(II) STANDARDS CODES AND COMPLAINTS PROCEDURES |
300. All services that fall within the scope of licensable
content services or are otherwise required to hold a licence under
the Broadcasting Acts are subject to a framework of standards
set out in Clauses 212 to 221. Clause 212 provides a skeleton
which OFCOM is to flesh out into standards codes, which may be
separate for television and radio.
The Government's aim is to ensure that "these standards are
flexible so as to be able to reflect changes in social attitudes
and audience expectation".
The standards have been criticised for failing to carry forward
the existing obligation upon the regulator to do all it can to
secure that nothing is included in television programmes "which
offends against good taste or decency or is likely
offensive to public feeling", although in our online forum,
Peter Woods supported removal of the obligation, which he viewed
as "demonstrably obsolete".
The Broadcasting Standards Commission expressed concern that the
Government's commitment to ensuring "a proper balance of
both freedom of expression and the need to provide protection
against certain types of broadcast material" was not reflected
in the wording of Clause 212: they feared that the absence of
direct reference to the desirability of defending freedom of expression
might lead the codes to become a "nanny's charter".
In the expectation that, in carrying out its tasks under Clause
212, OFCOM would be required to have the most careful regard to
its duties under Clause 3(1)(f) and (g), we have concluded that
Clause 212 as drafted provides an appropriate framework for the
preparation of standards codes by OFCOM.
301. Clause 214 provides a framework for setting
particular standards objectives for advertisements and sponsorship.
It prescribes that these standards must contain a prohibition
on political advertising. The Government's view is that there
are strong grounds for re-enacting the long-standing ban on political
advertising in the broadcast media, but it acknowledges that a
recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights has cast
doubt on the compatibility of that ban with the Convention.
Professor Eric Barendt argued that a blanket ban on political
advertising was not compatible with human rights and suggested
that the aim could best be secured by limits on expenditure on
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has argued that a ban on the
purchase of advertising time for political purposes is likely
to be compatible with Convention rights.
We support the principles underlying the proposed ban on political
advertising contained in Clause 214(2) and urge the Government
to give careful consideration to methods of carrying forward that
ban in ways which are not susceptible to challenge as being incompatible
with Convention rights.
302. Clause 218(2) requires OFCOM to establish procedures
for the handling and resolution of complaints about broadcast
standards. This is intentionally a much more flexible system than
provided for under the 1996 Act. The most significant change is
that the BSC is required to consider all complaints relating to
taste and decency, whereas OFCOM will not have to do so. This
development was welcomed by the BSC, which considered that its
current obligation to consider all complaints about broadcast
standards had encouraged an irresponsible attitude on the part
303. The draft Bill does not, however, seek to give
effect to the proposal in the White Paper that all complaints
about standards be made in the first instance to the broadcaster
and only subsequently be considered by OFCOM. The new proposal
is designed to enable a prompt response to complaints by the regulator
S4C expressed concern at this change, arguing that broadcasters
would benefit if all complaints went to them in the first instance;
they feared that, "once you provide that alternative avenue
for complaints [direct to OFCOM], people will tend to choose the
A similar view was taken by the CRCA.
The BBC noted that "broadcasters should usually be the first
port of call for complaints about programmes, but complainants
should have a right of appeal to OFCOM".
We agree that it will usually be in the best interests of broadcasters
and viewers and listeners for complaints about standards to be
directed in the first instance to the broadcaster concerned, but
we view it as an unnecessary restriction upon the viewer or listener
to make such a route mandatory, and we support the Government's
304. Special considerations, and special procedures,
apply in the case of complaints that relate not to general broadcast
standards, but individual concerns about unfair treatment or unwarranted
infringement of privacy in licensed broadcast services.
In essence, the draft Bill transfers to OFCOM the existing functions
of the BSC in considering complaints of unfair treatment or unwarranted
infringement of privacy.
However, the existing requirement on the BSC to establish a Committee
to consider fairness complaints is to be repealed.
We raised with the ITC whether the requirement for a specific
structure for handling such complaints ought to be carried forward
into the new arrangements. The ITC thought it was likely that
OFCOM would establish a specific sub-committee for dealing with
fairness and privacy issues.
While we accept that it may be inappropriate to be too prescriptive
on the face of the Bill, we consider it to be of the utmost importance
that OFCOM establishes specific structures for handling complaints
relating to fairness and privacy and ensures that adjudication
of such complaints is made only by those who have heard and considered
the case in full.
567 Q 55. Back
Policy, para 22.214.171.124. Back
Broadcasting Act 1990, section 6(1)(a); Memorandum submitted by
Media-Watch UK. Back
Policy, para 126.96.36.199; QQ 47-48. Back
EN, para 365. Back
Ev 168, para 8; QQ 497-500. Back
JCHR, paras 57-63. Back
QQ 36, 49. Back
Policy, para 188.8.131.52. Back
Ev 214, paras 4.8-4.9; Q 611. Back
Ev 251, para 46. Back
Ev 174, para 3.5. Back
Cm 5010, section 6.5. Back
Broadcasting Act 1996, sections 107, 110, 111, 114, 115, 118 to
121; Clause 219 and Schedule 10, para 106. Back
Broadcasting Act 1996, section 112; Schedule 13, Part 1. Back
Q 27. Back