- Presenting a story or item with “due impartiality” means presenting it in an appropriately balanced and fair way.
- The news, and content dealing with matters of political or industrial controversy or matters relating to current public policy, must be reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality, and must include and give due weight to an appropriately wide range of significant views.
- Significant mistakes in news should normally be acknowledged and corrected quickly (including on air). On air corrections should be appropriately scheduled.
- “Personal view” or “authored” content, which presents a particular view or perspective, must be clearly signalled to viewers as being so at the outset. Content creators must seek advice from the content lawyer/compliance advisor at an early stage.
Viewers have high expectations of broadcast journalism, particularly in news and factual content dealing with controversial matters, for example politics and public policy issues. Audiences expect content to be accurate and to be appropriately balanced and fair.
To ensure this is achieved, Parliament has made it a statutory requirement that broadcasters ensure that news and matters of political or industrial controversy or matters relating to current public policy (in any type of content) are reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality. In turn, these statutory provisions are reflected in the Ofcom Code. Channel 4 applies these same standards to its online content.
The Code contains a number of rules that apply specifically to news content and further rules that apply to all content dealing with certain types of subject matter.
Due impartiality on political issues is a fundamental standard and applies to all factual content. This means for example, that news and current affairs journalists working on this output do not as a rule agree or disagree with a political party or politician or take a fixed stance on politically contentious issues. Presenters and reporters generally should be particularly careful about comments on political issues and politicians. Channel 4's Using Social Media - Top Tips for Talent can be found here.
If there is any doubt about whether content is potentially problematic, this should be referred to the Legal & Compliance team at Channel 4.
Due impartiality in news content
Note: Channel 4 News is produced by Independent Television News (“ITN”). All legal and compliance queries regarding Channel 4 News content should, in the first instance, be directed to the Head of Legal & Compliance at ITN.
Due accuracy, due impartiality
News, in whatever form, must be reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality. In addition to traditional news programmes/content, “news” includes news bulletins, news flashes and daily news magazine programmes/content.
Clearly viewers expect news content to be accurate, in other words factually correct. The requirement of “due” accuracy merely anticipates there may be details in relation to a story that it is acceptable to omit without adversely affecting the story’s accuracy.
Presenting a story or item with “due impartiality” means presenting it in an appropriately balanced and fair way, in terms of including the various views, opinions and arguments that might exist in relation to a particular story and not favouring one side over another.
The term “due” is significant in that it means that impartiality should be adequate and appropriate in all the circumstances of the particular story. Channel 4 does not have to give equal time to each and every view or argument that might exist on a particular subject – just what is adequate and appropriate in all the circumstances.
Significant mistakes in news should normally be acknowledged and corrected on air quickly. Corrections should be appropriately scheduled on air or published in order to reach a similar audience to the story which included the mistake.
If content creators become aware of a significant mistake having been broadcast/published because of a complaint or otherwise, they should immediately seek advice from the content lawyer/compliance advisor. No apology should be made without first having taken advice from the content lawyer/compliance advisor.
Appearances by politicians in news content
Politicians must not be used as newsreaders, interviewers or reporters in news content unless, exceptionally, it is editorially justified, in which case that person’s political allegiance must be made clear to viewers.
Any proposal to involve politicians in news content, other than as interviewees, must first be referred to the commissioning editor for approval who, in turn, should seek advice from the content lawyer/compliance advisor.
Ofcom guidance states that the term ‘politicians’ includes an MP or councillor, a candidate, an applicant to be a candidate or a prospective candidate, an employee of a political party or an activist.
Politicians should not be paid for an interview or contribution except in exceptional circumstances.
Due impartiality in non-news content
In non-news content, there is no general requirement of due impartiality unless the content is dealing with “matters of political or industrial controversy” or “matters relating to current public policy”. The former are defined in the Code as being “... political or industrial issues on which politicians, industry and/or the media are in debate...” for example the government’s decision to go to war, the amount of tax charged on petrol, matters giving rise to industrial action/strikes and other similar matters. The latter, that is matters relating to current public policy, are defined as being “... policies that are either under discussion or have been already decided by local, regional or national government or other organisations mandated to make such decisions...”, for example the introduction of laws to deal with terrorism or extending licensing hours. They need not be the subject of debate. It is worth noting that, in many cases, there will be an overlap – many issues will be both matters of political or industrial controversy and at the same time matters of current public policy.
The following rules apply.
Matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy
Content dealing with matters of political or industrial controversy or matters relating to current public policy must be duly impartial.
In most cases individual programmes/content should be duly impartial in themselves. However, impartiality can be achieved over a series of programmes or pieces of content taken as a whole, where more than one programme/piece of content deals with the same or similar subject, for example a drama followed by a debate or a season of programmes/content.
Whenever impartiality is to be achieved over two or more programmes or pieces of content, this should be made clear to viewers, for example (in the case of broadcast) by an on-air announcement immediately prior to each programme. Content creators and editorial staff must seek early advice from the content lawyer/compliance advisor wherever it is intended to achieve due impartiality in this way.
Note: this rule applies to both national and international matters, for example foreign elections.
Misrepresentation and due weight
Views and facts must not be misrepresented and should be presented with due weight over appropriate timeframes. In each case, “due weight” will be a matter of judgment based on the particular circumstances.
