Factual Programme Guidelines
This document applies to all factual programmes across all genres. It sets out Channel 4's best practice procedures and guidelines. The document should be read and followed by all producers working on factual programmes or items or portrayals of factual matters.
If your programme also involves filming with children and/or filming in dangerous countries and/or secret filming or recording then the following additional guidelines must also be read and followed:
- Working and Filming with Under 18’s Guidelines
- Hostile Filming Guidelines
- Secret Filming Guidelines
- Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Guidelines
- Anti-Bribery Guidelines
- Producer Data Protection & Security Guidelines
- Duty of Care Guidelines
Please also take the time to watch our e-module on Factual Programming which offers invaluable guidance to help you make the programmes you want to make.
It is the responsibility of the production company and the executive producer to ensure that this document is circulated to every member of the production team and that they are not only aware of its contents but that they follow the rules and procedures it contains.
The Ofcom Broadcasting Code and Channel 4’s Producer Handbook
Channel 4 must ensure that its programmes comply with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code ("the Code"). Producers are contractually required to make programmes in accordance with the Code. Your production team must therefore be familiar with the Code’s provisions. The Code is available from the Ofcom website.
Producers are also contractually required to read and be familiar with the Channel 4 Producers Handbook ('the Handbook') which summarises the Code and the main laws affecting broadcasting and sets out Channel 4 internal procedures for compliance.
Channel 4 wishes to ensure that the methods programme makers employ when making all factual programmes are in accordance not only with our regulatory obligations but the highest standards of journalistic practice.
- Notes of meetings or phone calls with a Channel 4 lawyer may attract legal privilege and may not be subject to disclosure in legal or regulatory proceedings. These notes must be set out separately in your notebook and labelled as a legal meeting.
- This also applies to documents sent to the Channel 4 lawyer if the dominant motive is receiving legal advice. Documents and emails written for the purpose of seeking or confirming legal advice, particularly when they raise issues of a sensitive or contentious nature, should be headed "Privileged: for the purposes of seeking legal advice". Labelling something as legally privileged doesn't make it privileged unless it is genuinely for the purposes of seeking legal advice.
- Producers must not disclose Channel 4’s legal advice with third parties outside the production as this can result in the protection attaching to such advice being waived.
- You must have available a full script of the programme as it then stands (including all sync, voice over and commentary) at all viewings for the commissioning editor and the lawyer.
- 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 programmes 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.
Factual Programme Guidelines
The following guidelines set out established best practice specifically for factual programmes and online content. It is not an exhaustive list of all issues and it is not a substitute for reading and adhering to the whole Handbook (including the invaluable media law section), the Code and seeking early advice from your commissioning editor and the legal & compliance department.
The Viewer Trust Guidelines set out the rules and procedures designed to promote best practice in ensuring that viewer trust is maintained. It should be read and followed by all programme makers.
- Where a programme deals with matters of political or industrial controversy or issues of current public policy, Channel 4 is required to ensure that the programme is duly impartial. How this is achieved will vary from programme to programme and topic to topic.
- Early discussions with your commissioning editor and Channel 4’s legal and compliance department will ensure that due impartiality obligations can be met.
The Production Team
- It is the responsibility of the executive producer and commissioning editor to ensure that the team are suitably qualified and experienced commensurate to the nature of the programme.
- Any trainees and/or interns must be adequately supervised, particularly if they are communicating with contributors or researching material.
- If the production team includes any member who has worked primarily for the press and has little or no experience of working in television production, this should be referred to the commissioning editor. The commissioning editor and lawyer will then provide them with a briefing about legal and regulatory best practice procedures. The executive producer is also responsible for ensuring that they are adequately supervised.
- The use of private investigators ('PI's') as part of the production team may, in limited circumstances, be justified. The use of PIs is subject to the prior approval of the Head of News and Current Affairs and Controller of Legal and Compliance . Such approval is subject to the producers justifying why the use of PIs is editorially justified, what their intended role is, how they will be supervised, and what appropriate background checks have been undertaken to establish that they act within the law. Any approval given will also be subject to the PI providing contractual assurances that they will work within the law and regulatory parameters.
