- Factual content should be fair and accurate. Similarly, dramas should not portray facts, events, individuals or organisations in a way which causes unfairness to an individual or organisation
- Contributors should take part in content on the basis of their informed consent. Any deviation from this rule must be justified by the public interest or otherwise
- Any content which makes significant allegations about an individual or organisation should normally give them an opportunity to respond
- From the very outset, content creators should think carefully about duty of care considerations
- Final editorial control in the content rests with Channel 4. Please do not cede to anyone the right to say what may or may not be used in the content
Sections 7 and 8 of the Ofcom Code, dealing with "Fairness" and "Privacy" respectively, are different from other sections of the Code because they apply to the treatment of individuals and organisations that are directly affected by content, rather than to what viewers and audiences see and hear.
The Code requires that Channel 4 "... must avoid unjust or unfair treatment of individuals or organisations in programmes" [Rule 7.1].
There are two important issues to bear in mind when considering fairness:
- Have you been dealing fairly with contributors and obtaining informed consent?
- Have you given proper consideration to the facts and is it necessary to give those concerned an opportunity to respond to allegations or claims made about them?
Since fairness and privacy issues are often closely related, this section should be read in conjunction with 'Privacy'.
Fairness and accuracy
In content, 'fairness' and 'accuracy' go hand-in-hand. If content is inaccurate, the chances are it will be unfair to people featured or referred to within it. Ensuring content is accurate, therefore, is of paramount importance in fairness terms as well as 'viewer trust' terms.
Content, including dramas, that refers to real people, organisations or events, even indirectly, must be thoroughly and properly researched with material facts checked and, where appropriate, corroborated. In addition, content creators should think carefully about who the content is likely to affect and, in turn, what the effect is likely to be. This will have a direct bearing on who should be consulted and/or approached to contribute to the content.
Content creators must ensure that material facts are not presented, disregarded or omitted in a way that is unfair to an individual or organisation and anyone whose omission could be unfair should be offered an opportunity to contribute. See 'Interviewing, fact checking and right to reply', below.
Similarly, fact-based dramas and reconstructions of real events should not portray facts, events, individuals or organisations in a way which is unfair to an individual or organisation. It should normally be made clear whether content lays claim to be a dramatised documentary, that is a faithful reconstruction subject to the same journalistic rigour as a factual documentary, or whether it is merely based on or inspired by real life events.
Fairness issues (as with those relating to privacy) can broadly be divided into those relating to individuals or organisations actually taking part in content - "contributors"; and those not taking part but who are otherwise referred to - "non-contributors".
Fairness and contributors
Contributors should normally take part in content on the basis of their informed consent, which is likely to involve providing contributors with information about the nature of the content at an appropriate stage.
The Ofcom rules require Channel 4 to avoid unjust or unfair treatment of individuals or organisations in programmes.
Section 7.3 relates to informed consent and includes the obligation that, where a person is invited to make a contribution to content (except when the subject matter is trivial or their participation minor) they should normally, at an appropriate stage:
- be informed about potential risks arising from their participation in the content which may affect their welfare (insofar as these can be reasonably anticipated at the time) and any steps Channel 4 and/or the content creator intends to take to mitigate these.
See also: Consent
Guarantees that are given to contributors, for example relating to content, confidentiality or anonymity should normally be honoured. Any deviation should be justified by the public interest or otherwise. Where conditions or guarantees have been stipulated, content creators should be clear about exactly what the contributor expects.
No absolute guarantees of anonymity which extend beyond the relevant content themselves should ever be given without the express, prior approval of Channel 4.
Where content is edited, contributions should be edited fairly, that is they should not be edited in such a way that misrepresents what the contributor actually said or did, including by omission.
See also: Viewer Trust
Fairness and non-contributors
Care needs to be taken with all references within content to identifiable individuals and organisations, to ensure they do not cause unfairness. As noted above, allegations or statements of fact need to be accurate, otherwise they are likely to result in unfairness.
Representing the views of third parties
Where content represents the views of individuals or organisations that are not actually participating, this must be done fairly, that is it should be accurate and not be misrepresentative.
See also 'Interviewing, fact checking and right to reply' below.
Re-use of material
When incorporating archive footage or material which has been filmed or recorded for another piece of content or purpose, content creators must ensure that this does not result in unfairness or an unwarranted infringement of privacy.
