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Basic principles

The Code is set out in terms of principles, meanings and rules and, for specific sections – Fairness and Privacy – also includes a set of ‘practices to be followed’ by broadcasters. The principles are there to help readers understand the standards objectives and to apply the rules.

The code covers

  • Section one: Protecting the under-eighteens
  • Section two: Harm and offence
  • Section three: Crime, disorder, hatred and abuse
  • Section four: Religion
  • Section five: Due impartiality and due accuracy
  • Section six: Elections and referendums
  • Section seven: Fairness
  • Section eight: Privacy
  • Section nine: Commercial references on TV
  • Section ten: Commercial communications on radio
  • Appendix 1: Financial promotions and investment recommendations
  • Cross-promotion Code
  • On-Demand Programme Service Rules

Ofcom is concerned with preventing broadcasting from causing harm, and this it does by setting down detailed guidelines around violence, sex, drug-taking and other sensitive/dangerous practices. Also, guidance is provided around ‘offensive material’.

The core of this guidance lies in Section 2: Harm and offence. This requires material which may cause offence to be justified by the context. There is also acknowledgment that discriminatory treatment or language can be an issue.

The touchstone for this clause is ‘generally accepted standards’. These must be applied in such a way as to provide ‘adequate protection’ for the public.

Specific guidance

Additional restriction is encouraged in respect of what may be viewed by young people (children and under-eighteens). This is achieved by detailed specification of what is appropriate and inappropriate content, and by setting time limits on when inappropriate content may be broadcast (between 9pm and 5.30am).

Specific rules exist around content that might be considered to encourage the commission of crime or disorder. Also, ‘hate speech which is likely to encourage criminal activity or lead to disorder.’

Religious sensibilities should be respected. News and current affairs programming should be presented with ‘due’ impartiality and accuracy, with mistakes acknowledged quickly and corrected on air if appropriate. Additional ‘special’ impartiality rules will come into play during elections and referenda.


Significant weight is given to fairness in the treatment of contributors to programmes. Section 7: Fairness is an important read for any trans person invited to go on air in respect of any issue. The aim is informed consent. No-one should agree to appearing on a programme without knowing what their appearance may entail, and therefore programme makers need to tell them (s.7.3):

  • the nature and purpose of the programme, what the programme is about and why the individual is being asked to contribute;
  • what kind of contribution is expected: e.g., live, pre-recorded, interview, discussion, edited, unedited, etc.;
  • likely areas of questioning and, where possible, the nature of other likely contributions.

They should also be made aware of any significant changes to the programme as it develops which might impact their original consent to participate, and which might lead to unfairness.


Members of the public have a general expectation of privacy, and a broadcaster should not overrule this without good reason.

There should be a clear distinction between editorial point of view and commercial content/advertising on radio and TV. In addition, where there is a significant commercial dimension to the making of a programme, this should be made clear.

There should be no inducements to invest in financial products. Cross-promotion of other programmes is specifically exempted from these restrictions: there are special regulations around promotion of on-demand services.