- If anyone on the production team has a personal, commercial, financial or professional connection to someone granting access for the programme (including interviewees and other contributors) this must be disclosed to your commissioning editor from the outset. Consideration can then be given to whether such a relationship might leave the programme open to criticism that editorial integrity may have been compromised and whether that relationship should be disclosed to viewers.
- Please tell us if you are offered any funding or payment in kind from a third party towards the production costs before you make any commitment, including an offer of funding from a government department or charity. Such funding is rarely acceptable and may breach the Code as well as undermine our editorial independence so it is vital that you tell us. This includes a contribution from a newspaper that may also be covering the story.
Programme Treatments, the Editorial Specification, Notebooks and Rushes
- Any programme proposal which may potentially bring the producers or a contributor into conflict with the criminal law or give rise to a threat of police action against the programme must be discussed from the outset with the commissioning editor and lawyer.
- Factual programming may attract the risk of legal and/or regulatory action. In the event of such action, all documents (which includes programme rushes) produced in the course of the production may have to be handed over to Ofcom, the court, the police or even to those who are the subject of the programme. This is commonly referred to as 'disclosure'.
- It is therefore particularly important that all production documents, including but not limited to notebooks, email correspondence, rushes, programme treatments and the editorial specification are prepared carefully to avoid anything that could be interpreted as malicious or pejorative comment. In the case of early treatments and the editorial specification, these should be drafted carefully and claims being investigated should be framed as allegations not as fact, to avoid any suggestion of bias or pre-judging the investigation.
- In the case of rushes, it is particularly important that all members of the production team are reminded that comments or activity at the beginning and end of interviews or GV's or pieces to camera, are likely to be viewed and heard by Ofcom and in the case of legal proceedings by the subject of the complaint.
- It is also good practice to keep the programme material separate from material for other projects in notebooks or computer folders. It may be necessary to use clean laptops or mobiles on some programmes.
- When carrying out investigations or work for programmes which may attract police attention for disclosure at a later stage, it is sensible to mark material as "journalistic material for the purposes of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act".
- Programme material which has not been included in the programme such as rushes and/or documentary evidence must not be passed to third parties including other journalists without the prior approval of the Commissioning Head and Controller of Legal and Compliance.
- All programme material including the programme rushes must be retained for a minimum of 12 months from first transmission of the programme on Channel 4.
Freedom of Information
Does production of your programme involve making contact with a public authority in the United Kingdom? You may need to communicate in the course of production with public authorities in any number of capacities, perhaps as contributors (such as filming with the armed forces or in a school, hospital, National Health Service body or prison) or maybe to help secure access to other contributors or locations as part of your production (like contacting a government department). You must take care here because any of your written communications (including access agreements and production protocols) with public authorities in the United Kingdom could potentially be disclosed to a third party (sometimes a journalist) if a request is made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (known as "FOIA"). This Act creates a public "right of access" to information held by public authorities. Although there are some exemptions which you may be able to rely on, you must be prepared that anything written and provided to a public authority could be disclosable and could end up in the public domain. Accordingly, always ensure that any commercially sensitive information in access agreements e.g. access fees, are clearly marked as confidential and ensure that you don’t write anything in any email or correspondence with the public authority that you wouldn’t be happy to see published. If you have any queries about the area please contact your lawyer and Commissioning Editor who will able to assist.
Duty of Care
Channel 4 takes the duty of care towards its contributors very seriously, and these guidelines read in conjunction with the relevant sections of the Ofcom Code and Guidance should be applied to all Channel 4 content.
Channel 4 adopts a bespoke approach to duty of care. From the very outset content makers should think carefully about contributor care considerations, including whether a duty of care risk assessment document/protocol is required. If so, a risk assessment document/protocol that is specific and tailored for the content they are making should be prepared at the earliest stage of production.
