EU Referendum Guidelines

Guidelines for Programmes Broadcast during the run up to the EU Referendum on 23 June 2016


2016 is a busy political year with a number of elections taking place on 5 May 2016 and a European Referendum on 23 June 2016. These guidelines cover issues concerning programmes broadcast in the run up to the EU Referendum on 23 June 2016 and on polling day. There is a separate guidance note to deal with the Elections on 5 May 2016.

  • The EU Referendum will be held on 23 June 2016 (‘the Referendum’)
  • The rules set out in Section 6 of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code governing the special impartiality requirements will take effect immediately on the start of the referendum period which begins on 15 April 2016, 10 weeks before the Referendum.
  • Set out below is a summary of the main rules in Section 6, which potentially covers all factual and entertainment programmes whether political or non-political broadcast from 15 April 2016 until the close of polls at 10pm on the 23 June 2016 (“the Referendum Period”).
  • During this period any coverage of the Referendum will be closely scrutinised and it is therefore essential that you read Section 6 and ensure that you are aware of the rules which may impact on your programmes (including repeats on Channel 4 and broadcasts on E4, More4 and the +1 channels). If you need advice or guidance on the rules please contact the Legal and Compliance Department.


Due impartiality must be maintained across all programmes giving coverage to the Referendum or Referendum issues during the Referendum Period. Due weight must be given to designated organisations in coverage during the Referendum Period.

  • In addition, appropriate coverage should be given to other permitted participants with significant views and perspectives.
  • Coverage must be impartial between both sides across the campaign.
  • Prior to the Referendum Period, the Rules in Section 6 may apply during the various Election Periods for the 5 May 2016 Elections (see the Elections Guidelines), if the EU Referendum is being discussed in the context of those elections and therefore becomes and election issue.
  • All discussions and analysis of Referendum issues must finish when the polls open at 7 am on 23 June 2016.
  • The results of any opinion poll commissioned or undertaken on the 23 June 2016 cannot be published until after the polls close at 10pm that night.

What are “Permitted Participants” and “Designated Organisations”?

The Ofcom Code states, “Designated organisations and permitted participants are those that are designated by the Electoral Commission”.

  • “Designated Organisations” are the lead permitted participant on each side of the referendum. It is likely that Britain in Europe will to be the Designated Organisation for the ‘Remain’ side. However, there seem to be three organisations (Vote Leave, Leave.EU and Grassroots Out) who might be the Designated Organisations for the ‘Leave’ side. We will update this as soon as we know who the Designated Organisations are.
  • A “Permitted Participant” is an individual, body or political body campaigning on either side of the EU Referendum.
  • The Electoral Commission’s decision on who are the Designated Organisations is due by 14 April 2016.

Appearance by Representatives of Permitted Participants in Programmes

There are strict rules governing the appearance of representatives of permitted participants (“Representatives”) in any programme during the Referendum Period. Before 14 April 2016 you must ensure that you check that individuals appearing in programmes whether as contributors, presenters or interviewers are not planning to register as Permitted Participants, or Representatives.

  • Appearances by Representatives in any type of programme as news presenters, interviewers or presenters should cease from 15 April 2016 until close of polls at 10.00 pm on 23 June 2016.
  • Appearances by Representatives in non-political programmes, which were planned or scheduled before the Referendum Period may continue, but from 15 April 2016, no new appearances should be arranged and broadcast until after the polls close at 10.00 pm 23 June 2016.

Due Impartiality

The normal due impartiality rules set out in Section 5 of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code apply as always. In particular the rules relating to major matters of political or industrial controversy and major matters relating to current public policy apply to the coverage of the Referendum and Referendum issues.

In relation to any Ofcom complaints which raise substantive issues concerning due impartiality during the Referendum Period, Ofcom will act on an expedited basis to determine the outcome of any such complaints. Be prepared to engage with Ofcom on very short timescales in respect of any investigations concerning potential breaches of the impartiality provisions of the Ofcom Code.

Referendum Campaign Broadcasts

  • Referendum Campaign Broadcasts (“RCBs”) for the Referendum will be carried by Channel 4.
  • Each Designated Organisation will be allocated a series of RCBs before each referendum. The allocation should be equal for each referendum organisation.
  • RCBs on behalf of Designated Organisations must also be scheduled in peak time i.e. 6.00pm to 10.30pm.
  • Ofcom determines any disputes about RCBs on an expedited basis.
  • Any enquiries from the Designated Organisations should be directed to Emily Barber in Legal & Compliance and Tom Porter, Commissioning Editor, News and Current Affairs.

Video on Demand

The above rules and guidance do not apply to our video on demand service.

Web Content

Although the Ofcom Broadcasting Code provisions do not extend to our online coverage, the Channel will ensure that its online coverage of the Elections is consistent in terms of fairness and balance.

Channel 4 Legal & Compliance Department
17 March 2016