The 4Compliance site provides helpful and practical guidance to anyone involved in making content for Channel 4, whether for online publication or linear broadcast. It covers the main areas of law that apply, including the Ofcom Broadcasting Code (the Code) and Channel 4's own guidelines.
Attention Channel 4 content creators and editorial staff
Compliance is a shared responsibility between Channel 4's editorial teams and the content creators. Content creators are required under their commissioning agreement to comply with the law, the Code and 4Compliance.
In doing so they must seek advice from Channel 4's Legal and Compliance department at all relevant points.
This ensures that the content is editorially robust while providing the best available legal and regulatory defences.
Content creators must ensure that all relevant staff have read and are familiar with the provisions on the 4Compliance website.
Channel 4 is a public service commercial broadcaster that commissions original linear programming and online content from independent production companies. We are committed to freedom of expression – and the freedom of our audiences to engage with creative and bold material within the parameters of the Ofcom Code and the law.
Content creators and editorial staff are not expected to know the laws and regulations inside out – but you do need a sound practical knowledge to help you identify problems and know when to seek advice. Judgements on legal and compliance matters are sometimes difficult and subjective, but the earlier potential issues are addressed, the more we can do to support you to make the most challenging content and defend it after transmission.
The 4Compliance website is intended as a reference tool, not a replacement for taking and acting upon advice from Channel 4's Legal & Compliance department.
There are some issues you should always refer up to your content lawyer/compliance advisor. If you are ever in doubt about a legal or compliance issue, then speak to us first.
Viewer trust is of paramount importance to Channel 4 and this issue must be given the highest priority. Audiences must be confident that our content is true, accurate, fair and are not misleading.
The role of the Legal & Compliance department
Channel 4 has an experienced and highly skilled team of content lawyers and compliance advisors dedicated to advising across all Channel 4 content both pre- and post-broadcast/publication and including any online support, promotional trails and related press.
The team will provide legal, regulatory and editorial ethics advice across all Channel 4 content, including in relation to the Ofcom Code, libel, contempt and privacy. They will assist in the drawing up of specific guidelines and protocols for content production and are instrumental in defending Channel 4 content where complaints are made to Ofcom and where litigation is threatened.
Help them to help you by seeking advice at an early stage and throughout your project and by being candid with them and your commissioning editor about any issues so that they can be addressed promptly.
The Legal & Compliance department also provides training to internal staff and content creators and they are also the first point of contact with Ofcom and are involved in proactive lobbying on legal and regulatory changes affecting content.
If you need advice and you don't know who the content lawyer/compliance advisor is for your content, please ask your commissioning editor or call the Legal & Compliance department direct.
If you are unclear about anything on this website, please seek advice from your commissioning editor and/or, as appropriate, a member of the Channel's Legal & Compliance department.
What we advise on
The Media Law Section summarises the main areas of media law that affect the making and broadcasting of programmes and online content. This section will enable content creators and editorial staff to identify areas of the law that might affect content they are working on to enable them to seek timely advice.
Media Law in the UK most commonly concerns:
- Privacy and Data Protection
- Copyright and Fair Dealing
- Programmes involving criminal activity
- Competitions and lotteries
- Protection of children
Of course, content is also subject to all UK laws. Additionally, the laws of other countries may apply to your programme or content where you are recording and/or publishing outside the UK.
If you have any concerns about whether your content is compliant, you must refer up immediately.
We aim to provide challenging, distinctive, quality content to serve our audiences and we are constantly looking for new ways in which to inform and entertain viewers. Inevitably, therefore, some of our content will deal with controversial subjects which may not be to the tastes of all viewers and may cause offence to some members of the audience.
The Ofcom Broadcasting Code (the Code) is designed to ensure that generally accepted standards are upheld in television programmes in order to protect members of the public from harmful or offensive material.
As a responsible broadcaster, we seek to follow the principles and comply with the rules in the Code, and the key to this is considering and managing audiences' expectations. This includes scheduling programmes responsibly, providing viewers with information through warnings and 'flaggings', and ensuring that the broadcast of challenging and potentially offensive material can be justified in its context.
What is Ofcom?
Ofcom (the Office of Communications) regulates most content on television (excluding content broadcast during a commercial break) and UK video-on-demand services.
Channel 4, like other commercial broadcasters, is licensed by Ofcom to broadcast, subject to compliance with its codes.
The main code applying to the content of television programmes and on-demand content which broadcasters must comply with is the Ofcom Broadcasting Code ('the Code'). Accordingly, content creators have contractual obligations to comply with the Code and the guidance in the 4Compliance website (previously known as the Producers Handbook)
The Code acknowledges the importance of freedom of expression but points out that with those rights come responsibilities. The Code has 9 key sections containing "Principles" and "Rules":
- Section 1: Protecting the under-eighteen's
- Section 2: Harm and offence
- Section 3: Crime
- Section 4: Religion
- Section 5: Due impartiality and due accuracy
- Section 6: Elections and referendums
- Section 7: Fairness
- Section 8: Privacy
- Section 9: Commercial references in TV programming
- It also contains On Demand Programme Service Rules
Ofcom also publishes and regularly updates guidance on areas of the Code. Ofcom also publishes a Broadcast and On Demand Bulletin every two weeks reporting on the outcome of investigations into potential breaches of the Code.
It is the responsibility of all content creators together with Channel 4’s editorial staff, taking advice from the Legal and Compliance department where appropriate, to ensure that programmes comply with the Code and can be robustly defended to Ofcom after broadcast.