At the point of commission a discussion should be had with the Commissioning Editor and, if necessary, Channel 4’s Programme Lawyer/Compliance Advisor to discuss any duty of care considerations and whether a duty of care risk assessment document/protocol is required.
If a duty of care risk assessment document/protocol is required, it should be submitted and discussed with the Commissioning Editor and Channel 4’s Programme Lawyer/Compliance Advisor to ensure that contributor care has been properly considered and addressed.
When dealing with contributors who are under 18 please read and follow the Channel 4 Duty of Care Guidelines, Working and Filming with Under 18s Guidelines. You may also find it helpful to refer to our e-module on Factual Programming.
- If you plan to advertise for contributors (which includes call outs on social media, leaflets and notices), the wording of any advert must be approved by your commissioning editor and lawyer.
- It is important that from the outset there is an agreed programme description, approved by your commissioning editor and lawyer.
- The programme description should be incorporated into all release forms and should be referred to in any conversations or email correspondence with potential contributors. The use of a consistent programme description for each and every contributor to a programme will ensure that all individuals have given their informed consent.
- You should be as clear as reasonably possible with people and /or institutions you are approaching for a contribution or interview, about the nature and purpose of the programme, the kind of contribution they are expected to make and the areas of questioning where applicable. Any release form or access agreement, should fairly reflect the nature and purpose of the programme and any early programme title should be marked 'working title'.
- All access agreements should be approved by your commissioning editor and the lawyer before sign off with the contributor or institution.
- It may be fair to withhold some information about the proposed programme where it is justified in the public interest. If there is a proper reason to be indirect (e.g. you are dealing with a criminal) then talk to your commissioning editor and lawyer about it first. You may be required to tell an interviewee the identity and role of other proposed participants, where known.
- Producers should be mindful that some contributors’ first language may not be English and/or their literacy may be poor, so alternative methods of securing informed consent should be considered e.g. having releases translated or recording consent on camera by explaining the nature and purpose of the programme and their contribution. Equally if individuals are unable to give informed consent e.g. they are intoxicated, unconscious or they don’t have mental capacity , then steps must be taken when they can give such consent, as soon as reasonably practicable. Alternatively it may be possible to secure informed consent on their behalf from an appropriate adult e.g. next of kin or doctor as appropriate.
- In the case of contentious or controversial programmes, you are required to send in advance letters to your most important interviewees and contributors to both your commissioning editor and the lawyer for our approval before you send them to the interviewee. The producer or executive producer should first approve such letters.
- In every case you should ensure that all contributors and those to whom you are giving a right of reply have had a consistent and up to date outline of the programme when their contribution is sought.
- If the focus of a programme changes as a programme develops and this might reasonably affect a contributor's original consent to participate, you must explain the change of direction to the contributor to ensure that you still have their informed consent.
- In certain types of factual programmes it may be necessary to undertake appropriate background checks on contributors e.g. press and social media searches. It may also be necessary, to provide more detailed checks with the contributors consent e.g. criminal records check, GP’s letters,, for both their and other contributors' safety. These should be discussed with your commissioning editor and lawyer, along with the issue of whether 'after care' may be appropriate.
- It may be necessary, depending on the individual, the nature and extent of their proposed contribution and the nature of programme, to seek advice from an experienced and appropriately qualified and independent mental health or psychological expert (such as a psychologist) as appropriate. This may be necessary in order to assess the person’s suitability to participate in a programme, the likely impact on them of their participation and/or to advise on how they should be interviewed or filmed. You should discuss whether an independent expert is required with your commissioning editor and programme lawyer at an early stage.
- If it is considered that a psychological assessment is necessary, the parameters of this should be discussed with the commissioning editor and programme lawyer in advance, such as whether an assessment in person, by telephone or skype is required and the experience of the relevant expert.
- The commissioning editor and programme lawyer may request to see the psychological assessment, which should be sent in a password-protected confidential format and given the data requested will be sensitive personal data, all data handled should be in accordance with the Data Protection Act.
- If the expert advises that a contributor should not be used then this decision must be adhered to.
