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FAQ's

Q. What is meant by the term "children"?


A. In television compliance terms, "children" are individuals under the age of 15. The Code contains a number of rules that relate specifically to children and others that relate to anyone under 18, which of course includes children.


In terms of the law, however, '15' has little significance. In law, '18' is the most significant age in this context, as this is the age at which an individual reaches 'majority' or adulthood. However, note that in relation to some areas of the law, once an individual reaches 16, this is significant, for example young people can legally marry, and waive their legal right to anonymity in some circumstances.


The Code says that parental consent should normally be obtained for under 16's taking part in programmes.

Q. Does everything before 9pm have to be suitable for young children?


A. The Code states that "material unsuitable for children (those under 15) should not, in general, be shown before 9pm or after 5.30am". However, what is suitable or unsuitable will depend on a number of factors, so material should always be judged on the basis of the particular context. The Code anticipates that there may be material legitimately broadcast before the watershed which potentially could distress children and that, in such circumstances, broadcasters should flag this up to viewers with clear information about the programme's content. See 'Scheduling and the Watershed'.

Q. Can the word "fuck" ever be included in programmes before 9pm?


A. No. The Code states that the "most offensive language", which includes the word "fuck", should never be broadcast before 9pm. It does not matter what the context is or how strong the editorial justification is: if the word "fuck" or any derivate is included within a programme before 9pm, it will amount to a breach of the Code. See 'Offensive Language'.

Q. 'Bleeped' or 'dipped'? And does a person's mouth also have to be pixelated?


A. It generally makes no difference whether a potentially offensive word is cut, 'bleeped' or 'dipped'; the important point is that no part of the offensive word is audible. However, some viewers find numerous bleeps in a pre-watershed programme annoying. It is best to check with your commissioning editor, as they may have a stylistic preference. Taking the further precaution of pixelating a person's mouth will only be necessary in very rare cases for example when it is patently clear that a person or character is using the most offensive language for example someone mouthing "cunt", "motherfucker" or "fuck" directly to camera, at a time when large numbers of children may be expected to be watching. See 'Offensive Language'.

Q. Does nudity always have to be pixelated? What about when it's non-sexual?


A. Whether or not nudity needs to be pixelated will depend on the context in which it appears, for example the time of transmission, whether it is in a sexual context or not. Before the watershed, nudity in a sexual context is likely to require pixilation although mild non-sexual nudity may be acceptable for example topless sunbathing, a brief shot of a naked person from behind. After the watershed, nudity in a non-sexual context, even full-frontal nudity, is unlikely to be problematic or require pixilation. Whether nudity in a sexual context will need to be pixelated again will turn on the level of explicitness and whether it is justified editorially and by the context. See 'Sex and Nudity'.

Q. Can dangerous behaviour ever be included in programmes before 9pm?


A. All dangerous or potentially dangerous behaviour must, of course, be judged in context and be justifiable. Often such behaviour will be justifiable - for example car chases, people jumping out of aeroplanes, extreme sports are all included in many programmes and films that are broadcast before the watershed. The sort of material that is likely to be problematic is dangerous behaviour that is capable of easy imitation by children and which would lead to harm, for example showing a child playing 'hide and seek' and hiding in the drum of a washing machine; including a stunt with knives or matches in a programme before the watershed, that is behaviour involving items found in the home which children are likely to be able to get their hands on and might copy. See 'Violence and Dangerous Behaviour'.

Q. In what circumstances is it acceptable to show the drinking of alcohol or smoking before the watershed?


A. The featuring of alcohol within programmes before the watershed is commonplace for example in soaps, television drama, movies, televised events, some entertainment show formats, cooking programmes. In all cases, however, it should be justified by the context in which it appears and not be unduly prominent.


However, the misuse of alcohol that is heavy or reckless drinking, should generally be avoided in programmes before the watershed and must not be encouraged, condoned or glamorised unless there is editorial justification (and very strong editorial justification for programmes made primarily for children), for example the storyline taken as a whole highlights the perils of misusing alcohol by including the negative consequences. The same principles apply to smoking as the misuse of alcohol - it should generally be avoided before 9pm and not condoned, encouraged or glamorised unless there is editorial justification (and very strong editorial justification in programmes made primarily for children). Gratuitous smoking shots, such as prolonged dragging on a cigarette, should be removed from pre-watershed programmes where possible. See 'Drugs, Smoking, Solvents & Alcohol'.

Q. Do special rules apply when under 18s are involved in the making of programmes?


A. The Code contains a number of rules specifically aimed at protecting those young people who are involved in the making of programmes, for example interviewees, actors, contestants. The Code states that parental consent should normally be obtained for under 16's taking part in programmes. In addition, programme-makers and broadcasters must ensure that:

a) due care is taken over the physical and emotional welfare of under 18s and their dignity is respected, irrespective of whatever the young person or their parents have consented to;

b) people under 18 are not caused unnecessary distress or anxiety by taking part in programmes;

c) prizes aimed at children are appropriate to the age range of the target audience and the participants. See Guidelines for 'Working & Filming with Under 18's Guidelines'.

Q. What does it mean to say that something "...is justified by the context"?

A. Decisions about whether potentially harmful or offensive material is justified by the context in which it appears will often be subjective and there are always likely to be some viewers that disagree with the choices made by broadcasters. However, by carefully considering a number of particular factors, programme-makers and broadcasters aim to ensure that the content of their programmes does not exceed the expectations of the vast majority of viewers. Whilst not an exhaustive list, factors which determine the context include: the particular nature of the potentially harmful or offensive material (the tone, how explicit/graphic it is); when the material is scheduled (late night, pre-watershed, in school time, at times when large numbers of children are likely to be watching); the type/genre of the programme (factual, drama, entertainment, educational, intelligent, artistic, comedic); the audience's expectations (prior knowledge, whether an on-air warning was given); the nature of the Channel on which the material appears (specialist Channel or mainstream terrestrial broadcaster).

