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Ofcom duty of care rules will apply to news broadcasters

Posted on: December 21, 2020 by Ian Murray

Ofcom has said new duty of care rules will apply to news and current affairs programmes under exceptional circumstances.

The decision comes despite lobbying by the BBC, ITN, Sky News and other news broadcasters for a blanket exemption from the new regulations.

The new regulations are to be added to the Broadcasting Code requiring programme-makers to inform participants of any potential risks of taking part that may affect their welfare.

The new rules have been brought in after the suspected suicide of a man who appeared on the Jeremy Kyle Show in 2019 and the deaths of former participants on ITV’s Love Island.

Ofcom will also require broadcasters to take due care over the welfare of a contribution who might be at risk of “significant harm” as a result of taking part in a programme.

Ofcom said it did not envisage the bulk of the new rules will apply to news programmes other than in exceptional circumstances.

The regulator said participants might be considered at risk if they are not used to being in the public eye or if the programme is likely to attract a high level of press, media and social media interest.

The BBC, ITN, Sky News and Channel 4 were among those for seeking an exemption for news and current affairs content with concerns that such high  standards of care could put programmes off tackling sensitive subjects, investigations or rigorous interviews.

John Battle, head of legal and compliance at ITN which makes ITV News, Channel 4 News and 5 News, told Press Gazette: “It is welcome that Ofcom has explicitly stated these new measures, designed to protect contributors in TV and radio programmes, will rarely apply to news.

“Although an explicit exemption for news proposed by ITN and other broadcasters has not been accepted, Ofcom has acknowledged the strength of concern and accepted essentially that newsgathering practices will not be affected by the changes.”

The new rules will come into force for programmes that begin production on or after 5 April 2021.