- If the expert advises that you can proceed with caution, this must be brought to the attention of the commissioning editor and programme lawyer. The psychological assessment should be disclosed so the commissioning editor and programme lawyer so they are fully aware of the issues and any guidance the expert has given.
- Consideration should also be given as to the need to retain an/the same expert throughout the production to contribute to ongoing risk assessment and where appropriate in terms of providing any after-care.
Any advice given by the expert must be followed and discussed with the commissioning editor and programme lawyer. Any significant changes by the expert in their advice or any significant departure in following their advice must be brought to the attention of the commissioning editor and programme lawyer.
Payments to adult contributors and interviewees are usually uncontroversial. It is perfectly acceptable to pay a fee to an expert or to pay a modest sum to an interviewee who has given up their time to be filmed. In some cases, you may also pay modest out of pocket expenses, e.g. to cover meals and taxi fares but should retain appropriate receipts.
However, payment (whether from a member of your team's own pocket, funded from the production fee or an agreement to pay a share of net receipts) or payment in kind to some contributors or interviewees may be criticised and can undermine their credibility or breach the Code and it is therefore prudent to discuss any proposed payments or payments in kind with your commissioning editor and lawyer in advance of promising or making any payment. Any proposed payment over £100 must be approved by Channel 4 beforehand. In some cases, payment may be subject to demonstrating that it is in the public interest or it may be prohibited altogether. You should not, therefore, pay or promise to pay (whether directly or indirectly e.g. to their family) the following individuals, without first discussing your plans with your commissioning editor and lawyer who must approve any payments to:
- Criminals or those involved in serious anti-social behaviour whether convicted or confessed, for interviews about their crimes or behaviour (see below);
- Any witness or any person likely to be a witness in criminal proceedings;
- Children under 16 or a vulnerable person (e.g. those with learning difficulties, or mental health problems);
- A confidential source or whistleblower;
- A person secretly filmed or recorded; or
- An official in public office for information.
Payments in connection with criminal activities and witnesses
No payment, promise of payment, or payment in kind, may be made to a convicted or confessed criminal (whether directly or indirectly) for an interview or other programme contribution by that criminal (or any other person) relating to their crime. The only exception is where it is in the public interest, and this should be discussed and approved with the commissioning editor and lawyer before any payment or agreement to pay is made.
While criminal proceedings are active, payments should not be made to any witness nor should payment be suggested or made dependent on the outcome of the trial.
Criminal proceedings become active when someone is arrested, or a warrant for arrest is issued, or a summons has been issued or a person has been charged.
Always take early advice from your lawyer before approaching any witness which includes both the defendant and the victim in a trial. Producers can be called by the trial judge to give evidence in the proceedings about any approach made to a witness.
Where criminal proceedings are likely and foreseeable, payments should not be made to people who might reasonably be expected to be witnesses. There may be situations where the public interest will justify payments but advice must be sought from the lawyer in advance of any payment or promise to pay being made.
Working and filming with Under 18s
- The overriding duty of all producers is that due care must be taken over the physical and emotional welfare and dignity of people under 18 years who are involved in a programme, irrespective of their parents' consent. Further, unnecessary distress or anxiety must not be caused to the person by their involvement in the programme.
- When filming with under 18s producers must read and follow the Working and Filming with Under 18s Guidelines. These guidelines which must be read by all members of the team, sets out the detailed procedures and best practice guidelines that must be followed.
- Parental consent will be required for individuals under 16 years of age appearing in a programme unless their contribution is minor or uncontroversial, or it is warranted to proceed without such consent.
Working and filming with Criminals
- Programmes involving criminals or about criminality require special care and are likely to be legally contentious and may later involve police scrutiny. Early advice should therefore be sought from your commissioning editor and lawyer before any filming is undertaken.
- Programmes should not encourage or incite crime or be likely to lead to disorder.
- Programmes should not give the impression of condoning criminal behaviour, including seriously anti-social behaviour.
- Payments to criminals (see above) also needs very careful consideration and prior approval by your commissioning editor and lawyer.
