Ofcom (the Office of Communications) regulates the content of all television programmes in the UK, including programmes on the BBC (with certain exceptions). Channel 4, like other commercial broadcasters, is licensed by Ofcom to broadcast, subject to compliance with its codes.
The main code applying to the content of television programmes is the Ofcom Broadcasting Code ('the Code'). It contains principles and rules covering standards in programmes, sponsorship and fairness and privacy, which broadcasters must comply with.
It is the responsibility of all programme-makers together with Channel 4’s editorial staff, taking advice from the lawyers in the legal and compliance department where appropriate, to ensure that programmes comply with the Code and can be robustly defended after broadcast to Ofcom.
Failure to comply with the Code is likely to result in details of the Code breach being published by Ofcom and, in the case of serious or persistent breaches, it can impose statutory sanctions. Ofcom has the power to issue a direction to broadcast a summary of its adjudication on air; impose a fine (which could be substantial) and even shorten or remove a channel’s licence to broadcast (with certain exceptions). The publication of a finding against a programme or the imposition of a sanction, along with the resulting adverse press, can damage the reputation of both the broadcaster and the programme-makers.
Ofcom now oversees the regulation of on-demand content. The rules and guidance which providers of on-demand programme services must comply with are set out within Ofcom’s Rules and Guidance.