Television & the watershed
Television scheduling decisions need to balance the protection of young people and particularly children, with the rights of all viewers, particularly those without children, to receive a full range of subject matter throughout the day. They must also be judged against the requirements of the Watershed.
The 21.00 television Watershed is used to distinguish between programmes intended mainly for family viewing and those programmes intended for an adult audience. However, the BBC expects parents and carers to share in the responsibility for assessing whether programme content is suitable for their children.
Programmes broadcast between 5.30 and 21.00 must be suitable for a family audience including children. The earlier in the evening a programme is placed, the more suitable it should be for children to watch alone. Programmes in later pre-Watershed slots may not be suitable for the youngest children. Only in exceptional circumstances can there be any departure from this rule, and then clear content information should be given, for example images that some children might find distressing in natural history programmes or in the 6 O'Clock News.
Programmes that straddle the Watershed, that is start before 21.00 and finish sometime after 21.00, must be pre-Watershed compliant throughout.
After 21.00 the post-Watershed transition to more adult material should not be abrupt and should reflect the nature of the channel and viewer expectations. The strongest material should appear later in the schedule. If sudden changes of tone are unavoidable they should be clearly signposted, for example, giving clear information about scenes of a sexual nature, violence or the use of offensive language.
Interactive services connected with television programmes must observe the Watershed. This also applies where online users provide content to a live service associated with a television programme.
Programmes must be clearly commissioned for broadcast before or after the Watershed to allow careful judgements to be made during the production process about the suitability of content. Late changes to originally agreed transmission slots, particularly any proposal to broadcast a programme before, rather than after, the Watershed, may result in significant re-editing to ensure that the programme complies with these editorial guidelines for harm and offence, particularly in relation to offensive language.