Channel 4 has an established reputation for making bold, educational and innovative programming involving children and young people in all genres. It is clear that both adults and children value and enjoy under 18s being represented in programming and Channel 4 strongly believes that the views of children and young people deserve to be seen and heard. However, involving children and young people in television and online content requires an appropriate degree of responsibility and care. Involvement in the production process and the final programme, which will be broadcast to a very wide audience, will undoubtedly have an impact on any contributor.
As a responsible programme-maker and broadcaster, it is crucial that careful consideration and measures are put in place to safeguard the physical and emotional welfare and dignity of contributors under the age of 18, as well as ensuring that their involvement does not cause them to suffer unnecessary distress or anxiety. A child's resilience and vulnerability can vary significantly depending on factors such as their age, gender, maturity, cultural, ethnic and religious background as well as their previous life experiences.
These Guidelines, which apply to content on all Channel 4 platforms, aim to give helpful and practical guidance to all of Channel 4's programme-makers, online producers and editorial staff. They reflect Channel 4's best practice procedures, the Ofcom Broadcasting Code ('the Code') and the main areas of law that apply to the making and broadcast of content involving under 18s. These Guidelines are intended as a starting point and are not a substitute for seeking early advice and guidance from the commissioning editor and/or Channel 4 lawyer. There are numerous legal and regulatory provisions to protect the rights and interests of under 18s. These Guidelines focus primarily on regulatory rules and best practice guidance.
Series and programmes involving under 18s can differ greatly and many will require their own specific, tailored guidelines. It is important that wherever under 18s are to feature in programmes - particularly where their participation is substantial and/or integral to the programme's narrative or format e.g. filming centred on pupils at a school, or the filming of children within a formatted programme; or where the subject matter of the programme or contribution is potentially sensitive, e.g. a documentary about teenage sexuality or criminality, or scripted drama involving scenes of violence or strong language involving child actors – that early advice is sought from the programme lawyer, in many cases even before the programme goes into 'development'.
Note: Within these guidelines, the terms 'under 18s' and 'young people' denote individuals who have not reached their 18th birthday. The term, 'under 16s' denotes individuals who have not reached their 16th birthday. The term 'children', to be consistent with its definition within the Ofcom Broadcasting Code, denotes individuals who are under 15 i.e. not reached their 15th birthday.
The guiding, overarching principle is that due care must be taken over the physical and emotional welfare and the dignity of people under 18 who take part in or are otherwise involved in programmes. Consideration of the child's welfare – physical and emotional – should be at the heart of the production. The level of care required will depend on all the relevant circumstances, including the unique profile of the person under 18, the nature of the appearance, and their level of participation. This applies whether the material is originally produced or is acquired from another source.
It is the responsibility of all members of a production team to ensure that this principle and these guidelines are followed at all times. If any issue of child protection or safety arises during production or after transmission this must immediately be referred to the executive producer, who in turn will immediately notify the commissioning editor and programme lawyer. In the event that a member of the production team feels unable to refer the matter to the executive producer or the channel's commissioning editor, they can and should speak in confidence to their programme lawyer.
The Ofcom Broadcasting Code ('the Code') and 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.
Producers are also contractually required to read and be familiar with the 4Producers Handbook ('the Handbook') which summarises the Code and the main laws affecting broadcasting and sets out Channel 4 internal procedures for compliance.
Section 1 of the Code contains two fundamental rules relating to the involvement of under 18s in programmes:
- Due care must be taken over the physical and emotional welfare and the dignity of people under 18 who take part or are otherwise involved in programmes. This is irrespective of any consent given by the participant or by a parent, guardian or other person over the age of 18 in loco parentis.
- People under 18 must not be caused unnecessary distress or anxiety by their involvement in programmes or by the broadcast of those programmes.
Accordingly, all those involved in the commissioning and making of programmes must take "due care" to protect fully the welfare of participants under the age of 18.
The appropriate level of care to be applied in any given situation will depend on (1) the particular circumstances, (2) the nature of the programme, and (3) the individual(s) concerned. As responsibility for ensuring compliance rests ultimately with the broadcaster, Channel 4, in consultation with the programme-makers, will ultimately decide what measures are appropriate in relation to each project.
The responsibility to exercise due care is an on-going obligation which should be kept under review throughout the production process and after transmission.
Where a person under 18 participating in a programme is shown experiencing distress or anxiety it must be justified by the editorial context. The word "unnecessary" in the rule refers to a level of distress and anxiety that is not justified by the editorial context and may risk harm to a person under 18's physical and emotional welfare.
With regard to under 18s, Ofcom has published detailed guidance ("the Guidance") on the involvement of under 18s in programmes. The Guidance is based on research undertaken by Ofcom that in March 2015 was updated to reflect the findings of recent investigations in this area and in consultation with stakeholders. The Guidance contains recommendations to help broadcasters achieve the appropriate level of protection for under 18s in programmes, and sets out a non-exhaustive list of the sorts of things which may be appropriate for programme-makers to consider and apply, depending on the particular circumstances of an individual case.
