Editorial Policy Newsletter

Created on 26 Jan 2012

Draft Election Guidelines Available Now

Draft Guidelines for the elections taking place in May are available now to read and download here

Elections take place on 3rd May 2012 for local government in Scotland, Wales and parts of England, as well as the Greater London Authority and the London Mayor. There are no elections in Northern Ireland. 

Please note that the Election Periods are not the same for each election. In London, the period begins on 20th March - elsewhere, it's the following week.

The draft Election Guidelines are accompanied by appendices with guidance on each of these elections, including on the levels of coverage for different political parties.

The draft Guidelines will be considered for approval by the BBC Trust before the campaign period begins. They will then be confirmed and published on the Editorial Guidelines website

In the meantime, anyone making content for the BBC with comments or queries on the Guidelines should contact the Chief Adviser Politics, Ric Bailey.

Strong Language on Radio

Ofcom has published new guidance for broadcasters on the use of strong language on the radio.

It follows a number of recent Ofcom decisions to uphold complaints about strong language against several  programmes from a variety of broadcasters. The new guidance relates particularly to music lyrics; live music performances, interviews or studio conversation; and speech and comedy content.

The guidance sets no new standards - the Ofcom Broadcasting Code and the BBC's own Editorial Guidelines remain unchanged. Programme makers can continue to exercise their right to broadcast challenging content when it is appropriate to the audience - taking account of the context in which it appears, likely audience composition and expectations, effective signposting to the audience, tone of any strong language and editorial justification.

The guidance does however urge care 'when children are particularly likely to be listening'. Ofcom considers this means radio broadcasters should have particular regard to their content from 6am to 9am and 3pm to 7pm on term-time weekdays, and from 6am to 7pm on weekends and school holidays. However, the extent to which children are 'particularly likely to be listening' may still vary from radio station to radio station - and Ofcom says it will take account of 'all relevant information available' when determining likely audience composition.

In common with the BBC's Editorial Guidelines on Harm and Offence, children are defined as under 15s.

The new guidance, including the steps Ofcom considers radio broadcasters should take to avoid breaking the Broadcasting Code, is available in full here.

You can read what the BBC Editorial Guidelines say about the use of strong language here - and radio scheduling here.

Reporting and Portrayal of Suicide

This month’s Editorial Policy Meeting for staff discussed the reporting and portrayal of suicide.  

The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines observe that “Factual reporting and fictional portrayal of suicide, attempted suicide and self-harm have the potential to make such actions appear possible and even appropriate, to the vulnerable”.  Nicola Peckett, Head of Communications at Samaritans, joined the meeting to consider the balance between the media’s desire for full and accurate reporting, and the need to avoid imitative detail.

There is real evidence that media reporting can influence vulnerable people to end their own life.

Responsible reporting and portrayal of suicide can have positive outcomes, but careful thought is required to avoid encouraging copycat suicides – as indicated by media coverage of suicides in Braintree and then Putney in 2010.

The Samaritans are willing to advise programme makers about the portrayal of suicide and have published guidance for the media, available here.

The next Editorial Policy Monthly Meeting is on Thursday 23rd February from 11.30am to 1.00pm in the White City Conference Centre. It's open to all BBC staff to take part.

Tweeting from Court

The Lord Chief Justice has issued new Practice Guidance on the use of Twitter and other live text-based communications from court. 

Media representatives no longer need to apply to the Judge to tweet when a hearing is in open court, although the Judge retains the discretion to prohibit live texts and tweets at any time in the interests of justice. News broadcasters could be seen putting the use of Twitter in court into full effect during live coverage of the recent Stephen Lawrence murder trial.

Anyone using Twitter and similar media in court needs to ensure they are aware of any reporting restrictions in place and comply generally with the laws of contempt. Reporters are also warned that the use of any hand-held devices should not cause a disturbance or distraction.

Ordinary members of the public do not have the automatic right to use Twitter in court.

Anyone reporting for BBC content who is unsure about where and when it is appropriate to use Twitter, or what they may include in tweets, should contact BBC Programme Legal Advice for assistance.

Use of Mobiles when Driving

A recent edition of Don’t Tell the Bride showed the mother of the bride phoning her future son-in-law while he was driving. He was then shown answering the call, talking and holding the phone while continuing to drive.  It is an offence to talk on a hand held mobile phone while driving.

The Ofcom Broadcasting Code says that programmes must not include material “which….condones or glamorises violent, dangerous or seriously antisocial behaviour and is likely to encourage others to copy such behaviour”.

In this case, Ofcom didn’t consider the sequence of driving while using a mobile to be a breach of the Code because it was not shown in an instructive way and it is well-known to be illegal.  However, the regulator did have some reservations about participants in programmes being filmed and shown in this way, particularly if there is reconstruction involved for observational filming.

Clearly, we have a duty to show the world as it is and that may sometimes involve showing people acting in a way that breaks the law, particularly when filming observationally. However, care is required in the portrayal of illegal and anti-social behaviour, even when it may appear to be relatively low-level or without consequence. Advice for anyone making content for the BBC is available from Editorial Policy.

The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines say “we should normally observe the law…unless there is clear editorial justification for not doing so. This includes ensuring that presenters, actors and contributors who are driving use seatbelts, fit child car seats correctly, wear crash helmets and use the correct mobile phone equipment”.

New Secret Recording Application Forms

A new system has been introduced for collating secret recording application forms, completed and approved for BBC output. Previously, completed forms have been held by the respective Division. In future, Divisions will continue to carry out their own approvals and keep their own records. However, in addition, forms should also be emailed to once the relevant senior editorial figure has determined whether or not the application is approved. New versions of the form are now available for news and factual output here, and for comedy and entertainmentt purposes here.

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