This document highlights the main legal and compliance issues which may be relevant to producers creating social content. Depending on the content that you are creating it is likely that other sections of this handbook will be relevant and provide more in-depth guidance. You should be familiar with the contents of the whole handbook and the Ofcom code and accompanying guidelines prior to producing content that will appear on C4 platforms.
Whilst the main social platforms Channel 4 is presently active on are Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and Instagram, this guidance relates to all current and future social networks. The main points of focus should be the creation and publication of content (such as video creation or writing copy), but consideration must also be given to all Social activity, such as comments made on other people’s work and ‘liking’ other people’s content.
- Editorial responsibility and reference up
- Legal issues
- Regulatory principles
- Advertising and branded content
- Duty of Care
- Interacting on social media
- Personal sites
- Tips for contributors
Editorial responsibility and reference up
Channel 4 voluntarily applies the principles of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code (‘the Ofcom Code’) to all content on our online platforms e.g. Channel4.com and on our branded pages e.g. on Facebook and Twitter. Contractually all content creators should comply with the Ofcom Code and refer elsewhere in the 4Producers Handbook for the Channel’s best practice and compliance procedures.
If you have any doubt at all about compliance issues with a piece of content you are working on please refer up to your contact in the Legal & Compliance Department.
There is a general misconception that the law does not apply to online content in the same way as it does to conventional platforms such as television. In fact, online content is subject to the current law in the same way as any other published content.
Libel or defamation may arise when something is said about an individual, or a company or its products/services, which would tend to make a reasonable person think less of them as a result. This may be an allegation that they have acted in a criminal way or, for example, that a person has lied or somehow acted dishonourably.
The elements required to establish an action for libel are:
- Defamatory statement or implication;
- Identification of a person or company; and
- Publication of the statement.
Libel cannot be avoided by merely omitting to say the name of the person or company, if there is a possibility that some people will be able to work out who is being referred to from the context and what else was said (‘jigsaw identification’). Simply adding the word “allegedly” to an otherwise defamatory statement provides no protection and may make matters worse. Again, the fact that the allegations have also been previously published is no defence in itself.
There are a number of possible ways in which a potential libel could occur. Care needs to be taken in any post to ensure no one makes a defamatory statement about someone which has not been proven to be true or been admitted, such as:
- A particular person is e.g. a criminal, does drugs etc; or
- An allegation that a company has committed a crime e.g. been fraudulent; or
- An allegation that a particular person lied or was dishonest e.g. about their drinking problem.
The main defence to a defamatory statement is proving it is true. Ultimately, this would involve convincing a court that you have evidence to prove that the meaning of what you said is actually true – an often very difficult, time-consuming and expensive task! The person who has been libelled does not have to prove that which was said was untrue – the burden of proof would be on Channel 4.
Who is liable?
Channel 4 as publishers of the defamatory statement or implication would be legally responsible for anything that is said on its site irrespective of who originally made the comment or when the statement was downloaded. If you are in any doubt at all about potentially defamatory material, you must refer up to Legal & Compliance for advice.
Copyright is, in general terms, the protection given by law to the creator of a work for their lifetime plus 70 years. Creators do not have to register anything. The protection is automatic and gives the copyright owner control over the usage of their work and allows them to receive payment for the work.
Protected works include photographic, video and literary works, the latter includes written or spoken words, emails, postings, translations, even dictionary definitions and lyrics. Reproduction of a whole work / article is not allowed – even if e.g. a message, credits the author.
Therefore, published material must not infringe any third party’s copyright or other rights, as we will, as the publisher, be liable for all content on our sites.
However, if a copyright issue arises, we may be able to rely on any applicable collective common licence agreement, insubstantial use and/or fair dealing defences.
You will need to discuss in advance with the programme lawyer any fair dealt content (commissioned or clipped for social) that you wish to publish online.
Contempt of Court
Being in “contempt of court” is a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine for the responsible person. The law relating to contempt exists primarily to prevent the prejudicing of criminal proceedings in this UK jurisdiction. The test is whether the publication concerned constitutes a “substantial risk of serious prejudice” to the criminal proceedings.