In the event of any complaint in connection with the participation of an under 18 in a programme, Ofcom will consider the extent to which the Guidance has been followed. Accordingly, it is important that editorial staff and programme-makers consider this Guidance and apply it where appropriate.
Best practice guidelines for programmes involving under 18s
Below are best practice guidelines which editorial staff and programme-makers should consider carefully when developing, commissioning and producing programmes involving under 18s. The guidelines cover all stages of production; during production and post-production (including the period after transmission) and are designed to ensure that under 18s are suitably protected and that relevant programmes comply with the Code. The guidelines apply across all genres in which under 18s are filmed including factual, drama, comedy and entertainment programmes.
The Production team
It is the responsibility of the programme's executive producer, in consultation with the commissioning editor and, where appropriate, the programme lawyer to ensure that:
- the nature and level of experience of the production team is appropriate for the nature and sensitivity of the project;
- additional advice, training or other support is given to the production team where needed;
- all members of the production team are familiar with the relevant sections of the Code, the Handbook, the Guidance, these guidelines and any additional guidance and/or procedures drawn up for their particular programme;
- all members of the production team having direct contact with under 18s have up-to-date Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks. Checks can be obtained from the Disclosure and Barring Service (England & Wales), Access NI (Northern Ireland) and Disclosure Scotland (Scotland). As these checks can take some time to obtain, they should be applied for at the earliest opportunity. It may be necessary for other members of the team to also have DBS checks and this should be discussed with the commissioning editor and programme lawyer. Please see the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Guidelines.
New rules for Supporting Artists (SAs) working with Children
- From 1 January 2016, an additional measure to protect under 18s has been applied by PACT and the BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5, ITV and Sky. As well as the normal safeguarding guidelines, protocols and codes of conduct that each Broadcaster has in place, all Supporting Artists (SAs) who work on productions involving under 18s must obtain a basic disclosure certificate which shows the SA has no unspent convictions for offences contained within the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
- Producers should inform agencies if a production involves under 18s – this includes any programme that might engage a person under 18 at any stage in the production in speaking or non-speaking roles. Certificates can be obtained from the Disclosure and Barring Service (England & Wales), Access NI (Northern Ireland) and Disclosure Scotland (Scotland) and a new certificate must be provided every 18 months and shown to the Agent. The Producer and Broadcaster may also request to see the certificate. If within that period an SA is convicted of an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, the agent will need to be informed and the SA will be unable to work on any production involving under 18s. Wording confirming the SA has no unspent convictions for offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 will also be added to the chit.
- Regular cast and crew on productions involving children are also required to have the requisite criminal checks, and children must be chaperoned at all times.
- PACT and the Broadcasters have produced an FAQ document which can be found here.
Please also see the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Guidelines.
At the very outset of a project, the programme-makers in consultation with the commissioning editor and the programme lawyer should carefully consider whether the project requires more tailored written guidance to be put in place, specific to the particular programme. This will be advisable where under-18s, particularly children, make a significant contribution and are integral to the narrative or format of the programme, or where the subject matter raises or touches upon sensitive subjects or involves filming in sensitive circumstances e.g. filming about or involving private family matters, sexual matters, antisocial or criminal behaviour and activity.
In some circumstances, it will be advisable to have specific written guidelines in place before programme-makers begin approaching potential contributors e.g. written guidelines about how the programme-makers should find, advertise for, approach and correspond with contributors under the age of 18 and their families.
Programme-makers should also consider any changing circumstances during the course of production which may require the development of further written guidelines/protocols at a later stage. Programmes can evolve and can change emphasis once filming gets underway and events unfold, so it should be considered throughout the production of the programme whether or not updated or further written guidelines/protocols are required.
Programme-makers must be able to demonstrate they have taken appropriate steps in an appropriate manner to safeguard the welfare of the person under the age of 18. The more sensitive the situation the more important it is to keep a record (documented or filmed as appropriate) of the steps you have taken to ensure compliance with this guidance and regulatory obligations.
Copies of key documents should be forwarded to your commissioning editor and programme lawyer during the course of the production.
Finding/approaching potential contributors
Some programme ideas and proposals come to Channel 4 with contributors already secured. However, most projects require programme-makers to actively search out suitable contributors once development or the programme/series is commissioned.
Searching for under-18 contributors - particularly under-16 contributors - requires care and, for programmes about potentially sensitive subjects e.g. relating to sexual matters, criminality, antisocial behaviour, medical issues, illness, private family matters etc, advice must be sought from the commissioning editor and programme lawyer before advertisements are placed, flyers are handed out, or any under-18s are approached.
As above, it may also be deemed appropriate to put in place tailored, written guidelines regarding finding, approaching and 'casting' contributors, so that all members of the production team are clear about their responsibilities.
Handing out flyers, posting flyers (legally), placing advertisements e.g. in newspapers or online, are all legitimate ways of finding under-18 contributors for programmes. However, the wording of such flyers and advertisements should be approved by the commissioning editor and programme lawyer in advance, unless in the circumstances their content is uncontroversial.
