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FAQ's

Q. One of our contributors has been arrested. What should we do?

A. Contact your programme lawyer immediately. Clearly, the repercussions of such an event would depend on the particular circumstances, for example the type of offence for which the contributor was arrested, the nature of the programme, the nature of the contribution.

Q. An individual featured in our programme is on bail but has not been charged. Can they be included?

A. Again, it would depend entirely on the particular circumstances - the type of offence for which the potential contributor has been arrested and bailed, the nature of the programme and the proposed contribution. Contact the programme lawyer immediately for advice.

Q. The subject of a programme about a criminal case has been convicted but not sentenced. Can we go ahead and broadcast?

A. In all likelihood, yes, but in such circumstances programme-makers must seek advice from the programme lawyer. The fact that the subject of the programme has been convicted means that the jury element of the legal proceedings is concluded and accordingly the risk of prejudice is diminished. However, there could potentially be other reasons why the programme could not be broadcast, for example proceedings in respect of other criminal charges may remain 'active', or there may be a specific court order preventing publication of certain details of the case.

Q. Can you be in contempt of an Appeal?

A. Potentially yes. Under the Contempt of Court Act 1981, appeal proceedings become "active" from the time of application for leave or the lodging of a notice of appeal. However, because appeals are heard by professional judges, rather than jurors and tend to concern points of law and procedure, the risk of prejudicing such proceedings is generally much lower.

Q. What kinds of proceedings are covered by the law of Contempt?

A. There is no exhaustive list of what constitutes "legal proceedings" but it includes, for example, the main courts e.g. Magistrates' Court, County Court, High Court, Appeal Courts and also inquests, military courts and industrial tribunals. Hearings before the Professional Conduct Committee of the General Medical Council are not included.

Q. Why can't we discuss the case, the newspapers are?

A. Newspapers and television news programmes often publish/ broadcast fair and accurate reports of on-going trials. This means that once a trial has started, the newspaper or news programme prepares a report outlining that day's evidence and proceedings. Such reports are only permissible (i.e. they do not amount to a contempt) where they are contemporaneous, are a fair and accurate summary of the day's proceedings and relate to proceedings held in public. The reports must be very carefully written and not distort what was said. Often the newspaper/news programme will cover each day of the trial. Clearly, most other types of television programmes (i.e. non news programmes) are simply unable to report in this way (fairly, accurately and contemporaneously). However, if programme-makers do wish to report on current court cases, they must seek advice from the programme lawyer.

Q. A contributor is willing to talk on camera about being raped. Can she be identified?

A. It is a criminal offence for the media to identify the victims of most sexual offences. However, the victim (if 16 or over) can waive his/her right to anonymity as long as consent is given freely and in writing. Always seek advice from the programme lawyer.

Q. A contributor cannot be identified for legal reasons. To ensure we're not in contempt, what measures do we need to take to ensure he is unidentifiable?

A. In short, we must do whatever is necessary to ensure that the person is not identifiable. Visually, this may mean: pixilating the person's face or even more of their image (if they have some distinctive feature, for example a particularly unusual hair style); filming the person in silhouette; or, altering their voice or even replacing it with an actor’s voice. We must be very careful about exactly what information we broadcast about the person, taking into account what information is already in the public domain, to avoid jigsaw identification.