Producers Handbook

Issues Requiring Reference Up

It is impossible to set out an exhaustive list of issues which require reference-up but, the golden rule is -

If in doubt, refer.

The following list (which applies equally to all Film4, online and marketing content) outlines the main areas where timely and appropriate reference-up is required:

  • Content containing material which will potentially cause widespread offence, e.g. extreme violence, explicit sexual material, highly offensive humour, material that may cause significant religious or racial offence or offence to other minority groups;
  • Content containing the most offensive language;
  • Where there are serious concerns about the welfare, health or safety of programme-makers or contributors, particularly those under 18 or vulnerable adults;**
  • Where there are sensitive or ethical issues relating to contributors, particularly those under 18 or vulnerable adults;**
  • Projects which involve travel to a dangerous country;
  • Any proposal to offer or make a facilitation payment to a foreign public official;
  • Where there are plans to research or film in potentially dangerous situations;
  • Where there are plans to provide an undertaking of anonymity to a source (see also 'Areas of Potential Concern where Specific Procedures Apply – Undertakings of Anonymity to Sources');
  • Where a potentially contentious programme is relying on a single source or sensitive leaked documents;
  • Where there are plans for highly controversial figures to appear in programmes;
  • Any proposal to grant a preview to a contributor or other third party in unusual circumstances;
  • Any proposal to pay a criminal or someone who has engaged in seriously anti-social behaviour for an interview about their crime/behaviour;
  • Any proposal to pay a witness or any person who may reasonably be called to be a witness in criminal proceedings;
  • Any proposal to instruct a private investigator to assist the production;
  • Any proposal to pay an official in public office for information;
  • Where there are plans to film or record surreptitiously or broadcast such material;
  • Any proposal to use subterfuge or deception in the public interest;
  • Any proposal which may potentially bring the programme-makers or a contributor into conflict with the criminal law or give rise to a threat of police action against the programme;**
  • Footage of executions or individuals at the point of death;
  • The portrayal of highly controversial figures or events in factual dramas;
  • Any proposals for fair dealing;
  • Where there are plans to film high-profile entertainment "set-ups" or high-profile stunts;
  • Any other material which requires a difficult judgement on a compliance or sensitive ethical issue;
  • Programmes in respect of which there is a significant risk or threat of legal action;**
  • Where there are significant viewer trust issues;**
  • Where there are serious questions or concerns about the authenticity of factual material;**
  • Apparently dishonest conduct by a member of the production team;**
  • Where there are plans to enter into a commercial relationship, including for any product or service, with a third party in connection with a programme or programmes, particularly where it is planned to refer on air to the company and/or products or services;
  • Consideration of plans to use Premium Rate Telephone Services (including red button) for voting or competitions, or other forms of viewer interaction;
  • Any broadcast or non-broadcast advertising or publicity stunts that are likely to attract significant regulatory complaint or legal action;
  • Any matter requiring reference–up under the Channel 4 News pre-broadcast protocol;**
  • An issue giving rise to a significant conflict of interest in respect of the programme makers or Channel 4;**
  • Any threats of legal proceedings and/or Ofcom complaints.

** Issues which might also arise after transmission of a programme and will therefore require reference-up at that stage.


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