Decency and the TV watershed

Producers have strict guidelines for dealing with issues of taste, sexual matters, violence and strong language which are outlined in the BBC watershed policy.

Every audience includes people of different ages, cultures, religions and sensibilities. A warning is transmitted if we judge that some people may find a particular broadcast distressing.

We never intentionally try to cause offence. Audience sensibilities and standards vary widely, yet factual and fictional programmes must reflect fairly and accurately people's different experiences, ways of using language and realities of life. 

Watershed policy

From 9pm the TV watershed helps parents protect children from unsuitable material. In all but exceptional circumstances, programmes before 9pm are suitable for general audiences including children. From 9pm they are progressively suitable only for adults.

Because children's sensibilities vary as widely as those of adults, parents are expected to share responsibility in judging whether children should watch after 9pm. The BBC can be received in every household, but two-thirds of them have no children. Our public obligation is to provide services for all licence fee payers, as well as those with children. 


Radio is a different medium with different audiences, so we cannot operate a similar watershed policy. We provide programmes for a general audience without imposing unnecessary restrictions on writers and artists. This is a difficult area of judgement. We are guided by public reactions and our understanding of the different audience for each station or at different times of the day.

To help monitor public attitudes, the BBC draws on listeners' comments, audience research, public meetings and audience councils.


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