Last updated: October 2010


This guidance only applies to partnerships connected to services funded by the BBC Licence Fee. There is other guidance for BBC World Service and commercially funded services.


This Guidance Note should be read in conjunction with the Editorial Guidelines Section 16 External Relationships and Funding and Appendix 3: Statement of Policy on Alternative Finance.


Editorial Policy referral contacts:

Margaret Hill, Chief Adviser, Editorial Policy (Email here)

Natalie Christian, Senior Adviser, Editorial Policy (Email here)

Cathy Derrick, Adviser, Editorial Policy (Email here)


1. Introduction

The BBC seeks to extend its offering and deliver the greatest possible public value through working in partnership with outside organisations.  By working with partners, we can expand creative possibilities; broaden our reach and impact; embark on projects which we would not be able to tackle as ambitiously on our own and offer added value to the licence fee payer.

In some cases the BBC enters into strategic partnerships with others to enable long term projects such as Freeview, YouView, iPlayer linking and the UK Radioplayer partnership. There are other significant strategic partnerships in relation to outreach activities and cultural initiatives.

However, the purpose of this Note is to offer Guidance to those working on BBC licence fee funded services who are undertaking partnerships which are directly connected to BBC television, radio or online content.  This would typically involve working with others in providing support material or off-air activities related to BBC programmes. Such partnerships, which extend the public value of our output, fall within the category of Public Value Partnerships.

(See Editorial Guidelines Section 16 External Relationships and Funding: 16.4.22)

Public Value Partnerships are subject to particular regulatory constraints set out in the Statement of Policy on Alternative Finance agreed by the BBC Trust and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.The Guidance in this Note includes the relevant principles of the Statement.

(See Editorial Guidelines Appendix 3: Statement of Policy on Alternative Finance)


2. Using Public Value Partnerships to Extend the BBC's Offering

Public value partnerships can enhance and extend the richness of the BBC's services with a range of initiatives. In many cases it will not be appropriate to use the licence fee to fund extensive off-air activities, but partners can contribute to the costs of non broadcast activities such as events, workshops, support material and social and community initiatives.


The partner may organise and fund an activity which directly complements a programme. For example:


  • The History of the World in a Hundred Objects - a partnership between Radio 4, other BBC outlets, the British Museum and museums across the U.K. The British Museum provided expert advice and mounted an exhibition to complement the Radio 4 series. There were also exhibitions and other off-air activities at a range of other museums
  • Off By Heart - A BAFTA winning BBC 2 programme about children competing in a nationwide poetry reciting contest. Public lending libraries and primary schools were among the partners involved in setting up and running the contest across the U.K.
  • Tate Britain worked with the BBC on the Picture of Britain initiative. BBC One ran a series of programmes about British paintings and Tate Britain mounted an exhibition of the paintings featured in the programmes and provided expert guidance for the series
  • A BBC series about the First World War mounted a partnership with the Imperial War Museum which helped with information and case studies and mounted an exhibition about the trenches.

It is crucial, however, that a public value partnership involves both the BBC and the partner being jointly involved in an activity that offers public value. A partnership must not consist merely of the BBC covering the partner's activity or promoting its campaign.


3. Key Principles

When entering into a Public Value Partnership with an external organisation we should conform to the following principles:-

  • The partnership must not compromise the BBC's editorial values or independence
  • The BBC's editorial impartiality and integrity must not be compromised. The  BBC must retain editorial independence and editorial control of its output
  • Our choice of partners must be justified and should not risk bringing the BBC into disrepute
  • We work with a range of organisations and do not unduly favour one above another; the BBC should be seen to vary its range of partners over time
  • Arrangements with external organisations should not give any impression that a BBC programme or service is commercially sponsored
  • We must not accept money or other services in exchange for broadcast coverage or publicity
  • Any credits for partners must be appropriate and editorially justified
  • All activities must be in accordance with the Statement of Policy on Alternative Finance.

Money from external partners must only go into off-air activities or support material and no money from an external partner  may be used for any  BBC programme or online production costs.

We must operate rigorous and transparent financial systems which demonstrate that no external money has gone into production budgets.

We need to keep separate budgets for programme costs and any other activities where external organisations contribute to non-broadcast costs.

In many cases no external money will actually come into the BBC as a result of the partnership. But if money does come into the BBC - for example to help pay for a joint off-air activity - it is essential that the relevant Director of Finance has a clear record of all monies coming in.


4. Who Should Be Our Partners?

The choice of partners should not undermine our impartiality. We should work with a range of partners over time and we must be seen to choose partners on the basis of clear fair criteria which are editorially justifiable.

