign language on TV and audio description, known as television access services, help people with hearing or visual impairments to understand and enjoy television.

The Code on Television Access Services sets outs the requirements placed on certain broadcasters to provide access services. Guidance on practices to be followed in providing these services is set out in Appendix 2 to this code.

Ofcom ensures that broadcasters provide a minimum proportion of their programmes with television access services. Ofcom publishes information about the amounts of television access services that broadcasters are required to provide and what they actually deliver.

Find more information on subtitling, sign language and audio description.

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.

The Broadcasting Code was first introduced in 2005, following a full public consultation on the rules. Ofcom reviews its rules from time to time, and we always conduct public consultations when we do so, to make sure we take the public's views into account. Find out more about Ofcom's consultations.

We also regularly conduct audience research to make sure we understand what the public thinks about standards on TV, radio and on demand services, and that our rules appropriately reflect this.

Rules and Guidance

Regulated video on demand services must ensure that:

Protecting the under-eighteens:

  • specially restricted material" (which has been or would be classified in the R18 category by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC)) or material which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of under 18s is made available in a way which secures that under 18s will not normally see or hear it;
  • prohibited material" (which would be refused a classification by the BBFC) does not appear;

Incitement to hatred:

  • they do not contain any material likely to incite hatred based on race, sex, religion or nationality; and

Commercial references in programmes:

  • they comply with rules about product placement and sponsorship.

There are also rules about how service providers should operate.

Subtitling, signing and audio description:

Currently the law requiring broadcasters to provide access services does not extend to video on demand programme services. We encourage video on demand service providers to make their services progressively more accessible to people with sensory impairments.

How does Ofcom set the rules?

The rules replicate minimum standards under European law.