- Q. Does consent always have to be in writing?
A. A signed release form is normally good evidence of a contributor having agreed to take part in a programme but does not remove the need to explain properly the nature of the programme to the contributor. It also is a written record of the terms of the consent, for example setting out what use the broadcaster can make of the contribution. Wherever possible, therefore, consent should be sought in writing, in the form of a signed release form. However, there may be occasions where this is not possible or impractical. In such circumstances, consent on camera may be sufficient. The best way to approach this is for the producer/director to ask the contributor on camera whether they consent to take part and describe the programme, for example "Do you consent to your contribution /interview being included in this programme, called [insert], about [insert] to be broadcast on one of Channel 4's channels and internationally in any media". If you intend in advance to seek consent on camera and dispense with release forms, you must seek the advice and consent of your programme lawyer. See 'Release Forms'.
- Q. When should the contributor sign their release form?
A. The release form may be signed before an individual's contribution or immediately after. It makes no real difference. However, it is generally not good practice to leave it until sometime after a contribution has been given before asking for the release form to be signed. See 'Release Forms'.
- Q. How much do I have to tell a contributor about the programme?
A. This depends on the exact nature of the programme but, generally, contributors should take part in programmes on the basis of their informed consent - that is they should be told everything they need to know to ensure they can make a properly informed choice about whether or not to take part. There may be occasions where programme-makers are allowed to be less than upfront and entirely honest with contributors, the most extreme example of this of course being secret filming. However, any use of deception or the withholding of information must be justifiable, for example by the public interest, and be proportionate. See 'Informed Consent'.
- Q. What does the 'public interest' mean?
A. The 'public interest' means more than simply what the public are or might be interested in. The public may well be interested in the private sexual habits of a famous celebrity but whether it is "in the public interest" for such facts to be disclosed is another matter.
If an act is done, for example facts are disclosed in a television programme, and it is said to be "in the public interest" what it means is that it serves beneficially the well-being or interests of the public, or society generally.
There is no exhaustive definition of what constitutes the 'public interest', but it is generally accepted to include the following:
- Exposing or detecting crime, corruption, antisocial behaviour or injustice;
- Exposing lies, hypocrisy or misleading claims made by individuals or organisations;
- Protecting public health or safety;
- Disclosing incompetence, negligence or dereliction of duty, that affects others;
- Exposing dangerous or exploitative behaviour that could harm others.
- Q. Can I agree to allow a contributor to see the programme before transmission and to make changes to his/her contribution?
A. Only very rarely are contributors permitted to see previews of our programmes.
Any exception to this rule, for whatever reason, must be approved in advance by the commissioning editor who should seek the advice of the programme lawyer. Where a preview is granted, the terms upon which it is agreed should normally be put in writing - possibly on the release form - to avoid any confusion and it must be made clear that final editorial control remains with the broadcaster. Please refer to the legal and compliance department for advice regarding the exact wording of any promise to show contributors previews of their contribution. Normally, we will only agree to make changes to a programme or a contributor's contribution if he/she can demonstrate that the programme, as it stands, is factually inaccurate.
Note: it is sometimes appropriate to consider allowing a contributor to see a programme made with their full co-operation ahead of broadcast, where it concerns personal matters relating to their life but even then this is not required to achieve fairness.
- Q. A contributor is refusing to sign his/her release form. What should I do?
A. The first thing to do is to seek advice from the programme lawyer who will consider carefully all the circumstances, including the arguments of the contributor as to why they are refusing to sign. However, as noted above, release forms do not constitute the consent itself but are merely evidence of consent having been given. If a contributor does not have a good reason for wishing to withdraw and it appears they have merely changed their mind, we are more likely to take a robust line and may include the contribution without a signed release form.
- Q. A contributor is trying to place conditions on taking part in the programme? What should I do?
A. Seek advice from the programme lawyer immediately. You must not agree to any significant conditions, for example anonymity, or that the programme won't be shown in a certain country, unless the condition(s) asked for are so trivial you feel confident you can agree to them without first seeking the advice of the programme lawyer. It may well be that we will be able to accommodate the contributor's requests but you must check. See 'Release Forms'.
- Q. A contributor has asked to remain anonymous? What can I promise them?
A. First of all, you should ascertain exactly what the contributor means by 'anonymous', as there are degrees of anonymity, for example not identifiable to the general public or to anyone at all, even close family members? Once this is clear, you must seek the advice and consent of your commissioning editor and programme lawyer, before agreeing to anything. See 'Requests for Anonymity'.
- Q. Is blurring a contributor's face enough to ensure they are anonymous?
A. It depends on what level of anonymity the contributor requests or the circumstances dictate. In some circumstances, it may be appropriate to alter the individual's voice, change certain characteristics, for example wear a wig, or even to film the contributor in silhouette. In the past two newspapers were convicted of breaching the Sexual Offences Act (which protects the anonymity of victims of sexual offences) for identifying a woman who was the victim of a sexual assault, even though the photograph they used showed her only from behind, the reason being that her distinctive appearance rendered her identifiable to those that she knew and worked with. A third newspaper, however, which published the same photograph but altered the woman's hair colour, was found not to have identified her. This demonstrates that in each case where a contributor requests to remain anonymous (or this is required by law) we should carefully consider what particular measures are necessary to ensure the required level of anonymity.
- Q. Is it necessary to offer a "right of reply"?
A. It will be necessary to seek an appropriate response from a person or organisation whenever there are significant allegations or criticisms of wrongdoing against them, or any sort of damaging critique of an identifiable individual or organisation. This is likely to be necessary for accuracy, fairness and also potentially for legal reasons, for example to help defend any threat of libel proceedings. See 'Opportunity to Respond'. See also 'Defamation'.
- Q. Do I need to offer an interview (where a person or organisation is criticised)?
A. No. It is the broadcaster's final decision how a person or organisation is given the opportunity to respond to allegations or criticisms in a programme and how their response is included within the programme. As noted above, what is important is that the subject is given sufficient information about the programme, told what the allegations are, and given a proper and timely opportunity to respond; and that any response is fairly included in the programme to reflect fairly their position. See 'Opportunity to Respond'.
- Q. Do I need to include everything they say (where a right to reply has been sought and received)?
A. No. We only need include what is relevant and what fairness dictates should be included. Often programme-makers will receive many pages of irrelevant material in answer to a particular allegation. Your programme lawyer will advise you on what needs to be included. See 'Opportunity to Respond'.