- When filming criminal activity, a careful line needs to be drawn between remaining a passive observer and actions that might later be construed by the police as unintentionally inciting or assisting the commission of an offence.
- The safety of your team is paramount and due regard must be had to ensuring that at no time are they put at risk by the nature of the filming or the subject matter of the programme. Any concerns must be discussed with your commissioning editor and lawyer from the outset.
There are many legal restrictions when dealing with criminal subject matter, breach of which can result in criminal proceedings being issued against the producer and Channel 4. These include but are not limited to:
- contempt of court;
- interviewing jurors;
- filming within the court precincts;
- the disclosure of court documents;
- court reporting restrictions;
- dealing with witnesses in criminal proceedings;
- anonymity for victims of sexual offences;
- legal proceedings involving under 18s;
- complaints by pupils against teachers; and
- family proceedings.
It is therefore essential that early advice is taken from the lawyer to ensure that you stay on the right side of the line.
While there is no general legal duty to inform the authorities of potential criminal acts that are either filmed or which contributors have disclosed on or off-camera, in certain limited circumstances there is a legal duty to inform the authorities of specific criminal acts e.g. where terrorist offences are involved, and there may be circumstances where Channel 4 believes that there is an ethical duty to inform the authorities depending on the facts of a particular case. It is therefore essential that you take early advice from your commissioning editor and lawyer.
See also 'Contempt and Reporting Legal Proceedings', 'Privacy, Confidence & Data Protection'; and 'Other Laws Affecting Broadcasting'.
Engaging with third parties and other situations
Filming with the police and emergency services
- When negotiating access with, for example, the police, the emergency services, hospitals or the ministry of defence, the authority may seek to place conditions on access, which may include viewing rights and a right of veto so please discuss any agreements and ensure that these are approved by your commissioning editor and lawyer before signature. Some draft agreements issued by organisations may contain clauses which attempt to cut across the editorial independence of the Channel and are therefore unacceptable.
- When filming with the police or emergency services it is good practice to identify yourself and the fact you are filming for Channel 4. You must leave if you are asked to by the occupant or owner of premises or by the police.
- Individuals in distress should not be put under pressure to agree to be interviewed or otherwise take part in a programme unless it is justified by the public interest. Where a programme examines issues that involve victims of violent crime or accidents and includes images of those victims or a discussion of the circumstances leading to their death, in so far as it is reasonably practical the producers should notify the surviving next of kin and/or immediate family about the programme and its intended broadcast date. This applies even if the events or material have been in the public domain. Particular care is needed if you are relying on an intermediary to pass letters to the family.
Anonymous Sources and Journalistic Undertakings
- There are occasions where a programme may be relying on evidence or testimony of a source. The weight to be attached to that source will depend on their respective standing, credibility and motive. It is the producers' responsibility to take appropriate steps to interrogate the credibility of the source, especially where they have asked to be anonymous.
- Some sources may request a condition of anonymity and producers should ensure that they are clear as to what conditions are being sought. They should not assume that a source always wants blanket anonymity. Some sources may not wish to appear on camera but are happy to be referred to in general terms. Others may agree to be shown with their face concealed on camera but may be happy for their real voice to be heard. Producers should ensure that whatever conditions are agreed that these are recorded to avoid dispute later.
- All conditions of anonymity must be discussed with your commissioning editor and lawyer, before they are agreed with the source.
- If the source is seeking an unqualified undertaking that ultimately might bring the producers into conflict with the law and he/she is expecting Channel 4 to be bound by the undertaking, this must be referred up internally at Channel 4 to the Chief Executive as the editor-in-chief and ultimately to the Channel 4 Board for approval.
Filming in Dangerous Countries
- Where your teams are filming overseas it is the responsibility of the commissioning editor and executive producer to exercise appropriate editorial scrutiny at an early stage to satisfy themselves that the risks to be undertaken are editorially justified and proportionate, and do not place the team, including local fixers and crews, at unnecessary risk. Please do not assume that because either your filming is uncontentious or the fact that tourists still travel to parts of the foreign country, that it is risk-free.
