In this article

  1. Editorial Guidelines Issues
  2. Summary of Main Points

Last updated: July 2015

Editorial Guidelines Issues

This guidance note should be considered in conjunction with the following Editorial Guidelines:

In addition, the Editorial Policy Guidance Notes  on Secret Recording and Right of Reply may also be relevant.


Summary of Main Points


  • Any proposal to undertake an investigation into crime or serious anti-social behaviour must be referred to a senior editorial figure or, for independents, to the commissioning editor. Normally, there will be prima facie evidence of the behaviour to be revealed (or intention to carry out the behaviour) before the BBC will use secret recording as an investigative tool.


  • Before any undercover work begins, appropriate members of the production team should be aware of all relevant Editorial Guidelines and guidance, practices to be followed when using secret filming equipment, how to carry out filming in such a way that the footage and its evidential value can be verified by the production team, the contemporaneous note-taking and record keeping required, and legal and safety considerations.


  • Accurate and reliable note-taking is an essential and prime journalistic craft; it can also be crucial to protecting the reputation of an investigative programme, its production team and the BBC. When filmed evidence is later disputed by those under investigation, records and notes documenting what has been captured on camera, how it was filmed and any relevant surrounding events can be an important tool for validating the filming.   


  • It is important to think through possible scenarios and dilemmas that may be face by an undercover operative in advance and draw up protocols on how to proceed. At all times, we need to balance the requirements of the investigation with our responsibilities to the public and others. We should ensure that the public interest in our journalism is not outweighed by public concern about any harm that may have been caused by our methods.


  • If the parameters of the investigation shift significantly during production, this should be confirmed and agreed with the senior editorial figure and discussed as required with Editorial Policy. It may be necessary to go through some of the initial procedures again to ensure the refocused investigation still has the necessary prima facie evidence and public interest.


  • When making use of evidence from whistleblowers, it is important to consider any ulterior motives they might have, particularly if they no longer work for the organisation or company concerned and their claims could be discredited by the manner of their dismissal. Whistleblowers should not normally receive any payment or other inducement for their involvement.


  • Throughout the editing process, it is important to ensure the finished programme reflects the evidence fairly and accurately, taking account the context in any which secretly recorded incidents took place.


  • When the allegations to be made in the film have been identified, they should be put to the individual, organisation or company concerned for a response.

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