In addition to the above rules, there is a further requirement that Channel 4 ensure that due impartiality is preserved in relation to major matters of political or industrial controversy and major matters relating to current public policy. Such matters would include ones of national or international importance or of similar significance within a smaller broadcast area. When dealing with such major matters, content or clearly linked content must include and give due weight to an appropriately wide range of significant views. Views and facts must not be misrepresented.
Reporters and presenters
Any personal interest of a reporter or presenter, which would call into question the due impartiality of the content, must be made clear to the audience. For example, if a guest presenter or reporter had close connections to one political party and was reporting on a politically sensitive issue, it would be appropriate to alert viewers to the individual’s political allegiances. Content creators must ensure that all presenters and reporters are briefed about this requirement and that they have appropriate procedures in place to ensure that they become aware of any personal interests that could impinge upon the perceived due impartiality of the content.
If in doubt, please seek advice from the content lawyer/compliance advisor.
Views and opinions
Presenters and reporters in non-news content (or a chair in a piece of discussion content) can express their own views on matters of political or industrial controversy or matters relating to current public policy as long as alternative viewpoints are represented and due impartiality is achieved either within the content itself or within a series of programmes or pieces of content taken as a whole.
“Personal view” or “authored” content
Personal view or authored programmes or content which present a particular view or perspective must be clearly signalled to viewers as being so at the outset. Viewers’ expectations are likely to be different if they know at the outset that what is being presented to them is acknowledged as being someone’s personal view. However, such content requires careful handling and merely signalling a programme or content as being “personal view” may not be enough to discharge entirely impartiality requirements.
Content creators must seek advice from the content lawyer/compliance advisor at an early stage.
Undue prominence of views and opinions
Undue prominence must not be given to the views and opinions of individuals or bodies on matters of political or industrial controversy or on matters relating to current public policy, taking into consideration everything that is broadcast/published in relation to a particular issue, over an appropriate timeframe. This requires Channel 4 and, in particular, commissioning editors and senior editorial executives, to think carefully about how particular subjects are being dealt with generally by Channel 4 with a view to ensuring, cumulatively, that output is duly impartial.
Parliamentary footage and footage from other assemblies
There are rules which apply to the use within content of footage licensed from within Parliament and certain other assemblies. In relation to Westminster and the House of Commons and House of Lords (including Committees in both Houses) these include the following:
- Footage must not be manipulated, i.e. pictures or the sound altered in any way.
- Where two sections of a speech are included, it must be clear to viewers that an edit has been made and that the speech as presented is not continuous.
Normally parliamentary footage may only be included in news and factual content. If parliamentary footage is to be used in a non-factual/news context, then content creators must refer to the content lawyer/compliance advisor for advice.
Similarly there are rules that apply in relation to footage from within the European Parliament, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly. There are currently no restrictions regarding coverage of the London Assembly.
Online and social media
The due impartiality requirements of the Ofcom Code apply to what is broadcast on television. They do not apply to news and other content (relating to matters of political or industrial controversy or matters relating to current public policy) on the internet. However, as a matter of policy, Channel 4 requires its online content to also be duly accurate, and impartial on matters of political and industrial controversy and current public policy.
Presenters and journalists should be particularly careful about comments on such issues.
No. Any content concerning matters of political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy must be duly impartial, either duly impartial itself, or Channel 4 must seek to achieve due impartiality in some other way, for example by broadcasting/publishing another linked programme or piece of content in which balancing views and opinions are expressed.
It is impossible to give an exhaustive list, but matters of political and/or industrial controversy, or relating to current public policy would include the following: government domestic and foreign policy and all that entails, for example the introduction of new laws, reforms, war, military action, defence, aid, sanctions, the economy, health, education, security, immigration, finance, party politics, industrial action, strikes, factory closures. If the subject matter can be broadly termed 'current affairs' and on which there exist opposing viewpoints, it is likely to be caught.
A 'personal view programme' is just that: a programme or piece of content in which the personal views or perspectives of an individual or group of individuals are propounded. Such content must be labelled as being a 'personal view' so viewers are clear about what they are watching. The Ofcom Code acknowledges that personal view content can "... range from the outright expression of highly partial views, for example, by a person who is a member of a lobby group and is campaigning on the subject, to the considered "authored" opinion of a journalist, commentator or academic, with professional expertise or a specialism in an area which enables her or him to express opinions which are not necessarily mainstream." Simply labelling content as 'personal view' does not mean that Channel 4 can dispense with ensuring due impartiality, where it is required. Alternative viewpoints must still adequately be represented in the content, or in a series taken as a whole.
Television is much more closely regulated than the print media. Due impartiality provisions are imposed on broadcast output by an act of Parliament and compliance with those provisions is an important condition of all broadcasters' licences. Channel 4 applies the same standards of due accuracy and due impartiality to its online content.
Impartiality may be achieved by broadcasting/publishing one or more later linked programmes or pieces of content, which contain alternative arguments on a particular subject, so that, taken as a whole, the broadcaster's output is duly impartial regardless of views expressed on other channels or elsewhere in the media. This needs careful thought and planning. Wherever this is intended the commissioning editor and content creators should seek early advice from the content lawyer/compliance advisor.
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