Q. Can very adult material be shown straight after the 9pm watershed.


A. After 9pm adult material may be shown as long as it is justified by the context, but the Code makes clear that there must be a gradual progression towards more adult material that is "9pm is a watershed, not a waterfall". Very adult material, therefore, should be reserved for well after the watershed.


Family viewing resumes from 5.30am. Whilst there is no regulatory requirement that there should be a gradual progression towards less adult content as schedules approach 5.30am, it is advisable not to show the most adult material immediately before then. Immediately thereafter, of course, programmes must be entirely suitable for family viewing. See 'Scheduling and the Watershed'.

Q. Does the word "cunt" always have to be bleeped or edited out?


A. Before the watershed, yes. After the watershed, not always. Like any other potentially offensive word "cunt" can be included in programmes after the watershed, if it is justified editorially and by the context. However, to the vast majority of people it is considered to be by far the most offensive word and, thus, requires exceptional justification and an on-air warning for "very strong language". See 'Offensive Language'.

Q. Do special rules apply to trailers for programmes?


A. As audiences are likely to come across most trailers and promotions for programmes without any prior warning and, therefore, any expectations of what they are about to see, they cannot generally be forewarned about the content for example that it contains strong language or adult sexual content. Furthermore, the context is unlikely to justify the inclusion of such material. Particular care is required, therefore, both in relation to the content and the scheduling of such material. On rare occasions, where trailers do contain more challenging material, they should be scheduled appropriately and they may exceptionally be preceded by an appropriate content warning.

Q. What sorts of things should viewers be warned about? What should on-air warnings say?


A. Viewers should be forewarned at the start of a programme of any material that may cause significant offence for example strong language, sex, violence. Whether or not a warning is appropriate will of course depend to a large extent on the context in which the material appears, for example we may warn viewers about use of the word "fuck" in a programme at 9pm, but not one starting at 10:30pm where there are only a few instances. Warnings should be clear and unambiguous, for example, "This programme contains strong language from the start"; "This programme contains lots of very strong language from the start and throughout, scenes of a violent, sexual nature and is for adults only". Occasionally, we may decide it is appropriate to warn both at the start of a programme and again going into the programme part containing the potentially offensive material for example "Now we return to [name of programme] which contains scenes of graphic violence which some viewers may find disturbing". See Channel 4's 'Internal Procedures for Reference Up & Compliance'.

Q. Can you warn audiences about the content of pre-watershed programmes?


A. Since programmes before the watershed should, as a rule, be suitable for children, warnings of the type given above should not be necessary because programmes before the watershed should not contain such material. However, there may be times where we may be justified in broadcasting challenging or unexpected material before the watershed, for example showing scenes of war or disaster in news programmes, which some viewers may find distressing. In such circumstances, clear 'flaggings' should be given, for example, "the following report contains scenes of famine and death which some viewers may find distressing". In addition, there may be scenes which, whilst justified, may distress or surprise some viewers, including children, for example a medical examination, surgical procedure or an animal having to be put to sleep. Again, such material should be clearly flagged up to viewers in advance, including into the programme part containing the material if necessary.

Q. When dramatising real events do all reconstructions need to be labelled?


A. No, it is only necessary to label reconstructions as such where there is a real risk that viewers may be misled, that is not realise that what they are watching is a reconstruction. Reconstructions may also be made apparent by the way the film looks or is treated. See 'Viewer Trust: Truth, Accuracy and the Importance of not Misleading the Audience'.

Q. Does accuracy really matter in a ‘formatted' or entertaining documentary or 'life style' show?


A. Absolutely. Viewer trust is of paramount importance. Programmes must not mislead viewers and programmes must be true, accurate and fair. The importance of viewer trust is not limited to current affairs, documentaries or conventional factual programmes. Simply because a programme is primarily designed to entertain or is 'formatted' does not mean that there is a licence to mislead the audience. Please refer to and follow the Channel 4 Viewer Trust Guidelines. Also, see 'Viewer Trust: Truth, Accuracy and the Importance of not Misleading the Audience'.

Q. What does it mean to 'mislead viewers'? Doesn't all television mislead the audience to a degree?


A. Viewers must feel confident that they can take what they see or are told in factual programmes at face value. Programme-makers must never stage, construct, reconstruct, re-enact or otherwise fake any scenes of actuality and pass them off to our viewers or to Channel 4 as the real thing. Please refer to and follow the 'Viewer Trust Guidelines'. Also, see 'Viewer Trust: Truth, Accuracy and the Importance of not Misleading the Audience'.

Q. Can exorcisms be shown on television?


A. Yes but the Code contains specific rules in relation to the content and scheduling of such programmes, as it also does with programmes that include occult practices and paranormal behaviour. See 'Programmes Including Exorcism, the Occult and the Paranormal'.

Q. Can programmes portray someone committing suicide?


A. Yes but programmes that make reference to suicide, particularly those that show visual demonstrations of methods of suicide, require very careful thought and handling. Scenes showing the techniques of suicide should only be included if justified editorially and by the context. In addition, it may be appropriate to seek professional, expert advice on how the matter is being handled within a particular programme and how it is likely to be perceived by vulnerable viewers. See 'Suicide & Self Harm'.

Q. Can someone actually be shown taking drugs on television?


A. Yes. Provided it is justified by context, appropriately scheduled and where necessary there is a warning. There must be no detailed description of 'how to' take drugs and drug taking must not be shown as problem-free or glamorous. If the person shown on camera taking drugs is a real person, programme makers should consider the potential consequences of showing this on television. See 'Drugs, Smoking, Solvent & Alcohol'.