It would be unfair to use footage of identifiable teenagers, originally recorded for a news item about GCSE pass rates, in a later item about the problem of teen pregnancies, for obvious reasons. In some circumstances, obscuring people's identities, for example blurring faces, will suffice in removing any risk of unfairness or infringement of privacy; in others, this may not be sufficient and different footage should be sourced.
See also: Libel
Editorial control and previews
Final editorial control in the programme rests with Channel 4. Please do not cede to anyone the right to say what you may or may not use in the content. If such requests are made, refer them to your commissioning editor.
You should not reach any deals with interviewees or sources that might impact the nature of the content you make without careful advance reference to your commissioning editor and content lawyer/compliance advisor. Such a deal could jeopardise the project and may be changed by Channel 4 for legal or editorial reasons - we cannot back guarantees we have not approved in advance.
Channel 4's general policy on not allowing third parties to preview material in advance of broadcast/publication reflects industry practice. Therefore, do not agree to show the content or any section of it to anybody prior to broadcast/publication without the prior approval of your commissioning editor and content lawyer/compliance advisor.
In certain limited circumstances and at the discretion of Channel 4, it may be permissible to allow limited viewing rights under strict parameters to ensure factual accuracy for example where exclusive access has been granted to the content creators. Again, these must be approved in advance by the commissioning editor and content lawyer/compliance advisor and this is subject to final editorial control being retained by Channel 4.
- You must have available a full script of the content as it then stands (including all sync, voice over and commentary) at all viewings for the commissioning editor and the content lawyer/compliance advisor.
- It is helpful to have scripts with precisely numbered cells for ease of comment. Scripts should be dated and timed so that the current version can always be identified. On fact-heavy content it is also helpful and effective to footnote sources for fact checks where those sources are not confidential. If you are sending a DVD or FTP link then please put a voice and BITC on to help us.
Fairness complaints to Ofcom
Any individual (or organisation) who considers him/herself to have been the subject of unjust or unfair treatment or an unwarranted infringement of privacy in a broadcast programme may make a written 'fairness' and/or 'privacy' complaint to Ofcom after a programme's broadcast.
Defending these complaints is time-consuming and may involve disclosure to Ofcom of rushes, correspondence, emails and notes, as well as preparation of a detailed response to all the points raised by a complainant. This will require co-operation between Channel 4 and content creators. The documentation and correspondence relating to the complaint must be kept confidential.
If Ofcom entertains a complaint of unfair treatment and/or an unwarranted invasion of privacy, Channel 4 will be given the opportunity to make written submissions in relation to the complaint. Ofcom then comes to a "preliminary view” upon which both the complainant and Channel 4 are given an opportunity to make further written submissions. At this stage, Ofcom may decide to hold a hearing (but rarely does), for example if there is a significant dispute of fact between the parties. Ofcom then makes its final decision. If there is a hearing then at least one of the content creators will be expected to attend with Channel 4's representatives.
Ofcom will normally publish its final adjudication on its website and, it may also direct Channel 4 to transmit on air and/or publish a summary of its adjudication. In the case of a serious breach, a statutory sanction may be considered and imposed. The imposition of a sanction and the adverse press that it creates damages the reputation of both Channel 4 and the content creators.
Interviewing, fact checking and right to reply
Interviews where contributors make serious allegations should be handled with particular care
Do not take accounts, data or translations at face value without checking their sources
Providing a right to reply is a cornerstone of responsible journalism
If an individual or organisation is approached for comment and refuses to provide one, this should be made clear in the content
Interviews and pieces to camera
If an interviewee or contributor wants to change the standard release form, please check with your commissioning editor and content lawyer/compliance advisor before you accept such changes.
Any pieces to camera which include serious allegations or disputed facts should be approved by the commissioning editor and content lawyer/compliance advisor before they are recorded.
Interviews and contributions must be edited fairly and not distort or misrepresent the interviewee's views. Full and accurate transcripts of key interviews must be made available to the commissioning editor and content lawyer/compliance advisor, if requested, so that they can assess the fairness, significance and strength of any allegations being made in the content.
Material should not be obtained by misrepresentation or deception unless there is sufficient public interest and the deception is proportionate to the alleged wrong doing. Use of misrepresentation or deception should be approved by your commissioning editor and content lawyer/compliance advisor in advance of any subterfuge and only after clear parameters have been agreed.