Flyers and advertisements can request that under-18s and under-16s contact programme-makers but for under-16s they should state that parental consent will be required before programme-makers can enter into detailed discussions with under-16s. For example, suitable wording might be: “Note: if you are under 16, we will need your parents' consent before we can enter into a discussion with you”.
Careful consideration must also be given to other ways in which under-18s – particularly under-16s - are approached. Whilst it may be acceptable in some public places e.g. on a high street, to hand out flyers to members of the public, including to under-18s and under-16s, it is likely to be unacceptable in other places. For example, it is generally unacceptable for programme-makers to loiter outside schools and approach young people there without the permission of the school. (See Filming in Schools below). It is always advisable that members of the production team carry written identification with them on the production company's headed note paper making clear who they are, describing the nature of the programme, explaining that is has been commissioned by Channel 4 and setting out a contact number for the executive producer.
Similarly, whilst it may be acceptable to place advertisements or flyers on-line e.g. within social networking sites, it may be inappropriate to make unsolicited, direct contact with under-16s, particularly if the subject matter of the intended programme is sensitive or potentially controversial. Particular care is needed when using social network sites to approach under-16s, where for example the age of individuals may be harder to verify, so early advice from the commissioning editor and programme lawyer must be taken.
Generally, the best way to approach potential under-18s – particularly under-16s - will be through an organisation or appropriate adult e.g. school, a parent, guardian, head teacher, teacher, youth group, sports group, coach etc.
However, even where under-18s are approached this way, through an organisation or adult who knows the young person well, programme-makers should generally not discuss private matters or sensitive subjects with under-18s, particularly under-16s, before making contact with and obtaining the consent of the young person's parent(s) or legal guardian(s). Any plans to discuss private matters or sensitive subjects with under-18s should generally be discussed in advance with the commissioning editor and programme lawyer to ensure the appropriate parameters and safeguards are in place.
Where programme-makers do, for whatever reason, come into direct contact with under-16s before they have had a chance to obtain parental consent, discussions should be limited to a general description of the intended programme and the nature of the proposed contribution. Potential contributors under the age of 16 should be told that the programme-makers will have to seek the consent of the young person's parent(s) or guardian(s) before they can enter into detailed discussions about participating. It is often advisable in such circumstances to have a flyer or contact sheet which the individual can be given to pass to their parents, which can allow them to contact you direct.
As a general rule, no filming should take place with under-16s without prior parental consent. (See Consents below).
When considering an under-18 person as a participant, it is essential that programme-makers ensure that appropriate background checks are made to assess their suitability. Clearly what is appropriate will depend on the nature and subject matter of the programme and the level of participation expected of the person under 18. For example, an observational documentary in a school might not require the same level of checks as a formatted series, where children are placed in a new residential environment by programme-makers.
A number of other factors may also be relevant, including the age, gender, maturity, cultural, ethnic and religious background of the person under 18 as well as their personal circumstances and previous life experiences.
Programme-makers should discuss and agree with the commissioning editor and programme lawyer the appropriate checks to be carried out in advance but these might typically include the following (subject to the child's and parents' consent as appropriate):
- Contacting and consulting with the under-18's GP;
- Contacting and consulting with the under-18's school/college;
- Contacting and consulting with any mentor or similar person (including members of the contributor's wider family e.g. grandparents);
- Possibly contacting and consulting with the leaders of any youth or other social/recreational groups the under-18 is a member of/associated with;
- Depending on the circumstances of the particular person under 18 and/or the nature of the programme, consideration may need to be given as to whether any additional investigations into his/her suitability should be made - for example, by an appropriate expert such as a child or educational psychologist (see Use of an Independent Expert below).
If programme-makers find out (or have reason to believe) that the under-18 or his/her family is known to (or likely to be known to) social services, or is on the local authority's child protection ("at risk") register, or is involved in court proceedings of any kind (whether civil/family or criminal and whether as a party, defendant or witness) it is vital that advice is sought from the programme lawyer as soon as possible.
Programme makers should keep a documented trail of relevant checks, correspondence and any concerns raised throughout the production.
Risk Assessments - physical and emotional/mental
Programme-makers, in consultation with the commissioning editor and programme lawyer, must consider whether they need to carry out documented risk assessments of the impact on the under-18's emotional and mental wellbeing and welfare as well as their physical health and safety. Again, the need for these will depend on all the relevant circumstances including the under-18's age, gender, physical and mental capacity, their maturity, cultural, ethnic and religious background, as well as their previous life experiences.
Use of an Independent Expert
It may be necessary, depending on the individual (having regard to their age, level of understanding, maturity, confidence and experience etc.), and the nature and extent of their proposed contribution and the nature of programme, to seek advice from an experienced and appropriately qualified and independent child or educational counsellor, psychologist or other child specialist as appropriate. This may be necessary in order to assess the child's suitability to participate in a programme, the likely impact on the child 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 an expert 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 handled in accordance with the Data Protection Act. If the expert advises that a child contributor should not be used then this decision must be adhered to, unless circumstances change and the expert decides that it is now appropriate to proceed. 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 to 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.
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.