- If your project does potentially entail a degree of risk, then your team must read and follow the Hostile Filming Guidelines and must complete a Hostile Filming Protocol which the guidelines will assist you in drafting. Please bear in mind that compliance with the Hostile Filming Guidelines may be required across all genres of programming. Completion of a security protocol is not just for current affairs and documentary programmes. Please note that you should provide adequate time to complete the protocol which is designed to protect the safety of your team. Last minute approvals run the risk of being rejected if they are poorly drafted and there is no good reason for the delay in submitting them. If your protocol is rejected your team will not be permitted to fly out until it has been approved.
- It is your responsibility to complete the protocol in good time and to be across the detail. Your commissioning editor and lawyer will guide you on its completion. In addition, a nominated commissioning editor from the news & current affairs department will have additional editorial oversight of the protocol and will provide specialist input. The final protocol must be approved by the nominated current affairs commissioner and Controller of Legal and Compliance before you team can depart. In the case of the most high risk projects, these must be referred-up to the Director of Programmes and the Director of Commercial Affairs who will brief the Chief Executive.
- Whether a country or area within it is likely to be hostile or dangerous will vary according to the nature of the project, the timing of any visit and the prevailing political or military situation on the ground. It is not possible to provide a definitive list of all countries which may be hostile but a helpful starting point is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website which has an up-to-date list of countries where it advises against travel to (in whole or in part) or save for all but essential travel.
- The Bribery Act 2010 makes it an offence to offer or make a facilitation payment to a foreign public official. This may affect the team working on the ground where in some countries, some local officials will demand small fees, often with malice, for the safe passage of the team across borders or to assist with the safe movement of people and equipment across check-points or road blocks. In such circumstances, payments should only be made after all reasonable steps have been taken to avoid such payments and after carefully weighing up the safety of the team, which will always take priority.
- The law provides a defence of duress, but only in circumstances where such payments have to be made to protect life, limb or liberty, as in the case of journalists kidnapped or detained, or to guarantee 'safe passage'. While such payments are not common, when they do arise they are often relatively small. Nevertheless, these must be properly recorded in your production accounts. Any demands for significant payments must as always be referred by your executive producer to the commissioning editor and lawyer for prior approval.
- Please read the section on Anti-Bribery Guidelines.
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 film. If such requests are made, refer them to your commissioning editor. You should not reach any deals with interviewees or sources that might govern the sort of programme you make without careful advance reference to your commissioning editor and lawyer. Such a deal could jeopardise the project and may be changed by the Channel for legal or editorial reasons - we cannot back your guarantees.
- Channel 4's general policy on not allowing third parties to preview material in advance of broadcast is identical to that of all other broadcasters. Therefore, do not agree to show the film or any section of it to anybody prior to transmission without the prior approval of your commissioning editor and lawyer.
- In certain limited circumstances and at the discretion of the Channel, 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 producers. Again, these must be approved in advance by the commissioning editor and lawyer and this is subject to final editorial control being retained by the Channel.
Interviews and Pieces to Camera
- If an interviewee or contributor wants to change the standard release form, please check with your commissioning editor or lawyer before you accept such changes.
- 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 lawyer, if requested, so that they can assess the fairness, significance and strength of any allegations being made in the programme.
- Material should not be obtained by misrepresentation or deception unless there is an overriding public interest and the deception is proportionate to the alleged wrongdoing being exposed. This would have to be approved by your commissioning editor and lawyer in advance of any subterfuge and only after clear parameters have been agreed.
- Any pieces to camera which include serious allegations or disputed facts should be approved by the commissioning editor and lawyer before they are recorded.
Fact Checking and Experts
- 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.
- Care should also be taken when using people to translate material. Only professional and impartial translators should be used, and appropriate checks should be made, to ensure that they are reliable.
- 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.
- 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 producers should be vigilant that such material can be inaccurate, manipulated or faked.