From the point that someone is arrested or charged with a criminal offence, the proceedings are said to be “active” or “sub-judice”. From that point, until such time as they are finally convicted or acquitted you have to be careful not to include anything that comments on or reflects on that person’s guilt or innocence, the proceedings themselves, or the evidence, witnesses or background circumstances to the case without having discussed it fully in advance with a Legal & Compliance lawyer in the first instance.
Regulation - Ofcom guiding principles
Some but not all of Online’s activities are regulated by external regulators, in a similar way to the way in which content broadcast on television is regulated by Ofcom. For example, "television-like services" e.g. VOD, and some other online and mobile content, is subject to statutory regulation.
The Ofcom Broadcasting Code does not apply to online content. However, Channel 4 requires all online content to adhere to similar standards of good practice as our programmes. We therefore expect content creators to have read and be mindful of the principles set out in the Code.
Set out below are some but not all of the key principles of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code which should be borne in mind. You should ensure that you have read the Ofcom Code in full.
Social must “avoid unjust or unfair treatment of individuals or organisations”. There are two important issues to bear in mind when considering fairness:
- Am I dealing fairly with contributors and obtaining informed consent?
- Have I given proper consideration to the facts and is it necessary to allow someone the opportunity to respond to allegations or claims made about them?
When a person is invited to take part online, please ensure they are “informed”; this includes being informed of:
- the nature and purpose of this project; and
- what kind of contribution they are expected to make and how it is to be used?
Fairness to third parties
Sometimes a contributor may make some criticism or allegation about another person. On occasion, after careful consideration, it may be decided that there is insufficient evidence to include a particular allegation or criticism or it may be decided that it can only be included online if it is put directly to the person who is being criticised, in order to give him/her the opportunity to respond and refute what has been said. This will be difficult to do, especially online where we may be unable to contact the third party. If this situation arises then this should be referred up to Legal & Compliance for advice.
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.
Remember that, just because an allegation has been published or broadcast in other media, this does not necessarily mean that you are free to include it online.
Any infringement of privacy online or in connection with obtaining material to be included online, must be ‘warranted’. This means we must be able to demonstrate why any infringement of privacy is justified. Justification can either be that the individual has consented or that the public interest in its publication outweighs any potential privacy infringement.
Informed consent should always be obtained from a contributor for their contribution to be included online (see above).
Privacy of third parties
Privacy can be infringed in many ways: people may talk about people they know, particularly people close to them, such as friends and family. They may say things, online, about people they know which are of a private nature and which, if published, would constitute an unwarranted invasion of that person’s privacy. These people have not agreed to take part in this project, and it could not, therefore, be argued that they had consented to information of a private nature being disclosed about them online.
Even a seemingly innocuous remark may constitute an unwarranted invasion of a person’s privacy. For example, a relative has cancer. Even though true, that person may not wish that to be public knowledge.
Content must always be presented in an appropriately balanced and fair way.
Due impartiality on political issues is a fundamental standard and applies to all factual programming. This means for example, that news and current affairs journalists working on this output do not as a rule agree or disagree with a political party or politician, or take a fixed stance on politically contentious issues. Presenters and reporters generally should be particularly careful about comments on political issues and politicians. If there is any doubt about whether a clip is potentially problematic, this should be referred to the Legal & Compliance team at Channel 4.
Harm and Offence
To enable viewers to make an informed choice as to whether to view published material and to protect the under 18’s, one of our key responsibilities is to inform viewers as to the nature of the content they are about to access, for example by having appropriate warnings boards, guidance notes and it may even require Content Access Control (“CAC”). This is particularly important as there is no watershed online, and material is available 24 hours a day.
Please see the individual Social Brand Guidelines for details of their specific content rules:
Content creators should check which warning should be used with the social media manager. The Legal & Compliance programme lawyer will be able to provide second opinions where necessary.
Care must also be taken with regard to:
- Sexual Innuendo/Crudity
- Smoking, Drinking and Drug References
- Dangerous/Imitative Behaviour
- Undue prominence
Standard approach – Paid partnerships
A paid partnership is one in which the brand has ‘paid’ for the content in some way but does not exercise any editorial control.
