Ofcom revises and expands rules to protect TV and radio show participants

Media watchdog Ofcom has revised and expanded the proposed set of rules to protect the welfare of participants on TV and radio shows.

The regulator is currently consulting over changes to the Broadcasting Code, which will safeguard participants in reality shows, documentaries, talent contests and other forms of factual and entertainment programmes.

Ofcom published an initial consultation in July 2019, proposing two new rules.

However, following further consultation with former programme participants, psychiatrists and psychologists, broadcasters, academics and other professionals, it has decided to offer a revised set of suggestions.

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Mike Thalassitis (Ian West/PA)

A 29-page report published on Friday March 13 proposes the expansion of Section 7 of the Code, about Fairness and Privacy, and the creation of a “risk matrix” to help broadcasters assess what level of care participants might need.

It comes after broadcasters faced increased scrutiny following the deaths of former Love Island contestants Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis, and The Jeremy Kyle Show guest Steve Dymond.

Section 7.3 of the Code already sets out the measures broadcasters must take in obtaining “informed consent” from participants.

However the report proposes that it should “clarify that obtaining informed consent includes letting programme participants know about potential harms or negative impacts (insofar as these can be reasonably anticipated at the time), and any steps that broadcasters and/or programme-makers intend to take to mitigate these”.

It also suggests the addition of a new practice, 7.15, requiring broadcasters “to ensure due care is provided to ‘vulnerable people’ and those who are at risk of harm as a result of taking part in a programme”.

Broadcasters must take into account the person’s circumstances, the nature of their contribution, and the nature and genre of the programme.

The report also stressed the importance of protecting audiences from potential harm or offence resulting from a lack, or perceived lack, of due care to vulnerable people.

The “risk matrix” sets out six key risk factors – including control, format, and profile – to determine whether further risk analysis is needed.

It said some broadcasters, including ITV, already use a form of “risk matrix”.

The report said: “Our work in this area recognises the growing openness and concern in society about mental health and well-being in recent years.

“Ofcom has also seen a steady rise in complaints expressing concern about the welfare and well-being of people who take part in programmes.”

A final decision is expected in summer.

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