Overview of Ofcom's diversity in broadcasting remit

25 November 2020

This page provides an overview of Ofcom’s legal powers relating to diversity in broadcasting and is not exhaustive.

Broadcaster workforce diversity obligations

Legal basis

Under the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom is required to:

  • take the steps we consider appropriate for promoting equality of opportunity between men and women, people of different racial groups and for disabled people in relation to employment and training/retraining by the television and radio broadcasters we regulate; and
  • set licence conditions requiring broadcasters to make arrangements for promoting equality of opportunity between men and women, people of different racial groups and for disabled people. This includes making affected people aware of the arrangements, reviewing the arrangements, and publishing observations on the operation and effectiveness of the arrangements at least annually.

Licence conditions

Television and radio broadcasters are required as a condition of their Ofcom licences to make arrangements for:

  • promoting equality of opportunity in employment between men and women, people of different racial groups and for disabled people; and
  • training or retraining people employed in or in connection with the provision of the licenced service.

In making these arrangements, broadcasters must:

  • have regard to Ofcom’s guidance on diversity in broadcasting; and
  • make affected people aware of these arrangements, review the arrangements from time to time, and publish observations at least annually on their operation and effectiveness.

These obligations only apply to broadcasters (including those within a group of companies) who employ more than twenty people in connection with the provision of licensed services, and are authorised to broadcast for more than 31 days a year.

The BBC is also required to make arrangements for promoting equality of opportunity in relation to disability, race and sex. These requirements are set out in Schedule 3 of the BBC Agreement.

What we do

As part of our statutory duties, we carry out monitoring of broadcasters’ workforces and equal opportunities arrangements. We collect information on broadcasters’ employees in terms of sex, race and disability on a mandatory basis. We also collect information on other protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010 (religion or belief, sexual orientation and age), as well as social and economic background, on a voluntary basis. We hold industry to account in our annual reports on the make-up of broadcasters’ workforces.

We provide guidance for broadcasters on making their equal opportunities arrangements. As outlined above, as a condition of their licences, broadcasters must have regard to this guidance in making and reviewing their arrangements to promote equality of opportunity between men and women, people of different racial groups and for disabled people. This guidance can also help broadcasters make arrangements to promote equal opportunities in relation to the other protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 not captured by the Communications Act 2003.

We also hold regular industry events  and discussions, in order to share ideas and work collaboratively to make faster progress on promoting equality of opportunity in broadcasting.

Ofcom can take enforcement action against broadcasters if they do not comply with their licence conditions.

What we cannot do

We do not have legal powers to:

  • set and/or enforce quotas or targets for diversity in broadcasting;
  • require the provision of data on the freelance broadcasting workforce;
  • manage or enforce ring-fenced or contestable funding; or
  • handle complaints relating to workforce diversity.

Additional diversity requirements for public service broadcasters

Ofcom regularly reviews the contribution that the public service broadcasters (“PSBs”) - BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C – have made to the statutory public service broadcasting purposes and objectives, which include reflecting the diversity of the UK in their programming. You can find out more about Ofcom’s role in holding the PSBs to account for meeting these duties on our Small Screen Big Debate website.

Made outside London requirements

Ofcom must also ensure that a suitable proportion of the productions commissioned by the PSBs (the BBC, Channel 3 licensees (ITV and STV), Channel 4 and Channel 5) for UK-wide television broadcasts are made in the UK outside of the M25, and additionally for the BBC, in the nations. Ofcom has imposed quotas on the minimum proportion of hours and expenditure that must be allocation to regional productions.

Ofcom also sets quotas for regional programming for BBC One, BBC Two and the Channel 3 services (ITV and STV) to ensure that a suitable amount of time is given to regional programming of particular interest to people living in the geographic area where the service is provided. You can find out more information on our website.

Wider diversity obligations

The BBC and Channel 4 Corporation have additional diversity-related obligations:

BBC

The BBC’s Charter requires the BBC to reflect, represent and serve the diverse communities of all of the United Kingdom’s nations and regions. Ofcom has set a number of diversity-related conditions in the BBC Operating Licence, including a requirement to produce a Diversity Commissioning Code of Practice and to report to Ofcom annually on compliance with this code of practice

The BBC must also report annually on:

  • how it has reflected, represented and served the diverse communities of the whole of the UK;
  • its progress towards meeting its own on-screen representation and/or portrayal targets;
  • its audience satisfaction data; and
  • the diversity of all its staff (employees and freelance) employed in connection with the provision of the UK public services.

We assess the BBC’s performance against its obligations in our BBC annual reports.

Channel 4

Channel 4 has a statutory remit which includes providing a broad range of high-quality and diverse programming that appeals to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society.

The Digital Economy Act 2010 extended Channel 4 Corporation’s obligations beyond the main channel by introducing a range of media content duties which can be delivered across all of its services. This includes requirements to make a broad range of high-quality content that appeals to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society and to support the development of people with creative talent.

Ofcom assesses Channel 4 Corporation’s performance against its obligations – for more information see our latest periodic review.

Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code

In addition, broadcasters must comply with the rules in the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. These include that broadcasters must apply generally accepted standards to the content of television and radio services so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from the inclusion in such services of harmful and/or offensive material.

People’s attitudes and tolerances to the content of television and radio programmes change over time. Our recent research shows that viewers and listeners are now more likely to consider discriminatory behaviour and language as unacceptable and want to see this dealt with as a priority.

Ofcom can take enforcement action if a broadcaster does not comply with the rules in the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.