Set out below are details of those from whom programme-makers should obtain consent when dealing with under-18s, e.g. parents, guardians. This will vary according to the age and the circumstances of the particular individual under the age of 18.
However, remember that Channel 4's and the programme-makers' obligation is to take due care over the physical and emotional welfare of people under 18 involved in their programmes, irrespective of any consents given by them or anyone on their behalf e.g. their parent(s).
It is important, therefore, that the commissioning editor and programme-makers form their own judgements as to whether participation is appropriate and do not rely solely on the judgement of the child or young person and/or their parents or guardians. This is particularly important where the parents may have a vested interest, for example, where the programme requires the participation of the whole family and they themselves want to be participants or where the parents may act as the child's professional agent. Consideration should be given to whether an independent expert should be consulted (see Use of an Independent Expert above).
Programme-makers must verify the age of young contributors, as some children may appear older than they are. Do not simply take their word or that of their parents; a passport or some other official photo identification should normally be checked and a copy taken (unless in the circumstances it is justified not to do so).
Attached to these guidelines are an under-18s and a parental release form which can be adapted for use, subject to final approval by the programme lawyer.
Consents – under-16s
- If a programme contributor is under 16, in addition to obtaining their consent to take part (if appropriate in all the circumstances), you should also obtain consent from his/her parents or guardians, or other person aged 18 or over with legal responsibility for the under-16. Ideally, both parents' consents should be sought for the under-16's contribution, or from those who have 'parental responsibility' for the under-16. However, this may not always be possible or practicable. If an under-16’s parents are divorced or separated, parental consent should, in the first instance, be sought from the parent the child resides with and anyone who has 'parental responsibility'. As to whether or not consent should also be sought from others, seek advice from the programme lawyer.
- Parental consent should normally be obtained before filming an under-16, especially where the subject matter of the filming/programme is sensitive and/or potentially controversial. If this is not practicable or desirable, you must take advice from your commissioning editor and programme lawyer at the earliest opportunity. (See Finding/ approaching potential participants above).
- There may be rare occasions where parental consent for an under-16's contribution is deemed unnecessary e.g. a Vox pop situation, where the subject matter and the programnme is uncontroversial and is not of a sensitive nature. The age and understanding of the under-16, the subject matter of the programme and the extent and nature of the under-16’s participation will all be relevant when deciding whether parental consent is necessary. Programme-makers must seek advice from the programme lawyer wherever it is intended to include within a programme any under-16 without parental consent.
- Programmes dealing with an under-16 (or indeed an under-18) person who is the subject of a care order, is a ward of court or is being adopted raise more complicated legal issues (and may mean identification of your contributor in the programme will be a problem) and will require considered and detailed advice from the programme lawyer at the earliest stage.
Consents - 16- and 17-year-olds
- Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds are able to give their own consent to participate in many circumstances. However, if the proposed participant is still at home and/or still in education programme-makers should normally also obtain parental consent.
- If programme-makers wish to (or must) proceed on the basis of consent from the young person alone, please refer to your commissioning editor and programme lawyer for advice at the earliest stage.
- As with any contributor, to be able to consent or agree to contribute to a programme, the under-18 and/or those who have parental responsibility for them (if their consent is required) must properly understand the nature of the programme they are considering contributing to and their role within it.
- From the start, there should be an easy to understand description of the programme and the contributor's role within the programme. Explanations given to an under-18 should be appropriate to the young person's age, maturity and ability to understand. It may also be appropriate to give this information in writing, for example a clear description of the programme and the contributor's role may form part of the contributor's release form and the release form requiring parental permission.
- Depending on the nature of the programme, contribution and/or the particular circumstances of the young person, it may be appropriate to explain to them, in terms they can understand, both the positive and negative likely consequences of their involvement in the programme including bullying at school and the potential negative impact of the social media and media attention which may be generated following transmission.
- The delivery of clear information on likely outcomes is considered by Ofcom to be a core element of "due care" and whereas there may be rare circumstances where it is not appropriate to highlight the likely positive and negative consequences directly to the person under 18, Ofcom does advise that potential outcomes should be made clear to the parents or guardians. How this information should be communicated is something which should be discussed with the commissioning editor and programme lawyer. In most situations a record (documented or filmed as appropriate) of this advice should be kept.
- It is important that neither the person under 18 nor his/her parents or guardians (if their consent is required) feel pressured into giving consent. They should always be given sufficient time to think about their decision to take part and discuss it with others should they so wish.
- Programme-makers should make it clear to under-18 participants that they can say 'yes' or 'no' to filming at any time and that the choice is theirs. It is recognised that some children and young people find it difficult to say 'no' to an adult (whether their parent or another), so programme-makers should look out for non-verbal indications that they are unhappy with the situation.
- With children who lack the maturity or capacity to make decisions for themselves, programme-makers in consultation with the commissioning editor and programme lawyer should ask themselves if there is a need for independent expert advice to form a view as to their suitability as contributors (see Use of an Independent Expert above).
- Where English is not the child's and/or parents' first language, steps must be taken to ensure that the contributor agreement or any release form is accurately translated into their first language. Where appropriate, it may also be necessary to use a competent translator to communicate with the child and/or parents.
