Deception and setups

This section looks at the use of deception and setups in producing content.


Key points

  • Content creators should not normally obtain or seek information, audio, pictures or an agreement to contribute through misrepresentation or deception.

  • However, it may be warranted to do so and to use such material without consent if it is in the public interest and cannot reasonably be obtained by other means.

  • Any use of deception must be approved in advance by your commissioning editor and Legal & Compliance contact and permission will only be given where such use is justified and is proportionate to the public interest.

  • Special rules apply to the use of entertainment setups or unsolicited wind-up calls and early advice must be taken from your commissioning editor and Legal & Compliance contact.

  • In certain circumstances deception can be used, with Channel 4's prior approval, where it is intended to reveal the deception after filming and seek the requisite consent of those filmed before transmission.

  • The use of phone-hacking, email-hacking, accessing someone else's computers or data and other forms of unlawful interception of communications are breaches of the criminal law.

  • Any proposal which may potentially bring the content creators or a contributor into conflict with the criminal law or give rise to a threat of police action against the content, content creators or Channel 4 must immediately be discussed with your commissioning editor and Legal & Compliance contact.

Subterfuge, deceptions, entertainment setups and recordings for covert purposes

Content which involves subterfuge, entertainment setup situations or wherever a subject has consented to be recorded for a purpose other than that intended covertly by the content creators, must comply with the relevant sections of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.

In all such cases, commissioning editors should seek the early advice of their Legal & Compliance contact and in high profile cases refer up for approval, both before the recording takes place and again before it is broadcast/published.

Factual content

There may be rare occasions in factual content creation where there is justification for being less than totally honest and upfront with contributors. However, this is only likely to be acceptable where it is in the public interest (see also 'Public interest' under 'Privacy') and the material could not reasonably have been obtained through other means.

As a general rule, the minimum amount of deception should be employed in order to achieve the content's goal – the deception should be proportionate in all circumstances.

Content creators must seek advice and approval from their commissioning editor and Legal & Compliance contact before undertaking any such activity.

See also: Secret filming guidelines

Entertainment content

Entertainment content sometimes involves some sort of deceit or 'setup' situation, where members of the public or celebrities are filmed without their knowledge (for example 'candid camera' type stunts) or are filmed for a purpose different to that which they agreed to. In many cases, there will not be any public interest in broadcasting or publishing the footage. For this reason, the material may (in appropriate cases) be filmed, but cannot be broadcast without the informed consent of the individual or organisation deceived.

Consider carefully the effect of the stunt in advance to determine if the individual's family, partner or friend should be consulted beforehand in order to consider any unforeseen circumstances or to assess the risks associated with filming. (For celebrities/people in the public eye, see below.)

Note: in both factual and entertainment content, if the person or organisation deceived is not identifiable, consent before broadcast/publication will not normally be necessary.

Ordinary members of the public vs. celebrities

For the purposes of deception and setups, the Ofcom Broadcasting Code makes a distinction between ordinary members of the public and celebrities/people in the public eye. In relation to members of the public, broadcasters must obtain the informed consent of the person filmed before the footage can be broadcast (unless, of course, there is some public interest justification in broadcasting the material). However, with celebrities and people in the public eye, footage of them obtained through deception or misrepresentation can be broadcast/published without consent and without any public interest justification provided they have not been secretly filmed and as long as the filming is unlikely to result in "unjustified public ridicule" or "personal distress".  Channel 4 applies this same approach to digital content. 


There may be no significant public interest in broadcasting/publishing an entertaining sequence showing a particular celebrity who has consented to being filmed but is unaware that they are being duped into endorsing some patently absurd, fictional, charitable cause. The sequence may make the celebrity look naïve, even stupid but so long as broadcasting the footage is unlikely to result in "unjustified public ridicule" or "personal distress" for the celebrity concerned, the footage can be shown/published.

If the person duped was an ordinary member of the public, however, the footage could not be broadcast/published without consent or a public interest justification, regardless of whether they should have known better or the likely effect of broadcast on them.

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