Ofcom is required under the Communications Act 2003 (as amended) (“the Act”)
and the Broadcasting Act 1996 (as amended) (“the 1996 Act”) to draw up a code
for television and radio, covering standards in programmes, sponsorship, product
placement in television programmes, fairness and privacy. This Code is to be known
as the Ofcom Broadcasting Code (“the Code”).
Broadcasters are reminded of the legislative background that has informed the rules,
of the principles that apply to each section, the meanings given by Ofcom and of the
guidance issued by Ofcom, all of which may be relevant in interpreting and applying
the Code. No rule should be read in isolation but within the context of the whole Code
including the headings, cross-references and other linking text.
In setting these standards, Ofcom must secure the standards objectives set out in the
Act. This not only involves setting minimum standards but also such other standards
as may be appropriate. (See sections 3(1)(a) and (b), (2)(e) and (f) and (4)(b)(g)(h)(j)(k)
and (l), 319, 320, 321, 325, 326 and Schedule 11A of the Act and sections 107(1) of the
1996 Act. These extracts can be found in Appendix 1 of the Code.)
The Code also gives effect to a number of requirements relating to television in EC
Directive 2010/13/EU (“The Audiovisual Media Services Directive”). Extracts can be
found in Appendix 2 of the Code.
The Code has also been drafted in the light of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the
European Convention on Human Rights (“the Convention”). In particular, the right
to freedom of expression, as expressed in Article 10 of the Convention, encompasses
the audience’s right to receive creative material, information and ideas without
interference but subject to restrictions prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic
society. This Article, together with Article 8 regarding the right to a person’s private
and family life, home and correspondence; Article 9, the right to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion; and Article 14, the right to enjoyment of human rights without
discrimination on grounds such as sex, race and religion, can be found in Appendix 3
of the Code.
Background to the Code
1. In this Broadcasting Code, where the context admits, references to any legislative provisions, whether
in primary or secondary legislation, include a reference to those provisions as amended or re-enacted or as
their application is modiﬁed by other provisions from time to time; any reference to a statutory provision
shall include any subordinate legislation made from time to time under that provision..
The Ofcom Broadcasting Code
Unless expressly stated otherwise, the Code applies to radio and television content
(with certain exceptions in the case of the British Broadcasting Corporation (“the
BBC”) – see below) in services licensed by Ofcom, services funded by the licence fee
provided by the BBC and to Sianel Pedwar Cymru (“S4C”).
Broadcasters are required by the terms of their Ofcom licence to observe the
Standards Code and the Fairness Code, which are to be interpreted as references
to this Code. Observance of this Code is also required in the case of the BBC by
the BBC Agreement2 and, in the case of S4C, by statute. Except where the Code
states otherwise, the term “television broadcasters” refers to providers of television
programme services (including any local services such as restricted television services),
the BBC and S4C, and “radio broadcasters” refers to providers of radio programme
services (including local and community radio services and community digital sound
programme services) and the BBC. Sections Five, Six, Nine, with the exception of the
relevant product placement rules (see Section Nine), and Ten of the Code do not apply
to BBC services funded by the licence fee. No part of the Code applies to the BBC
World Service funded by grant in aid.
Under the Act, the provider of a service is the person with “general control” over
which programmes and other facilities and services are comprised in the service
(section 362(2) of the Act).
General control is wider than editorial control in that it includes control over services
and facilities to which access is provided (for example through the inclusion in the
main service of a link or facility to interactive features) and over which the broadcaster
may not have editorial control.
Although a link included in the service may lead to features outside of that service
which are not regulated by Ofcom, the provision of access to those features by, for
instance, the inclusion of a link, is within the control of the broadcaster and so within
Ofcom’s remit. Ofcom may therefore require such a link or facility to be removed
where Ofcom has concerns, in the light of its statutory duties and, in particular, the
standards objectives set out in section 319 of the Act, about the material to which it
2. The BBC Agreement is the Agreement dated July 2006 between Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for
Culture, Media and Sport and the British Broadcasting Corporation as may be amended from time to time.
leads. In any event, the transition from broadcaster to third-party control must be
clear to the viewer, so as to manage both audience expectations regarding the material
to which they are being led and the risk to the broadcaster of being found in breach of
this Code (for example Rules 1.2 and 2.1).
