Historic Content Review Principles

Channel 4 is an anti-racist organisation. Set up 40 years ago with a specific remit to reach and reflect diverse communities, the channel is committed to fighting discrimination of any kind. It is also committed to maintaining the greatest possible freedom of creative expression and has, throughout its history, made challenging and controversial programmes. These two principles will inevitably come into conflict from time to time.

Channel 4 has more than 14,000 hours of content available to stream, spanning Channel 4’s 40 year history. In that time, audience views and expectations have changed. Today some archive content may be seen as deeply offensive by some viewers in light of changing attitudes in society.

While we understand this, we also think our Channel 4 streaming archive is a valuable historical record of our output - and of the changing society of which we are a part. When first broadcast, all our programmes complied with the Ofcom code (or its predecessor). However, we recognise that the original intention of a programme may not align with the current perception of that programme or some scenes which were acceptable in the past may no longer meet the audience’s expectations, particularly with regards to the portrayal of people from minority groups, including people from ethnic minorities, and the LGBTQ communities, people with disabilities, and also older people and women. 

We have therefore reviewed how we handle historic programmes in our archive and have drawn up a set of guiding principles for the review of this material. These are underpinned by the Ofcom principles regarding Harm and Offence. 

The review

The aim of this review was to:

  1. Establish clear principles for how we handle historic shows in the Channel 4 archive which could now be regarded as inappropriate on grounds of racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism or other discriminatory representation, including deciding under what circumstances it should be edited or removed from Channel 4 streaming, or whether context or warnings should be included in descriptions of the content on Channel 4 streaming.
  2. Establish clear principles for how such content should be handled on other Channel 4 platforms including linear channels and social feeds.

The principles

These principles will apply to all historic programmes (whether commissioned or acquired) i.e. those which were first broadcast or made available digitally (whichever is the earlier) before 1 January 2018 by Channel 4 on any of its services.

Although there will occasionally be reasons to edit or remove historic content from Channel 4 streaming, our general approach will be to change it as little as possible.   In the majority of cases, the context of potentially offensive content is still clear to an audience today and remains within audience expectations. Channel 4 streaming already alerts viewers to content which may be distressing, violent, unsuitable for younger viewers, including adult humour, nudity or drug-taking or otherwise offensive.

In some cases, while the context is clear, some audience members might now be shocked or offended by the content which may be considered not in line with current audience expectations.  In other cases, the context may now be unclear to audiences

In such cases, we think content is best handled by adding appropriate context and further warnings; for example, to alert viewers to the fact that the programme they are about to watch contains material which reflects the social attitudes of the time. Such a warning may stipulate the nature of the material. At the same time, we may take the view that while some content should be retained on Channel 4 streaming, we do not wish to broadcast it further on other channels.  We are aware that all such decisions are a matter of judgment which will change over time.

We will remove scenes from programmes on Channel 4 streaming where there is, in the light of current audience expectations, insufficient context to justify the offence. In rare cases, we will remove the entire programme from the service.

We will prioritise programmes which are brought to our attention or where the subject matter or nature of a programme is particularly likely to have scope or potential to offend.  This process will be editorially led and the content will be reviewed by the relevant commissioning team overseen by the head of department, with support from the Legal and Compliance team to ensure a consistent approach across the channel.

July 2020