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Ofcom's proposed 'due care' rules to protect show guests will cover news and factual programmes

Ofcom is proposing new rules to “help protect the wellbeing of people” taking part in TV and radio programmes, including news and current affairs shows, documentaries and phone-ins.

The UK broadcast regulator said the two “due care” rules have been put forward follow “growing openness and concern in society about mental health and well-being” in recent years.

Ofcom said it had seen a “steady rise” in complaints expressing concern about the welfare of those taking part in programmes.

The rules Ofcom is proposing to add to its broadcasting code are that:

  • Due care must be taken over the welfare, wellbeing and dignity of participants in programmes
  • Participants must not be caused unjustified distress or anxiety by taking part in programmes or by the broadcast of those programmes.

The Jeremy Kyle Show was taken off the air in May following the death of guest Steve Dymond a week after filming on the ITV reality show, during which he took a lie-detector test. The episode never aired.

ITV said the decision to axe the show after 14 years was as a result of the “gravity of recent events” , adding it was the “right time” to do so.

ITV’s Love Island has also faced questions about its treatment of former contestants after two were found to have died as a result of suicide following appearances on the popular dating reality show.

Talkradio presenter James Whale was suspended in July last year over an interview with a phone-in guest who claimed to have been sexually assaulted. The station said Whale’s interview “lacked sensitivity”. He apologised to the guest and returned to air a few weeks later.

Ofcom already has rules placing responsibilities on broadcasters as regards participants in programmes, with specific safeguards for under-18s.

It said it is consulting on the principles of the new rules and will issue guidance to help broadcaster’s interpret and apply them.

“Guidance might include what broadcasters should do to look after participants before, during and after production,” it said.

“It would also consider editorial techniques involving participants, such as the use of lie detectors.

“Taken together, the proposed rules and guidance are designed to ensure that broadcasters apply a consistent standard of care to people who take part in shows.”

Ofcom said the steps a broadcaster may need to take in a programme where the subject matter is in the public interest, e.g. in a news programme, “are likely to be very different from the appropriate steps in an entertainment or reality format”.

It added: “It is a matter for the broadcaster to decide whether any or all of the steps, and/or any additional steps, are appropriate in each particular case.”

Key steps could include background checks and risk assessments on potential participants being carried out before production with experts advising on the “suitability of a person” and the “potential negative impacts” of them taking part in a programme.

During production broadcasters could be called on to provide a single point of contact for participants and to consider the “risks of unjustified anxiety, harm and distress” to them as a result of appearing on a show.

Measures could also include retaining contact with participants post-production to “monitor any specific after-effects” as well as advising on steps to minimise or limit social media contact after transmission.

Ofcom said the guidance “would give some explanation of how participation in different circumstances might raise different potential risks and involve different types of care being taken, for example by comparing some programme examples such as a reality format, a talent show, a documentary, a news programme or a phone-in radio show”.

Tony Close, Ofcom’s director of content standards, said: “People who take part in TV and radio shows must be properly looked after by broadcasters, and these rules would ensure that happens.

“These new safeguards must be effective. So we’re listening carefully to programme participants, broadcasters, producers and psychologists before we finalise them.”

Ofcom is inviting feedback on the new rules and guidance by 23 September 2019. It will issue its final decisions this winter.

Picture: Pixabay

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