Where the Code has been breached, Ofcom will normally publish a ﬁnding and
explain why a broadcaster has breached the Code (these ﬁndings are available in
Ofcom’s Broadcast Bulletins at www.ofcom.org.uk). When a broadcaster breaches
the Code deliberately, seriously or repeatedly, Ofcom may impose statutory sanctions
against the broadcaster. Ofcom’s procedures for investigating cases (following the
receipt of a complaint or otherwise) and applying statutory sanctions to broadcasters
are also on the website. Members of the public who have no access to the web can ask
Ofcom to send them a copy of the procedures by post.
The Code is divided into sections which are primarily drawn from the objectives as
set out in section 319(2) of the Act and section 107(1) of the 1996 Act, as well as the
Representation of the People Act 1983 (as amended).
The Ofcom Broadcasting Code
The Code is set out in terms of principles, meanings and rules and, for Sections
Seven (Fairness) and Eight (Privacy), also includes a set of “practices to be followed”
by broadcasters. The principles are there to help readers understand the standards
objectives and to apply the rules. Broadcasters must ensure that they comply with the
rules as set out in the Code. The meanings help explain what Ofcom intends by some
of the words and phrases used in the Code. The most relevant broadcasting legislation
is noted under each section heading so readers can turn to the legislation if they wish.
When applying the Code to content, broadcasters should be aware that the context in
which the material appears is key. In setting this Code, Ofcom has taken into account
(as required by section 319(4) of the Act) the following:
(a) the degree of harm and offence likely to be caused by the inclusion of any
particular sort of material in programmes generally or in programmes of a
(b) the likely size and composition of the potential audience for programmes
included in television and radio services generally or in television and radio
services of a particular description;
(c) the likely expectation of the audience as to the nature of a programme’s content
and the extent to which the nature of a programme’s content can be brought to
the attention of potential members of the audience;
(d) the likelihood of persons who are unaware of the nature of a programme’s
content being unintentionally exposed, by their own actions, to that content;
(e) the desirability of securing that the content of services identiﬁes when there is a
change affecting the nature of a service that is being watched or listened to and,
in particular, a change that is relevant to the application of the standards set
under this section;
(f) the desirability of maintaining the independence of editorial control over
These criteria have informed Ofcom’s approach to setting the Code and therefore
must be taken into account by broadcasters when interpreting the rules.
How to Use the Code
The Code does not seek to address each and every case that could arise. Broadcasters
may face a number of individual situations which are not speciﬁcally referred to in this
Code. Examples included in the Code are not exhaustive. However, the principles,
as outlined in the following sections, should make clear what the Code is designed to
achieve and help broadcasters make the necessary judgements.
To assist further those who work in broadcasting, as well as viewers and listeners who
wish to understand broadcasting standards, guidance to accompany the Code will also
be issued by Ofcom on the Ofcom website and will be reviewed regularly.
Broadcasters should be familiar with their audiences and ensure that programme
content can always be justiﬁed by the context and the editorial needs of the
programme. (In the Code, the word ‘programmes’ is taken to mean both television
programmes and radio programming.)
Broadcasters may make programmes about any issue they choose, but it is expected
that broadcasters will ensure at all times that their programmes comply with the
general law, as well as the Code.
General guidance on the Code
It is the responsibility of the broadcaster to comply with the Code. Programme makers
who require further advice on applying this Code should, in the ﬁrst instance, talk to
those editorially responsible for the programme and to the broadcaster’s compliance
and legal ofﬁcers.
Ofcom can offer general guidance on the interpretation of the Code. However,
any such advice is given on the strict understanding that it will not affect Ofcom’s
discretion to judge cases and complaints after transmission and will not affect the
exercise of Ofcom’s regulatory responsibilities. Broadcasters should seek their own
legal advice on any compliance issues arising. Ofcom will not be liable for any loss or
damage arising from reliance on informal guidance.