See also: Deception and setups
Fact checking and experts
It is important that content creators do not adopt a 'groupthink' approach to a story and that they review, challenge and are suitably sceptical of all evidence and contributors’ motives. All allegations and the facts upon which they are based should be thoroughly researched, corroborated and double-checked.
Care should be taken when relying on statistical data to ensure that it has not been misinterpreted or miscalculated. The same applies to financial, tax, scientific, medical or corporate data where it may be necessary to seek specialist advice (whether on or off screen) to provide guidance on how the data is to be interpreted.
Equally when using an expert (whether on or off camera), appropriate checks should be undertaken to verify their qualifications, experience and other credentials. Checks should also be undertaken to ensure that where necessary they are suitably independent.
Care should be taken when using translators. Only professional and impartial translators should be used, and appropriate checks should be made to ensure that they are reliable. In certain circumstances it may be necessary to have material translated by a number of translators to avoid errors relating to nuances in language or dialect.
Extra care needs to be taken when relying on evidence or footage sourced from the internet or social networks or from a third party, where the bona fides of the material may be open to question. Appropriate checks must always be undertaken to ensure that the material can be independently corroborated, and content creators should be vigilant that such material can be inaccurate, manipulated or faked. In many cases it will be necessary to provide viewers with the provenance of material sourced from the internet.
If a social media site is being used as a means of corroboration, additional scrutiny may be required to avoid false and misleading claims.
Right to reply
Seeking an appropriate response in a reasonable timeframe from the subjects of significant allegations or criticism is a cornerstone of responsible journalism. It is also a regulatory obligation. Section 7.11 of the Code states:
"If a programme alleges wrongdoing or incompetence or makes other significant allegations, those concerned should normally be given an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond".
Content creators should always seek advice from their content lawyer/compliance advisor when seeking a right of reply, or where it is not possible to contact the subject of allegations.
If content makes significant allegations against an individual or organisation, those concerned should be given an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond.
Right to reply letters are drafted by content creators with input from the commissioning editor and content lawyer/compliance advisor. They should include sufficient information to enable those concerned to reply properly and a reasonable deadline for the reply.
A right to reply letter will be required in most factual content and any exception must be approved by the commissioning editor and content lawyer/compliance advisor. An example would be where those concerned have already issued a public statement addressing the allegations which can be fairly reflected in the content.
The timing of a right to reply will depend on the nature and seriousness of the allegations, the extent to which the allegations are already in the public domain and the ability of those concerned to respond. It is worth remembering that the timing of the initial letter and the deadline for responses may affect the content of press releases and trailers to publicise your content.
It is a matter of editorial judgement whether the right to reply letter offers the individual or organisation an interview in the content or asks for a statement in response to the allegations.
The content should fairly represent the substance of the individual or organisation’s response but, it is not normally necessary, in the interests of fairness, to reproduce a response in its entirety.
Where an individual or organisation withdraws their proposed response or only provides a response marked not for publication, there is still an obligation to ensure that material facts have not been presented, disregarded or omitted in a way that is unfair. In these circumstances the content should explain the reasons for the absence of a contribution and, reflect any material facts in relation to the position of those concerned, if it would be unfair not to do so.
Where an individual or organisation chooses to make no comment or refuses to give an interview, the content should make it clear that they have been approached and decided not to respond. The reasons for the decision not to respond should be included in content if it would be unfair not to do so.
If a particular allegation or criticism is made that you are aware has been published or broadcast by other media, it is often helpful to carry out research to establish whether the party being referred to has previously responded to the allegation. If so, it may be necessary to include reference to that response once it has been checked. An allegation should not be published simply because it has been published elsewhere. An appropriate fact checking process must always be undertaken.
A. It will be necessary to seek an appropriate response from a person or organisation whenever there are significant allegations or criticisms of wrongdoing against them, or any sort of damaging critique of an identifiable individual or organisation. This is likely to be necessary for accuracy, fairness and also potentially for legal reasons.
A. No. It is Channel 4's final decision how a person or organisation is given the opportunity to respond to allegations or criticisms in content and how their response is included within the content. As noted above, what is important is that the subject is given sufficient information about the content, told what the significant allegations are, and given a proper and timely opportunity to respond; and that any response is fairly included in the content to reflect fairly their position.
A. No. Only what is relevant and what fairness dictates needs to be included. Often content creators will receive many pages of irrelevant material in answer to a particular allegation. Your content lawyer/compliance advisor will advise you on what needs to be included.