Broadcasters "... must avoid unjust or unfair treatment of individuals or organisations in programmes" [Rule 7.1].
Fairness and Privacy Complaints
Any individual (or organisation) who considers him/herself to have been the subject of unjust or unfair treatment or an unwarranted infringement of privacy may make a written 'fairness' and/or 'privacy' complaint to Ofcom after a programme's broadcast. See 'Privacy'.
Defending these complaints is time-consuming and may involve disclosure to Ofcom of rushes, correspondence, emails and notes, as well as preparation of a detailed response to all the points raised by a complainant. This will require co-operation between the broadcaster and programme-makers.
If Ofcom entertains a complaint of unfair treatment and/or an unwarranted invasion of privacy, the broadcaster will be given the opportunity to make written submissions in relation to the complaint. Ofcom then comes to a "preliminary view" on which both the complainant and the broadcaster are given an opportunity to make further written submissions. At this stage, Ofcom may decide to hold a hearing (but rarely does), for example if there is a significant dispute of fact between the parties. Ofcom then makes its final decision. If there is a hearing then at least one of the programme-makers will be expected to attend with the broadcasters' representatives.
Ofcom will normally publish its final adjudication on its website and, especially where a fairness complaint is upheld, it may also direct the broadcaster to transmit on air and/or publish a summary of its adjudication. In the case of a serious breach, a statutory sanction may be considered and imposed. The imposition of a sanction and the adverse press that it creates damages the reputation of both the broadcaster and the programme-makers.