The Ofcom Broadcasting Code
(Relevant legislation includes, in particular, sections 3(4)(h) and 319(2)(a) and (f) of the
Communications Act 2003, Article 27 of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive,
and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.)
This section must be read in conjunction with Section Two: Harm and Offence.
To ensure that people under eighteen are protected.
Scheduling and content information
1.1 Material that might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development
of people under eighteen must not be broadcast.
1.2 In the provision of services, broadcasters must take all reasonable steps to
protect people under eighteen. For television services, this is in addition to
their obligations resulting from the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (in
particular, Article 27, see Appendix 2).
1.3 Children must also be protected by appropriate scheduling from material that is
unsuitable for them.
Meaning of “children”:
Children are people under the age of ﬁfteen years.
Meaning of “appropriate scheduling”:
Appropriate scheduling should be judged according to:
• the nature of the content;
• the likely number and age range of children in the audience, taking into
account school time, weekends and holidays;
• the start time and ﬁnish time of the programme;
• the nature of the channel or station and the particular programme; and
• the likely expectations of the audience for a particular channel or station
at a particular time and on a particular day.
Section One: Protecting
1.4 Television broadcasters must observe the watershed.
Meaning of “the watershed”:
The watershed only applies to television. The watershed is at 2100. Material
unsuitable for children should not, in general, be shown before 2100 or after 0530.
On premium subscription ﬁlm services which are not protected as set out in Rule
1.24, the watershed is at 2000. There is no watershed on premium subscription
ﬁlm services or pay per view services which are protected as set out in Rule 1.24
and 1.25 respectively.
1.5 Radio broadcasters must have particular regard to times when children are
particularly likely to be listening.
Meaning of “when children are particularly likely to be listening”:
This phrase particularly refers to the school run and breakfast time, but might
include other times.
1.6 The transition to more adult material must not be unduly abrupt at the
watershed (in the case of television) or after the time when children are
particularly likely to be listening (in the case of radio). For television, the
strongest material should appear later in the schedule.
1.7 For television programmes broadcast before the watershed, or for radio
programmes broadcast when children are particularly likely to be listening,
clear information about content that may distress some children should be
given, if appropriate, to the audience (taking into account the context).
(For the meaning of “context” see Section Two: Harm and Offence.)
The Ofcom Broadcasting Code
The coverage of sexual and other offences
in the UK involving under-eighteens
1.8 Where statutory or other legal restrictions apply preventing personal
identiﬁcation, broadcasters should also be particularly careful not to provide
clues which may lead to the identiﬁcation of those who are not yet adult (the
deﬁning age may differ in different parts of the UK) and who are, or might
be, involved as a victim, witness, defendant or other perpetrator in the case of
sexual offences featured in criminal, civil or family court proceedings:
• by reporting limited information which may be pieced together with
other information available elsewhere, for example in newspaper reports
(the ‘jigsaw effect’);
• inadvertently, for example by describing an offence as “incest”; or
• in any other indirect way.
(Note: Broadcasters should be aware that there may be statutory reporting
restrictions that apply even if a court has not speciﬁcally made an order to
1.9 When covering any pre-trial investigation into an alleged criminal offence in
the UK, broadcasters should pay particular regard to the potentially vulnerable
position of any person who is not yet adult who is involved as a witness or victim,
before broadcasting their name, address, identity of school or other educational
establishment, place of work, or any still or moving picture of them. Particular
justiﬁcation is also required for the broadcast of such material relating to the
identity of any person who is not yet adult who is involved in the defence as a
defendant or potential defendant.
Drugs, smoking, solvents and alcohol
1.10 The use of illegal drugs, the abuse of drugs, smoking, solvent abuse and the
misuse of alcohol:
• must not be featured in programmes made primarily for children unless
there is strong editorial justiﬁcation;
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