- It is important that production teams do not adopt a 'groupthink' approach to a story and that they review, challenge and are suitably sceptical of all evidence and contributors’ motives.
- If a social media site is being used as a means of corroboration, additional scrutiny may be required as some sites can be subject to false and misleading claims, to test the creditability and authenticity of the claims being made.
Right to Reply
- If a programme 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 the producers with input from the commissioning editor and lawyer. They should include the programme description, transmission date where known, 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 many factual programmes and any exception must be approved by the commissioning editor and lawyer, for example, where those concerned have already issued a public statement addressing the allegations which can be fairly reflected in the programme.
- The timing of a right to reply will depend on the nature and seriousness of the allegations, the extent to which they are already in the public domain and the ability of those concerned to respond. It is worth remembering that the timing of responses may affect the content of press releases and trailers to publicise your programme.
- It is a matter of editorial judgement whether the right to reply letter offers the individual or organisation an interview in the programme or asks for a statement in response to the allegations.
- The programme should fairly represent the substance of the individual or organisations 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 programme 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 programme should make their reasons clear, if it would be unfair not to do so.
- Letters from individuals or organisations or from their lawyers or PR representatives marked confidential and not for publication, should not be disclosed to any third parties outside the production without the express agreement of your commissioning editor and lawyer.
- If the right to reply is dependent on a single source or evidence provided by a source who has a personal interest in the story e.g. the alleged victim of the subject of the investigation, then right to reply letters should not be issued until satisfactory corroborative evidence has been obtained to verify the claim.
Use of Misrepresentation or Deception
- Producers should not normally obtain or seek information, audio, pictures or an agreement to contribute through misrepresentation or deception.
- However, it may be warranted to use such material obtained through misrepresentation or deception without consent if it is in the public interest and cannot reasonably be obtained by other means.
- Any use of deception must be approved in advance by your commissioning editor and lawyer and permission will only be given where such use is justified by the public interest and is proportionate to the public interest.
- Special rules apply to the use of entertainment set-ups or unsolicited wind-up calls and early advice must be taken from your commissioning editor and lawyer.
- In certain circumstances deception can be used, with the Channel's prior approval, where it is intended to reveal the deception after filming and seek the requisite consent of those filmed before transmission.
- The use of phone-hacking, email-hacking, accessing someone else's computers or data and other forms of unlawful interception of communications are breaches of the criminal law.
- 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, programme-maker or Channel 4 must immediately be discussed with your commissioning editor and lawyer.
- The use of a doorstep interview, whilst not improper in itself, needs to be judged with great care. Doorstepping should not take place unless a request for an interview or response has been refused or it has not been possible to request an interview, or there is good reason to believe that an investigation will be frustrated if the subject is approached openly.
- Any doorstep must be discussed and approved in advance with your commissioning editor and lawyer.
- It is rarely acceptable to doorstep someone at their home. When doorstepping someone you should be careful about filming innocent parties, especially children.
- It is normally acceptable to interview, film or record people in the news when in public places without prior warning.
Secret or Surreptitious Filming and Recording
- Individuals should not be filmed or recorded secretly for inclusion in any content unless this has been approved by your commissioning editor and lawyer in advance and that includes leaving the camera or recording device running when the subject may think s/he is not being filmed. This could also apply to long lens stills photography. Permission sought after filming/recording has taken place is unlikely to be granted, and only then in exceptional circumstances.
- Before any secret filming or recording can be undertaken, all members of the production team are required to read and follow the Secret Filming Guidelines. The secret filming guidelines include a pro forma secret filming application (stage 1 and stage 2) and it sets out the best practice procedures that must be followed when using secret filming.
- All secret filming must be discussed with the commissioning editor and lawyer before any filming is undertaken. Producers are required to complete a secret filming application before any filming can be undertaken. The commissioning editor and lawyer will advise the producers on how the application is to be completed.
