Ofcom has recently launched a consultation on the introduction of two new rules to help protect the wellbeing of people taking part in TV and radio programmes. The rules are intended to supplement the existing rules in the Broadcasting Code which place certain responsibilities on broadcasters for programme participants. Ofcom notes that the consultation comes in response to a heightened public awareness about the welfare and wellbeing of participants in programmes. One area in which this is increasingly evident is the steady increase in complaints received by Ofcom which express concern about potential harm and/or distress suffered by programme participants. One prominent example being the 25,322 complaints relating to the 2018 series of Celebrity Big Brother (where one housemate made allegations of physical assault against another).
The consultation aims to identify whether the proposed new rules are necessary and proportionate to protect against the potential harms that might result from people's participation in programmes. Section 3 of the Communications Act 2003 (the "Act") already requires that Ofcom has specific regard to the vulnerability of children, and those with circumstances that put them in need of special protection. Section 319 of the Act also requires that Ofcom set, and from time to time review and revise, standards for the content of programmes included in television and radio programmes. In line with these duties, Ofcom propose to introduce the following new rules to the Broadcasting Code:
- due care must be taken over the welfare, wellbeing and dignity of participants in programmes; and
- participants must not be caused unjustified distress or anxiety by taking part in programmes or by the broadcast of those programmes.
Ofcom makes clear that the new rules must be flexible enough to ensure protection but not too broad so as to stifle broadcasters' ability to create entertaining content. The views of key stakeholders in navigating this challenge have therefore been invited.
Responding to the Consultation
Ofcom has devised eight specific questions relating to the proposed rules as well as the proposed guidance supporting the rules, these can be found here. Ofcom intends to publish a statement on its final decisions in winter 2019.