- Once consent has been given and where filming continues over a period of time, particularly where there are any changes to the original description of the programme or the contributor’s role within it, programme-makers should check at regular intervals during the production that the young person is still happy about continuing to take part. Ideally, their continued assent to participate should be documented on camera, showing that they understand what the filming is going to be of/about and that they are happy to continue being filmed.
Consents - when filming in schools
- Prior consent to film in a school must be obtained in writing from the Head Teacher.
- When filming over long periods at a school, it may be advisable for programme-makers to have a letter of agreement or letter of intent with the school setting out the programme-makers' obligations, together with a protocol for filming. Indeed, this may be necessary to secure access in the first place and to provide comfort to parents, governors and the Local Education Authority. Programme-makers should discuss this with the commissioning editor and programme lawyer.
- Depending on the nature of the filming programme-makers may need to inform all of the schoolchildren's parents that the filming is taking place, whether or not their child is to be included within the programme. Programme-makers should discuss this with the Head Teacher, the commissioning editor and programme lawyer.
- Irrespective of the Head Teacher's general consent to film within the school, if a person under 18 actively participates in the programme or is in some way focused upon, rather than merely being incidental, programme-makers should normally obtain, prior to filming, signed consent forms from them and those who have parental responsibility for them. For example, if programme-makers are interviewing a main contributor while he is sitting with his friends, it would be advisable if those children are identifiable to obtain parental consents in respect of the friends as well as the interviewee.
- Normally clear notices should be put up at the school gates and in the school on the days that filming is taking place. The notices should make clear the times and areas where filming will take place and should include a brief description of the project as well as a production contact name and number. This may be a condition of the access agreement.
- In schools where there are significant numbers of children for whom English is not their first language, programme-makers should ensure that correspondence and notices are translated. Schools and Local Education Authorities often have their own translators.
When filming/interviewing under-18s
Whenever programme-makers anticipate filming or interviewing under-18s about sensitive or controversial subjects or filming in sensitive circumstances, they should consult with their commissioning editor and programme lawyer prior to filming so that consideration and advice can be given as to the appropriate safeguards which should be put in place to ensure under-18s are adequately protected - and also in some cases to ensure the production team is adequately protected.
In some circumstances it may be appropriate to engage an appropriately qualified independent expert or experts e.g. counsellor, psychologist etc., not simply to help determine the suitability of the contributor (see Use of an Independent Expert above), but also with regard to the processes involved in making the programme and/or the manner of interviewing/filming e.g. if a young person is undertaking certain tasks or challenges that may impact on their physical or emotional/mental health, or where a child is young and/or vulnerable and is being filmed in the context of some private or sensitive matter e.g. such as being caught up in the breakdown of their parents' relationship.
When filming with under-18s the following checklist should be considered and adhered to as and where appropriate:
- Programme-makers should ensure that there is a known and consistent point of contact (usually the AP or Producer/Director or in some cases an independent member of the production appointed specifically for this role) who is responsible for overseeing the welfare of the young contributor for them and, if appropriate, their families throughout production and up to and after transmission, for an appropriate period of time. Main contributors should have their contact number and understand that the specified team member is available for them to call at all times.
- Under-18s, parents, schools etc. should be told that initial research chats and filming do not automatically mean they will be included in further filming/the finished programme.
- Under-16s should not be asked for views on matters that may be beyond their comprehension or capacity to answer, without the consent of an appropriate adult.
- Programme-makers should not encourage or incite under-18s to say or do things that they would not have done otherwise. 'Showing off' and playing up for the cameras should be discouraged.
- If a parent or other responsible adult is not present, it will normally be appropriate when filming with young people, particularly children, to have at least two members of the production team present.
- Consideration should be given to any gender issues. For example, it may be appropriate for some filming or interviews to be conducted by an all-female crew, all-male crew or a mixture of both .
- Serious consideration should always be given as to whether a young person should be accompanied by a parent/guardian, chaperone or other person who can provide support such as a friend or a sibling. Serious consideration should also be given whether expert support such as a counsellor or psychologist should be made available e.g. where filming/interviewing a vulnerable child or where the child is being filmed/interviewed away from home or school or being interviewed about a private or otherwise potentially sensitive matter. Please discuss any such considerations with the commissioning editor and programme lawyer before filming.
- In the case of child actors who are required to have a performance licence (see Child performance licences below), a chaperone will often be a condition of the licence.
- Programme-makers should try to avoid giving advice or counselling young people. Where appropriate programme-makers can pass on information to them about agencies they can contact for advice and help. If in doubt, programme-makers should seek guidance from the commissioning editor and programme lawyer, as appropriate.
- When filming with under-18s, detailed health and safety assessments must be undertaken as appropriate. All health and safety advice and recommendations must be followed, and all relevant members of the production team should be appropriately briefed on such issues. As part of this briefing, the production crew must know what to do and who to notify in the event of an emergency e.g. a member of the crew or any contributor suffers physical harm during filming.
