Many people know Ofcom for their work in regulating UK broadcasting. But there’re also quite a few misunderstandings about this aspect of what they do. Here we look at how Ofcom carry out work in setting and enforcing broadcasting standards – including the legal frameworks that they work within.
As the UK’s independent broadcast regulator, they oversee content standards for television and radio services. Ofcom are responsible for a range of areas including protection of under-18s, harmful and offensive material, due impartiality and due accuracy, and unfair treatment and unwarranted infringements of privacy. Importantly, they need to apply those standards in a way that always takes account of the importance of freedom of expression.
These standards are set out in the Broadcasting Code, and Ofcom produce accompanying guidance to help broadcasters comply with the Code. They also enforce a more limited set of standards on video on demand services as well.
People can complain to Ofcom via their website. Every year, Ofcom assess thousands of programmes on TV and radio, to see if they’ve broken the rules. In the last year alone, they assessed over 11,000 cases about broadcast content.
When a broadcaster falls short of the standards set in the Broadcasting Code, Ofcom will take action. These are often finely-balanced decisions.
Ofcom investigate following their published procedures which contain clear, transparent and fair processes. It’s vital that the decisions are always reached independently and impartially, particularly when they concern complex, controversial or highly emotive issues.
This is why decisions about television and radio content are made by a specialist broadcast team within Ofcom. This team acts and makes decisions independently of the rest of the Ofcom Executive and the Ofcom Board. It consists of expert, experienced specialists, whose conclusions are based entirely on the facts and evidence of the case, free from any political or commercial influence.
To inform decisions, Ofcom often commission research on audiences’ expectations of harmful or offensive content as attitudes on these issues change over time.
Ofcom publish the outcome of every complaint receive and publish detailed decisions on any programme they find in breach of the Broadcasting Code. If they consider a breach is serious, deliberate, repeated or reckless, Ofcom may consider imposing a sanction, such as a financial penalty, a direction not to repeat, or – in the very most serious cases – removing a licence to broadcast.
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