Live content guidelines

Key points

  • Take advice from a member of the Legal & Compliance department at an early stage when commissioning a live programme or content.
  • Production team members, researchers and presenters should be briefed by the Channel 4 legal and compliance team before broadcast/publication. 
  • Particular care should be taken when providing premium rate services.
  • Be aware of the apologies procedure in case of incidents that could be libellous, harmful or offensive.


Channel 4 has specific rules for live programmes and content, including an apologies procedure for where a problem occurs live during transmission/publication. These procedures must be followed.

Commissioning editors should ensure that presenters of live content are capable of dealing with live publication and that arrangements are made at an early stage for legal and compliance briefings and advice from the Legal & Compliance department. With few exceptions, all live content must be viewed and monitored by an editorial representative of Channel 4.

Prior to broadcast/publication

All commissioning editors should take advice from a member of the Legal & Compliance department at an early stage when commissioning a piece or series of live content so that the necessary arrangements can be made.

The commissioning editor must ensure that the presenters selected are equipped to handle the particular demands of the live show they are presenting.

The commissioning editor must ensure that the appropriate members of the production team, including researchers and, if necessary, presenter(s) are adequately briefed by a member of the Legal & Compliance department on the regulatory issues and areas of law relevant to the content/series. If appropriate, this should be achieved by means of a training session before broadcast/publication, set up by the commissioning editor responsible for the content who must be present.

Tailored guidance notes on legal and compliance issues will generally be prepared, where appropriate, in liaison with the commissioning editor, summarising the legal and compliance issues and serving as an aide memoire. The guidance notes should set out the procedures for compliance both before and during transmission/publication, especially those concerning the provision of advance information by the production company to Channel 4 editorial and legal representatives about guests, fair dealing, subjects for discussion and other proposed content. They must also include any necessary briefing of guests by the production company about requirements for the particular content given its nature and time of broadcast/publication, e.g. briefing contributors (including bands) not to use inappropriate language pre-watershed.

If there is any use of premium rate services in connection with live content, there must be an agreed contingency plan in place, detailing what is to be done if the technology fails.

The commissioning editor should ensure that there is an effective system in place for advance information to be provided by the production team on content to the commissioning editor and content lawyer/compliance advisor. The commissioning editor must also make sure that any particularly difficult items, subjects or guests are referred up in advance to their editorial head and/or, if appropriate, to the Chief Content Officer.

The Legal & Compliance department will assess whether the content requires a content lawyer/compliance advisor present at the recording or via a link or for there simply to be access to the duty lawyer in an emergency. They will request the commissioning editor and content creators to make appropriate arrangements and provide contact numbers, as needed. The Commissioning Editor must ensure the content creators have adequate facilities for the content lawyer/compliance advisor to see and hear the live content, if one is in attendance.

The production team must be made fully aware by the commissioning editor in advance of transmission of the "Apologies Procedure" set out below, and this should also be referred to at the briefing and in the guidance notes referred to above.

Where it is anticipated that during a live post-watershed broadcast potentially offensive material may arise, the commissioning editor must make arrangements with the Presentation department for an appropriate on-air warning to be made immediately before the start of transmission/publication, e.g. "This programme may contain strong language".

The precise wording of the warning should be discussed with the content lawyer/compliance advisor.

If there is to be a brief time-delay between filming and transmission/publication, the commissioning editor must discuss the proposals with the content lawyer/compliance advisor and ensure there is sufficient time and resources available for the necessary editing to be done effectively, and that any implications for the defence to libel for live content are considered.

During and after broadcast

A commissioning editor or a deputy commissioning editor must be present at all live broadcasts/publications, or in certain circumstances, must view the content as it is broadcast or published and be available via a link to the content creator, content lawyer/compliance advisor or Channel 4 duty lawyer and Presentation.

The commissioning editor must ensure there is effective communication between the content creator, the content lawyer/compliance advisor, the commissioning editor and the studio floor to deal with any problem. If the presenter will not be wearing an earpiece, another system must be set up.

Where material which is potentially legally problematic is inadvertently broadcast/published, the content lawyer/compliance advisor will advise what action, if any, should be undertaken. If there is no content lawyer/compliance advisor watching the show, the commissioning editor must call the duty lawyer immediately for advice.  They must not wait until after the show has ended.

If a serious incident arises during a live broadcast/publication, the commissioning editor must as soon as reasonably possible, refer up to their editorial head (or, if unavailable, the editorial executive on duty) and content lawyer/compliance advisor/duty lawyer (or, if unavailable, the controller of Legal and Compliance) to discuss the options.

Following the broadcast/publication, the commissioning editor should debrief the content makers and, if necessary, write up a full report of the incident for their editorial head, the chief content officer and the content lawyer/compliance advisor.

Apologies procedure

Each incident will be different, so hard-and-fast rules would not be practical, but the following procedures should be followed unless circumstances clearly indicate they are inappropriate.

On the advice of the content lawyer/compliance advisor, any potential libel problem should be dealt with immediately. This may include a statement distancing the content and Channel 4 from a libellous remark and apologising if necessary. The presenters must not make any further reference to the libellous remark in the content.

If an inappropriately offensive or tasteless remark is made the presenter should attempt to diffuse the situation and distance the content and Channel 4 from the remark. They should endeavour to apologise to viewers immediately. In the heat of the moment with a difficult guest, this can be risky and should only be done if it is felt it will not cause further problems.

In the event of the use of strong language (the 'f-word’, 'c-word’ or their derivatives) pre-watershed, an on-air apology must be made by the presenter at the earliest opportunity. Consideration must be given by the commissioning editor and content lawyer/compliance advisor to whether a further apology by Presentation at the end of the content is appropriate. If the presenter has failed to apologise, or the opportunity has passed, there must be a Presentation apology immediately after the content.

If it is agreed that there should be an apology, then Presentation should make a simple apology directly following the transmission/publication.

The commissioning editor and content lawyer/compliance advisor should be consulted on whether an offensive or libellous remark or language which caused concern on transmission should be edited from any repeat publication on Channel 4 streaming and/or an entry should be made on the relevant internal system alerting users that the content cannot be repeated without the requisite edit being made. Appropriate liaison should also be made urgently in respect of the +1 Channel, 4Seven and Channel 4 streaming.

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