- Consideration should always be given to the personal security of any young people involved in programmes.
- If programme-makers are transporting or arranging transport for contributors under 18, parental consent should normally be obtained and programme-makers must take due care e.g. using reliable transport companies, taxi firms etc. should be used; under-18s should not be allowed to travel alone with adults who are not members of the crew and thus have not been DBS checked.
- Careful consideration must be given to the appropriate kind and level of any insurance cover – both for the production company and any contributors if appropriate - that should be put in place. This will obviously depend on the nature of the programme and the participants' proposed contributions.
- If programme-makers have concerns about anything they have learned or witnessed during filming this must be referred up within the production team as soon as possible and, where appropriate, to the commissioning editor and programme lawyer. Any tailored production protocols for a particular programme should contain a clear referral process for situations where any member of the production, including independent advisers or chaperones, is concerned about the welfare of any contributors under 18.
Interviewing about sensitive subjects
Whilst not intended as an exhaustive list, sensitive subjects are likely to include interviewing or filming an under 18 talking about the following: sexual matters; personal relationships or private family matters; antisocial or illegal behaviour they have been involved in or are considering; alcohol or drug use/abuse; addictions of any kind; their bodies; medical matters; illnesses they suffer or have suffered from, physical or mental; generally being unhappy, being depressed, self-harm or having suicidal thoughts; accidents or attacks they have been involved in which have led to serious harm.
When interviewing under-18s about sensitive subjects:
- Detailed, tailored guidelines/protocols are likely to be necessary. As noted above, consideration should be given as to the appropriate adults that ought to be present for any such interview e.g. a welfare producer or chaperone in addition to a parent, to ensure the contributor is not being caused unnecessary distress or anxiety. Seek advice from the commissioning editor and programme lawyer at an early stage.
- Under-18s should be told they can ask for the camera to be turned off, if they become uncomfortable with the filming at any stage. Similarly, if programme-makers sense or get any indication that a contributor is uncomfortable with filming, then it may be appropriate to ask the contributor whether they are happy to continue filming.
- Programme-makers should consider discussing with/taking advice from those who know the young person well e.g. a parent, teacher, other family member or other person, as to the appropriate way to approach certain subject matters in interviews.
- Where a young person confides in a member of the production team about something which could place that child at risk, either physically or emotionally, the matter must be referred up as soon as possible to the executive producer, the commissioning editor and, where appropriate, the programme lawyer. A decision will be taken as to what action, if any, should be taken. With programmes that are dealing with sensitive subjects, the process of referral-up is likely to be key. Referral-up procedures and an 'intervention policy' are likely to form part of the specific, tailored guidelines which will have been drawn up for the particular programme.
- Where appropriate, programme-makers should also consider whether there is another person already in the young person's life who understands their circumstances and who is prepared to remain in the young person's life post-transmission to offer guidance and support, for as long as it is needed e.g. a parent, family member, teacher, mentor, youth group leader.
Filming in sensitive situations
In some programmes, programme-makers are likely to film under-18s in sensitive situations. Again, whilst not an exhaustive list, filming a person under 18 in sensitive situations is likely to include filming an under-18 involved in or in the presence of any of the following: antisocial or illegal activity; alcohol and drug use/abuse; bullying; threatening or intimidating behaviour; violence; criminal damage; dangerous and potentially dangerous activities.
- Whenever programme-makers are filming in sensitive situations, if possible, seek advice from the programme lawyer in advance. If that is not possible and situations present themselves, programme-makers should use their common sense as to how best to proceed e.g. whether to continue filming, cease filming, intervene, refer the matter up, notify the authorities or emergency services etc. It is important that the filming itself does not compromise the welfare of the person under 18 and that it does not cause the under-18 unnecessary distress or anxiety. Please note that programme-makers should only intervene where to do so would not place them or the person under 18 at further risk.
Antisocial and/or criminal behaviour
- Programmes the subject matter of which concerns under-18s and illegal and/or antisocial behaviour will require guidelines tailored to the specific needs of the programme. Programme-makers should seek advice from the programme lawyer at the earliest opportunity.
- As part of the selection process and background checks on potential contributors, programme-makers should ascertain whether the under-18s have any criminal convictions, ASBOs or have a history of any antisocial behaviour.
- As above, programme-makers must ensure that they do not incite, facilitate, encourage or assist anti-social and/or criminal behaviour, directly or indirectly e.g. simply by their presence or filming, by purchasing spray cans which are then used for graffiti, or even just by driving a person under 18 to a location where anti-social or criminal behaviour may be committed. Assisting a criminal offence is a criminal offence in itself. Programme-makers must remain as impartial observers.
- If programme-makers witness and/or film the commission of a crime when filming with a person under 18, this must be referred to the commissioning editor and programme lawyer as soon as possible. Rushes can be subject to a 'production order' for seizure by the police and programme-makers may be interviewed as witnesses, so it is important they seek prompt legal advice from the programme lawyer.
Payments, expenses, gifts, meals
- Contributor fee payments should not be offered or made to under-18 contributors unless agreed in advance by the commissioning editor and programme lawyer.