Channel 4 will retain ‘editorial control’ by being responsible for determining the format and substance of the content and other aspects such as timing or number of social media posts. The brand owner may not make contractual requirements for the content (for example requiring a product to be used in a particular context or used in specified shots) and may not make the publication of content subject to their final approval or require alterations. The brand owner may however reserve the right to fact-check technical details about the branded product.
If the above is satisfied, a clear, prominent, and upfront declaration that there has been a payment for the purpose of creating the content will be required. Channel 4’s policy is to include the wording ‘Paid Partnership with [insert brand]’ within [the content itself and/or in a caption], such that it is easily visible to the audience.
The alternative approach is to agree to create an advertisement feature. The ASA qualifies an advert if a brand has:
- ‘Paid’ for the content in some way - this doesn’t have to be money, it can be free items or experiences instead.
- Exercises some form of ‘editorial control’ over the content, including final approval (see ‘Paid partnerships’ above).
If both limbs of this test are met then the advert must be identified as such by using #ad, #advert or #advertisement. The hashtag also needs to clearly visible upfront.
Duty of Care
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to offering contributors support before, during, and after filming. Duty of care towards contributors involves considering the contributors and their specific needs, for example based on their medical background or family circumstances, as well as potential issues which may arise during filming based on the content itself, such as mental or physical wellbeing. If you are dealing with contributors, you must therefore take a bespoke and flexible approach to contributor care tailored to the specific contributor. Any duty of care concerns you do have should be discussed with the Legal and Compliance team.
General guidelines for use – calls to action
Where a call to action is used within content it should be clear to users, either from the call to action itself, or the context of the call to action how solicited content will be used. The requirements of a call to action will vary between social media platforms and the nature of each show. A level of understanding by users of the way calls to action work can be assumed.
- The use of the social media platform logo (e.g.Twitter bird or Facebook/Instagram logo) should not be unduly prominent. This means that it should only be shown briefly, not excessively throughout the programme or online content, and must be editorially justified. For example if you were planning on showing a succession of Tweets you should only show the bird logo on the first Tweet.
The use of time and date stamp depends on the immediacy of the Tweet or post itself. If you have a call to action in the programme or online content, and it is clear that you will be using the solicited content within that particular programme, then you do not need to use the time and date stamp.
The use of a profile picture will again depend on the immediacy of the solicited content. A users profile picture is usually public facing. In most cases where it is clear in the call to action or from the context of the call to action how the solicited content will be used, this means it will be OK to include the users profile picture. This is by no means a blanket rule and the specific circumstances of each profile picture should be considered. Examples of content in a profile picture which might maprior consent would be the presence of children or copyrighted material.
Where possible you should provide attribution to the person who created the content, however the use of a user’s handle or username will depend on whether it is appropriate or not. Most social media sites do not prevent people from creating handles or usernames that may be obscene or offensive, so be on your guard! Also see section B below for guidance specifically relating to attributing historic comments. Appropriate due diligence should be undertaken to ensure that the content featured in a social media post is the account owners own.
If you have solicited for a content and plan to display it in the programme or online content, where possible you should not edit or obscure the content of the Tweet or post. If you do need to edit the solicited content in any way you must ensure you do not change the overall context of the message, e.g.:
‘I love Donald Trump in the apprentice, he always speaks the truth to these contestants. - 25/11/10’ (original)
‘I love Donald Trump, he always speaks the truth’. (edited)
The comment which is edited and has no date stamp completely changes the meaning of this message.
- Providing your call to action is clear how the content will be used, you do not need to promote a link to Terms & Conditions.
Attribution of historic comments
If you do not have a call to action in the programme or online content and you are planning to show historic social media comments (i.e. not made in response to a specific call to action), you should consider if it is appropriate to display the user’s social handle alongside their comment and/or whether you should seek permission from them to display their comment and handle. This should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. A few examples with the approaches to be taken are below:
a) If you are planning to show a contributor’s social media post, and you have their permission to do so (preferably written permission), we would advise you to blur the handle/name of anyone who has commented on that post. When posting their comment they will not have envisaged that it would be broadcast on television.
b) If you would like to display a social media comment and attribute it to the person who wrote it, provided that the comment is not controversial in nature and carries no risk whatsoever AND they have used the programme’s hashtag you do not need to contact them for permission to use their comment or handle.