- Please get your applications to us in good time, preferably at least three working days before you want to film. Late applications run the risk of being rejected if there is no good reason for the delay in submitting them. All secret filming applications are made to and approved by the Head of News and Current Affairs (copied to Controller of Legal and Compliance, your commissioning editor and lawyer) at two crucial stages:
- before it is undertaken (stage 1 permission); and,
- before it is broadcast (stage 2 permission).
- Secret filming undertaken by a third party individual or organisation and submitted to a producer e.g. footage filmed by a campaign group - would still require approval from the Head of News & Current Affairs as above before it could be broadcast. It is also important that where secret filming has not been undertaken under our rules and procedures that appropriate checks are made to establish the authenticity of the secret filming and to ensure that steps are taken, where practical, to independently corroborate the material.
- Secret filming also includes recording of telephone calls for broadcast without the knowledge of the other party. Such calls should not normally be recorded for broadcast unless you identify yourself, Channel 4 and the purpose of the programme and the interviewee consents. On some occasions (e.g. where possible criminal or otherwise disreputable conduct is involved), these requirements may be waived with the approval of your commissioning editor and lawyer. You may also record for evidential purposes only (and not for broadcast) but please discuss this with your commissioning editor and lawyer before you record.
- Interception of telephone calls or messages where you are not a party to the call or message ("phone hacking") is a breach of the criminal law and must not take place.
In certain circumstances, bodycam footage may constitute surreptitious filming. If there is any intention to use footage obtained with body cameras, whether worn by third parties or the production team and whether or not owned by the production company or otherwise then this must be referred to Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor and lawyer at the earliest opportunity.
- Drone filming may raise a number of issues including the misuse of private information, compliance with the Information Commissioner’s Office (“ICO”) rules and data protection guidelines, property owner rights, and/or compliance with civil aviation legislation.
- Before any drone filming can be undertaken, all members of the production team are required to read and follow the Filming with Drones section of the Secret Filming Guidelines.
- If you are flying over a private home, you may need public interest justification to film and will need to follow the normal secret filming route of Stage 1 and Stage 2 applications (see above and Secret Filming Guidelines).
- Flying over commercial property may also raise privacy concerns.
- In addition, there may be issues over property rights, including trespass and nuisance, with using drones.
- The ICO has also issued guidance in its Data Protection Code for Surveillance Cameras and Personal Information (see the Filming with Drones section of the Secret Filming Guidelines) which states that arrangements should be made to ensure there is no filming of individuals, thereby creating personal data in relation to them, without justification under the Data Protection Act. If individuals are inadvertently captured they may need to be blurred in the edit.
- Finally, prior permission from the Civil Aviation Authority will need to be obtained in certain circumstances.
- Programme-makers should always seek advice from the lawyer before attempting to film using drones.
Flashing Images and Regular Patterns
- Please note the need for all programmes to comply with the Ofcom Guidance Note on Flashing Images and Regular Patterns in Television which can be found at Annex 1 of the document here.
- The guidelines are designed to avoid the risk of triggering an attack of photo-sensitive epilepsy in vulnerable viewers. The guidelines are technically complex but potentially problematic images include strobe lighting, flashes from cameras and graphics containing large amounts of rapidly changing colours.
Press, Online and Trails
- On all contentious, controversial, sensitive or high-profile programmes, the commissioning editor and lawyer require prior sight and approval of any newspaper articles or similar publications (which arise from the programme research) by any member of the team – including the reporter and the producer. This is to ensure the copy fairly reflects the editorial tone and content of the programme, that it is factually accurate and does not inadvertently create a legal risk.
- All billings and press releases issued by the Channel to promote the programme will include input from the producers to ensure factual accuracy. The commissioning editor and lawyer will approve all press releases and billings before publication.
- All supporting online content should be checked by the producers to ensure factual accuracy. The commissioning editor and lawyer will also approve online content before publication.
- All trails will also be checked by the trail-makers with the producers. The commissioning editor and lawyer will also approve trails before they are transmitted.
- Promotional cards/emails issued by production companies to promote their programmes must be approved by the commissioning editor and lawyer before they are issued if they relate to contentious, controversial, sensitive or high-profile programmes.