- Reasonable expenses can be paid to the parents of under-18 contributors but should not generally be made to the under-18s themselves, unless in the circumstances it is justified to do so. Similarly, expenses e.g. for loss of earnings, particularly if the amounts are substantial, should be agreed in advance by the commissioning editor and programme lawyer.
- Production crew should be clear about what, if anything, they can buy or pay for, for under-18 contributors e.g. transport, meals, soft drinks etc. and any agreed limits on such spending. Where purchases are made, crew members should pay for the items or services themselves and provide the receipts to the production company. Under-18s should not be given cash or gifts by members of the production team unless this has been agreed by the production company and Channel 4 in advance.
- Programme-makers should not purchase or give cigarettes and/or alcohol to any under-18 contributors, even if it is legal to do so.
Programmes involving child actors
The use of child actors will require a child performance licence (see Child performance licences below). The licensing system involves a number of safeguards designed to protect the welfare of the child. The following additional guidelines should also be applied where appropriate:
When casting child actors for scripted roles in drama, comedy or entertainment programmes that might involve scenes of strong violence and/or the use of strong or sexual language, particular consideration should be given to the child's past acting experience, how long they have been at drama school and the nature of roles they have played in the past. This is in addition to the usual considerations about the individual (their age, level of understanding, maturity, confidence etc.).
Particular care is needed when working with child actors in scenes involving graphic violence or the use of strong or sexual language directed at them or said in their presence. In such cases the scenes should, where reasonably practicable, be filmed in such a way that the child is not present on set during the use of the strong violence and/or strong or sexual language and can be edited in later. The filming of such scenes should always be discussed with the commissioning editor and programme lawyer.
If it is proposed that a child actor is to be filmed using graphic violence or strong or sexual language, this must be discussed at script stage with the commissioning editor and programme lawyer. Such use needs very careful consideration and appropriate safeguards (see Use of an Independent Expert above) in place to ensure that the child is both suitable for the role and all that it involves and to assess the likely impact on the child. Such use would require strong editorial justification and the prior approval of both the Head of Drama and Controller of Legal & Compliance with reference-up to the Director Of Programmes where appropriate.
- Early advice must be sought from the programme lawyer before any filming is undertaken, where any scenes of a sexual nature in which child actors may be present are being considered. It is a criminal offence to take, distribute or show an indecent photograph (which includes filming for television) of a minor under the age of 18 (see the Protection of Children Act 1978 below). This means that in drama or reconstructions, any actors that are required to be filmed in scenes of a sexual nature must be at least 18, regardless of the age of the character they are playing. In such circumstances programme-makers must seek independent written verification of the ages of all actors who are under 18 or who are over 18 but look younger.
After filming, before transmission
- Programme-makers (normally the participant's main point of contact during production) should ensure they maintain the relationships they have built up throughout production and the flow of information with the person under 18 and, if appropriate, their family.
- Programme-makers should keep the person under 18 and his/her family informed about the progress of the programme, including about any publicity (press, trails etc.) for the programme and the transmission date, as appropriate.
- Programme-makers should monitor during this period whether anything is occurring that may affect the edit or transmission. Have the facts or circumstances changed? Has the young person been arrested or taken into care?
- Programme-makers should consider informing the under-18's school of the transmission date, if appropriate.
- If it has been agreed at the outset by Channel 4 that the person under 18 and his/her family can view a fine cut of the programme prior to transmission, this promise must be honoured. The terms on which such a viewing is granted must be agreed with Channel 4 first and in any event, it should always be made clear that final editorial control rests with Channel 4. Contributors should be given an indication of when the viewing will take place and programme-makers should try to stick to that. It may well be advisable for such viewings to take place before copies of the programme are sent out to the press.
- Programme makers should consider the potential impact of social media and the media in general and the risk of bullying (including online bullying) on the person under 18 and provide appropriate advice and practical support to them and/or their parents/guardians in advance of transmission, for example by providing guidance on privacy settings on social media sites and/or providing a designated contact to help them with media attention.
- If it has been agreed that a person under 18 and his/her family do not have the right to view a copy of the programme prior to transmission, programme-makers should keep under review whether there is any reason why it would be sensible or appropriate to reverse that decision and offer a viewing of the whole or part of the programme. However, any decision to offer a contributor the right to view the programme or any part of it prior to transmission must be agreed by the commissioning editor and programme lawyer.
- Programme-makers should consider what, if any other, support the person under 18 may need in the run up to transmission, bearing in mind how press and publicity may affect the young person. Depending on the circumstances of the particular case, it may be advisable for programme-makers to take expert advice on how to best manage this phase of the production. The need for this should be discussed with the commissioning editor and your programme lawyer.
The code contains a further rule of relevance where under-18s participate in programmes;
“Material which may cause offence must be justified by the context. Appropriate information should be broadcast where it would assist in avoiding or minimising offence.”
The level of care taken to protect children taking part in programmes is not always clear. Therefore, when under-18s participate in programmes, consideration needs to be given as to whether "appropriate information" could and should be communicated to the viewer to mitigate possible offence in a particular situation. This will depend on the particular circumstances, the nature & content of the programme and/or the nature and extent of the under-18's participation.