c) If you would like to display a social media comment and attribute it to the person who wrote it, and the comment is or could be controversial in nature, we would suggest you contact that person to ask their permission (preferably written permission) to include it in the programme. In the event that you do not have permission but would like to show the comment, we would advise you not to display the user’s handle as they will not have an expectation that their handle will appear on a television programme.
d) If you would like to display a comment which has been made by a public figure, we would not generally advise you seek their permission given their public standing, but you should be mindful of the date of when they posted the comment and/or if the comment is appropriate and in context. What constitutes a public figure will vary according to the circumstances but useful indicators would be number of followers or views, whether the person has received verification from the social media platform (e.g. Twitter blue tick) if an individual has made public comments on a particular issue in the press etc.
Comments made on personal sites or accounts are your own legal responsibility. Where on a personal site you are referring to Channel 4 matters, the normal Channel 4 editorial standards and controls apply. As set out above you should be aware that the laws of libel are in principle the same online as any other form of publication or broadcast. Care should be taken when linking to sites or republishing content that contain defamatory statements.
Behaviour that is inappropriate at work is usually not appropriate on the internet. On Channel 4 designated sites and sites where you identify yourself as a person working on C4 output, avoid abusive or aggressive behaviour and respond to others in a professional manner.
Information gained whilst working for Channel 4 factual output is confidential and should not be made public unless agreed with the commissioning editor. This includes matters such as details of confidential editorial operations, scheduling forthcoming special projects or programmes not yet announced; details of internal company issues, internal memos or commercially sensitive information.
On personal sites, where you identify yourself as working on Channel 4 output, you should avoid making statements that could be perceived as taking a position on a political issue of the day and it may be appropriate to place a disclaimer underlining that your comments are personal opinion. If your profile is such that you are likely to be identified as working for Channel 4 or any of its services, seek guidance if you are considering posting statements on matters of political or public controversy.
Contributing to an online conversation can be exciting and rewarding when you connect with people who have a common interest, especially when those people have enjoyed something that you were part of the creation of, like a TV programme or online content. However, other people may use this opportunity to say why they didn’t like it too. Being criticised is no one’s favourite pastime, so here are a few tips on how best to deal with potential criticism from online communities. The links below offer comprehensive information on the social networks:
- Your Privacy Settings: If you don’t want people who are viewing the content to contact you directly on your social media accounts, there are steps you can take to increase your privacy settings.
However, to completely avoid seeing comments people make online, the only guarantee is to not be on social media around the time of the broadcast. It is also worth remembering that any past posts/comments you have made online might be visible to the public and may invite some unwelcome comments, even unrelated to the programme or online content.
Post broadcast, please think very carefully about getting involved in a discussion about a programme or online content you are in. Avoid saying anything you wouldn’t say face-to-face to a stranger and be aware that other social media users will have a range of views, not all of them pleasant.
Think twice: Consider all your comments twice before posting. Reply in haste, regret at leisure. If someone has written something you find hurtful or irritating take time to think to think, do you really need to respond? A quick retaliation could fuel an argument that might have been avoided. Consider anything you write to be permanent because it’s out there even if you’ve deleted it. If in doubt liaise with your contact at the production company.
Play by the rules: All social networks have their own standards, so look for ‘community guidelines’, ‘terms’ or ‘help’ – they are normally found at the bottom of the page:
If someone else is breaking them, try to avoid a public confrontation and look for the appropriate reporting procedure of the social network in question.
- Block and ignore: You can block someone if you find their comments offensive or they’re spamming you. Learn how to do so here:
If it’s gone too far: If you are subject to continuous abuse or feel threatened, you should always report the behaviour to the relevant social media platform. Do not engage with the abuser or fuel their behaviour, it is likely that simply deleting an abuser’s post may be enough to encourage them to continue their campaign.
Please bear in mind that, just because you’re chatting through DM/private messaging, it doesn’t mean the other person isn’t screenshotting your conversations or sharing information with others.
- Contact and support: If your query isn’t answered here, start at the help section of the platform you’re using. Here are the main ones:
Reputable communities will offer a contact email address or online form for support and issue reporting. Generally, this is found on the website footer. If you are worried about something that’s escalating in an online community, please contact your content creator for advice.