Duty of Care for Television Contributors

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Duty of Care for Television Contributors

The welfare of contributors and the duty of care owed to them by broadcasters has been in the spotlight following the recent DCMS inquiry into reality TV programmes prompted by the deaths of ITV’s Love Island and Jeremy Kyle contestants.

As of 13 March 2020, Ofcom has published a second consultation on its proposals to amend the Broadcast Code in order to protect participants in TV and radio programmes.

The proposed amendments are:

  • Extending Practice 7.3 to clarify that obtaining informed consent includes letting programme participants know about potential harms or negative impacts.
  • Adding a new Practice 7.15 requiring broadcasters to ensure due care is provided to “vulnerable people” and those who are at risk of harm.
  • Introducing a new Rule 2.17 for broadcasters to provide adequate protection to audiences from potential harm and/or offence arising from the treatment of “vulnerable people”, and those who appear to be put at risk of harm, in programmes.

Ofcom is also proposing to include in its accompanying guidance to the Code a helpful ‘risk matrix’ to assist broadcasters in evaluating the potential mental health risks to participants on its programmes. The table sets out 6 factors that should inform the procedures required to provide an appropriate level of care for participants.

The 6 factors are:

  • Control: what level of control does the production have over the participants and/or their environment?
  • Format: does the format include potential confrontation or challenging situations?
  • Profile: is the production anticipated to have high media interest?
  • Location/Duration: are contributors filmed away from home for long periods of time?
  • Residence: are contributors required to reside in shared accommodation for a sustained period of time?
  • Type of Participant: are participants unused to being in the public eye or vulnerable?

Once risks have been identified, broadcasters and producers are advised to rank these risks as low, medium or high, with reference to the type of programme in question. The higher the risk factors, the greater the requirement to manage the risk and ensure a comprehensive level of due care, by implementing steps such as seeking expert psychological advice and support.

This risk matrix proposed by Ofcom mirrors the guidance already issued by ITV to its producers on protecting programme participants. The BBC has also updated its Editorial Guidelines and associated Guidance to require producers to consider the psychological impact (including psychological assessment and support) for all contributors, and to signpost internal documentation on ‘Psychological Wellbeing’.

With every broadcaster taking a keener interest in their duty of care responsibilities, it is time to get your house in order now, before changes to the Code take effect.

Key steps for producers:

  • Ensure you keep an eye on Ofcom developments and make sure to read the updated Ofcom Code and accompanying Guidance once published;
  • Ensure you read any Participant Guidelines issued by your commissioning broadcasters;
  • Ensure you have processes in place for identifying riskier content and ‘vulnerable’ participants;
  • Discuss your duty of care obligations with your commissioning broadcaster – bearing in mind that different broadcasters may have different expectations and/or processes;
  • Discuss budget implications with your commissioning broadcaster early on in the production process to ensure any additional ‘duty of care’ costs are addressed. Should there be a duty of care cost line in the budget? Don’t forget about after-care costs post-broadcast;
  • Develop template risk management plans and contributor protocols to be adapted for specific productions. Ensure these documents take into account all aspects of the production including pre-production, during production and post-broadcast.

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