Fairness & Privacy
As with any other contributors, programmes must avoid the unfair treatment of under-18s and any infringement of privacy must be warranted.
- Particular attention must be paid to the privacy rights of those under 16. They do not lose their rights to privacy because of, for example, the fame or notoriety of their parents or because of events in their schools. See the Ofcom Broadcasting Code section of the Handbook.
Channel 4 has a bond of trust with its audience and a duty to ensure that viewers are not deceived or misled by any of its programmes, whether it involves under-18s or not. Programmes must be truthful, accurate and fair and not mislead the audience. See 'Viewer Trust Guidelines'.
Prizes aimed at children must be appropriate to the age range of both the target audience i.e. viewers and the participants involved in the competition. Competitions should be conducted fairly, prizes should be described accurately, and rules should be clear, fair and appropriately made known. See 'Competition Guidelines'.
After transmission and beyond
- Programme-makers should also carefully consider what, if any, support the person under 18 may need in the aftermath of transmission and beyond. What will the impact of transmission be? How might filming and the experience have affected the young person in the longer term? Depending on the circumstances, it may be advisable for programme-makers to take expert advice on how to best manage this post-production phase. The need for this should be discussed with the commissioning editor and your programme lawyer. It may be appropriate in some cases to offer aftercare support or counselling to a contributor for a fixed period after transmission.
- Editorial staff and programme-makers should consider whether contributors under 18 need to be notified when the programme they have been filmed for is to be repeated, especially where a significant period of time has elapsed since the last transmission.
Child performance licences
Where a child is under the compulsory school age and their role in a programme involves 'taking part in a performance', programme-makers may, in addition to obtaining parental consent, also need to obtain a performance licence (prior to filming) from the Local Authority in the area where the young person lives. Legislation sets out when a licence is required.
A child is considered to be of compulsory school age until the last Friday in June in the school year in which they reach 16, which means some 16-year-olds will require a licence. The licensing regime also applies to children who permanently reside within the UK but who are taken outside the UK and Republic of Ireland for filming.
What constitutes a 'performance' is not defined under the legislation. Traditionally it has been applied to children who appeared in dramas, scripted comedies, musical and dance performances. However, it is now accepted that the licence regime also extends to so-called 'reality' television where the activity in which the child participates is manipulated, controlled or directed for the purpose of entertainment. It is therefore important that programme-makers seek early advice from their programme lawyer as to which programmes might now be caught as the time limits for applying for licences are strictly applied and the limited exemptions available require careful application.
It is for the Local Authority to determine whether the performance or activity requires a licence and, if so, whether to attach conditions to it. They must assess applications on the basis of the measures that have been put in place to mitigate risks to children and to ensure their safety and well-being, and that their education does not suffer. While licensing authorities are entitled to ask for information that they consider is necessary to make an informed decision about whether to issue a licence, programme-makers should not be required to produce a script, and a script should never be provided without reference to your commissioning editor and programme lawyer.
The applicable regulations differ in England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland.
England is subject to Children (Performance and Activities) (England) Regulations 2014.
Scotland is subject to Children (Performance and Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2014.
Wales is still subject to The Children (Performances) Regulations 1968.
Northern Ireland should apply The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 and The Employment of Children Regulations (NI) 1996, amended 2006.
It is essential that programme-makers obtain advice from their programme lawyer at the earliest opportunity if they believe contributors may be subject to legal considerations.
Legal Proceedings involving under-18s
Under-18s can be involved in all kinds of legal proceedings and in recognition of the fact that they are generally more vulnerable than adults, the law seeks to protect their rights in a number of ways.
The majority of legal considerations involve reporting restrictions. Reporting legal proceedings is a complex area of law and legal advice must be sought at an early stage and certainly before filming begins.
It is a contempt of court, i.e. a criminal offence, to identify a child in contravention of an order of the court or in contravention of legal restrictions.
The identity of under-18s involved in most legal proceedings is protected by the court – automatically in the Youth Court and by specific order in most other courts. Any reference whatsoever to under-18s involved in legal proceedings (criminal, civil or family) must be referred to the programme lawyer as soon as possible for advice.
Where legal restrictions apply prohibiting the identification of minors involved in legal proceedings, programmes must be careful not to publish any material that would directly or indirectly lead to any of those individuals being identified, whatever their involvement in the proceedings.
When covering pre-trial investigations into alleged offences, even where no legal restrictions apply, particular regard must be paid to the vulnerability of any minor involved before broadcasting his/her name, address, school or other educational establishment, place of work or any picture of them.
Protection of Children Act 1978
It is a criminal offence to take, distribute or show an indecent photograph (which includes filming for television) of a minor under the age of 18. To involve a minor in a photograph or television image that is itself indecent, even where the under-18's role in it is not central is also an offence, for example, broadcasting an image where a child's picture had been superimposed onto a pornographic image. If you are unsure whether or not an image involving a minor may be indecent, seek immediate advice from the programme lawyer before filming.