Ofcom works to ensure people across the UK are satisfied with what they see and hear on TV and radio, and that programmes reflect the audiences they serve. As such it sets rules for what may be broadcast to different audiences at different times of day.
Many of these rules focus on what is appropriate content for younger age groups, as well as specific guidelines around broadcasting adult content. It has also issued guidelines around ‘offensive language’, issuing a list of c.50 words classified in four grades of offensiveness, from ‘milder’ to ‘strongest’.
Ofcom review every complaint from viewers and listeners. If, on further investigation, it finds broadcasters to be in breach of its rules, it has a range of sanctions available, including fines and revocation of broadcasting licences.
However, Ofcom does not cover television and radio channels which broadcast in the UK but are licensed abroad.
Making a complaint – general
As for the print press, it is always better to raise any issue with the programme makers directly, first. However, if all else fails, you can lodge a formal complaint by going to Ofcom’s complaints page and clicking on the links there.
From there, you can navigate by clicking the main options:
These, in turn, will take you to an online form, where you must fill in details of the programme (title, when you saw it, etc.), the nature of your complaint, and personal/contact details.
Complaints need to be couched in terms that relate directly to Ofcom principles. If it is not in the list, they will not look at it.
NOTE: do not spend too much time talking to the broadcaster directly, as for a formal complaint, Ofcom requires that the programme has been broadcast in the previous twenty days.
Making a complaint – BBC
You can also use Ofcom’s complaints page to make a complaint about a BBC programme. However, in this instance, you are required – by Ofcom – to have completed all stages of the BBC’s complaints process, including receiving a response from the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (‘ECU’).
You begin your complaint with the BBC through their dedicated complaints page.
This approach – requiring complainants to exhaust ALL the stages of the complaints process before Ofcom will consider their case – is problematic. Early stages of a complaint are meant to be dealt with quickly, with the BBC promising feedback within two weeks on most written complaints.
However, follow-up can take much longer, and we have experience of complaints that should have gone to Ofcom over a year ago, but are still stuck with the BBC. That is, Ofcom will not look at the complaint before the BBC deal with it; but nor will they deal with a complaint about the BBC failing to deal with it.
Effectively, this gives the BBC carte blanche to ignore awkward complaints.
Making a complaint – advertising
Ofcom will pick up complaints relating to amount and placements of adverts around programmes and programme trailers. However, with the exception of political advertising, Ofcom does not deal with the content of adverts. That is covered by the Advertising Standards Authority.
Letting us know
As always, please let us know. We can sometimes help with respect to the initial complaint, and we are always interested in publishing the experience of our supporters on site.
You can contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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