Failure to comply with the Code is likely to result in a breach being upheld and details of the breach being publicly published by Ofcom. In the case of serious or persistent breaches, Ofcom has the power to issue a direction to broadcast a summary of its adjudication on air; impose a fine (which could be substantial) and even shorten or remove a channel’s licence to broadcast (with certain exceptions). The publication of a finding against a programme or the imposition of a sanction, along with the resulting adverse press, can damage the reputation of both the broadcaster and the content creator.
Ofcom standards complaints
If a 'standards complaint' (complaints concerning sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9 of the Code) is made to Ofcom about Channel 4 content, Ofcom may contact Channel 4 for an explanation of how the material complies with the Code. This may relate to the programme's or trail's scheduling as well as its content and any warnings that did or did not precede it.
Content creators will be expected to assist in preparing the response.
Ofcom fairness and/or privacy complaints
A programme contributor (which can include a person or a company) or a person/company with a "direct interest" in the subject matter of a programme may make a 'fairness and/or privacy complaint' to Ofcom alleging unfair treatment and/or unwarranted infringement of privacy. The full co-operation and assistance of the producer will be expected in compiling Channel 4's response, and they may also be required to attend an Ofcom hearing.
What content has to comply with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code? Ofcom regulates:
- Editorial content (programming) on television
- Trailers for programmes, (including continuity announcements)
- Sponsorship messages broadcast before, during or after a programme
- Editorial content programming on UK video-on-demand services including Channel 4 streaming
Ofcom does not govern content broadcast during commercial breaks, which is regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority.
The Advertising Standards Authority
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regulates UK advertising across all media. The system is a mixture of self-regulation for non-broadcast advertising and co-regulation for broadcast advertising (with Ofcom).
All non-broadcast advertising, e.g. billboard posters or online advertisements, should comply with the 'Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing' (the 'CAP Code'). A breach of the CAP Code can in the most serious cases result in the mandatory pre-vetting of all Channel 4 off-air marketing for up to 2 years.
All broadcast advertisements (including teleshopping, television text and interactive television advertisements) and programme sponsorship credits on television services licensed by Ofcom should comply with the 'UK Code of Broadcast Advertising' (the 'BCAP Code'). Ofcom retains direct responsibility under the BCAP Code for sponsorship, product placement and participation TV advertising.
Persistent breaches of the BCAP Code can result in the ASA referring the broadcaster to Ofcom, which can then impose a range of statutory sanctions against Channel 4.
The Phone-paid Services Authority
The PSA regulates premium rate services in the UK. This includes premium rate telephone numbers and mobile text short code numbers that can be used to enter text or online competitions, to vote in live programmes, give to charity via a mobile, or download mobile games.
The PSA regulates through the enforcement of rules contained within the PSA Code of Practice. The Phone-paid Services Authority investigates complaints about premium rate services, and where rules are found to have been broken it can fine the company responsible and bar access to its services. In addition, it is a provision of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code that broadcasters and their producers comply with the Phone-paid Services Authority Code.
Internal procedures for reference up and compliance
Channel 4's internal compliance procedures are intended to enable, through best practice and reference-up, the responsible making and broadcast/publication of the boldest and most challenging content which can be successfully defended to our regulators and in the courts where necessary. To be effective the compliance process must include all staff involved in the making and broadcast/publication of programmes, online content and supporting material such as trails, press information and marketing.
The process requires knowledge of and adherence to the rules in the Ofcom Broadcasting Code ('the Ofcom Code'), and this website (4Compliance), which includes Channel 4's 'Viewer trust' guidelines, and other best practice guidelines. Also essential is close collaboration between all commissioning staff and content creators and input and advice from content lawyers and compliance advisors in the Legal & Compliance department.
The internal reference-up process, which lies at the heart of effective compliance, involves all staff in commissioning, the Chief Content Officer, the Chief Marketing Officer, the Director of Corporate Relations, the Chief Commercial Affairs Officer and ultimately the Chief Executive. Also key to the compliance process are all staff in 4Studio, Marketing, 4 Creative, Press & Publicity, Channel Management and VOD.
Channel 4's internal compliance procedures apply to all content commissioned by, purchased for and broadcast/published on Channel 4 and all its platforms, including E4, More4, Film4 and 4Seven (including all '+1' catch-up channels) and to all content published online including on Channel 4 streaming. It also includes all press and publicity, on-air and off-air marketing and publicity stunts.
In addition to these internal compliance procedures, all digital content is governed by Channel 4's 'Digital guidelines' which should be read in the light of the over-arching principles in this section of the website.
It is mandatory that all Channel 4 staff involved in the production and/or broadcast/publication of programme, marketing and online content read and familiarise themselves with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code, 4Compliance and all Channel 4 internal compliance procedures.
The compliance process and role of commissioning
Although the Channel's approach will always be one of collaboration, the cardinal principle is that content lawyers and compliance advisors advise and commissioning editors decide. In other words, working closely with content creators, commissioning editors, commissioning heads, the Chief Content Officer and ultimately the Chief Executive, through a process of 'referral-up', are responsible for the editorial content published or broadcast by Channel 4. Crucially, this includes making sure that all content has been subject to the appropriate level of editorial scrutiny at every stage to ensure the necessary legal and regulatory compliance. This includes reviewing content commissioned or acquired by commissioning editors' predecessors and all repeats on all platforms.
Editorial staff are also responsible for ensuring that, before and after broadcast/publication, any matters giving rise to legal or compliance issues are referred to the Legal & Compliance department for timely advice.
Response to threats of legal proceedings
If a programme, online content, a trail, on- or off-air marketing or a press release or billing gives rise to a threat of legal proceedings in writing or otherwise (including what purports to be an injunction or notice of an injunction), advice must be immediately sought from the Legal & Compliance department.
Under no circumstances must a reply be provided without advice first being sought from a content lawyer.
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