Suitable partners will include:

  • Arts, scientific and educational institutions
  • Voluntary or public bodies
  • Sports bodies
  • Community groups

We may not undertake public value partnerships with the following:

  • Political parties or lobby groups campaigning on issues of political controversy
  • Tobacco firms, or those which are mainly known for tobacco related products
  • Organisations involved in pornography
  • Alcoholic drink manufacturers or suppliers
  • Gun or weapon manufacturers

We would also not normally enter into a partnership with a foreign government.


Partners requiring special care

Any proposals to undertake public value partnerships with the following should be referred to Editorial Policy at an early stage:

  • Government departments/organisations or local government - we must ensure we maintain our impartiality if there is an involvement with a government or local government body. Any partnership should not be used as a launch pad for a government initiative or suggest BBC endorsement of specific government or party policy
  • Charities and campaigning organisations -  the partnership and related activities must not  become a vehicle to promote the charity or organisation itself or act as a fundraising platform
  • Religious organisations - such partnerships require care as the BBC must not be seen to endorse any denomination, faith or doctrine.


Sometimes there could be sensitivities in relation to partnerships involving children's output or News and Current Affairs. Proposals for partnerships in these areas must be referred to Editorial Policy.


5. Commercial Organisations

We would not normally undertake a public value partnership with a commercial organisation. However, in some cases a major initiative involving a number of partners, might include involvement by a commercial organisation or a group of commercial concerns. For example, The Big Read on BBC One which involved a vote for the nation's favourite book, also led to an off -air campaign to get the nation reading. This involved a range of off-air partners including book clubs, libraries, publishers and booksellers. However, if commercial organisations are involved,  it is important that in the course of the partnership the BBC does not appear to endorse any commercial organisation or their products or services.

Any partnerships involvement with a commercial organisation must be referred to Editorial Policy and BBC Fair Trading will normally also be consulted.



On Air Credits

We should aim to credit partners fairly. For example if the BBC and an art gallery or museum had worked together to produce a series and an accompanying exhibition it would be perfectly reasonable for the partner to expect to be credited on-air. Overall:

  • Any on-air credits for partners must be appropriate and editorially justifiable. Editorial policy may be consulted about the nature of credits
  • The partner must be genuinely involved in the initiative and there should be no on-air credit merely for funding some supporting service or event
  • Credits must not involve hyping
  • Editorial policy must approve any use of partners' logos on-air or online
  • Any contractual commitment to credit partners on-air or online must be referred to Chief Adviser Editorial Policy at an early stage, well before contracts are issued
  • We would not normally credit any commercial partner on-air or online. Any proposal to do so must be referred to Chief Adviser Editorial Policy at an early stage.


Off Air Credits

The BBC may credit partners on support material and this credit may include partner logos and other relevant information.

There may also be appropriate credits on:

  • Signage at events
  • On publicity material including press releases


BBC Signage on Partners' Material

Partners may refer to the BBC and BBC programmes in their own publicity about the initiative, but we need to ensure that:

  • There is no perception of the BBC endorsing a particular product or service
  • There is separation between BBC logos and any commercial logo
  • We approve any material referring to the BBC or our programmes.


Joint Editorial Initiative

A joint editorial initiative is a type of public value partnership where the BBC and a partner or partners typically produce editorial material, content or editorially driven events connected with the project. The criteria for  suitability of partners is the same as listed above for Public Value Partners. However, although we would not normally partner with a particular commercial organisation, for a joint editorial initiative the partnership may be with a suitable newspaper, magazine or other media organisation. For such an initiative it is essential that there is strong editorial justification for the choice of partner.

In a joint editorial initiative, the BBC would typically produce programmes and the partner might be involved in running a debate or publishing articles to accompany the related programmes. In some cases both the BBC and the partner may publish web material associated with the initiative.

Referral must be made to Editorial Policy about the suitability of partners and arrangements for any joint editorial initiative.

When undertaking a joint editorial initiative:-

  • No money from a partner may go into a BBC programme or online budget
  • The BBC must retain editorial control of all BBC broadcast or online material
  • The initiative must not be used to plug the outside body in BBC output on-air or online
  • We should not link directly to any page of the partner's site whose main purpose is to promote or sell any commercial product or service
  • Newspapers or magazines which are partners for such an initiative will not be mentioned on air unless there is a very strong specific editorial justification. Any such reference must be approved by Editorial Policy
  • It is essential that any on-air reference does not promote the publication or require purchase of the publication in order to take part in an activity related to the joint initiative.


What Partners Expect of Us

We need to think carefully about partner expectations and make sure we clearly understand our partner's objectives. We must ensure that we have joint objectives and a common goal for the project.

We also need to manage expectations. We do need to be clear upfront that a partnership does not mean that the partner will get favourable treatment in our news, current affairs and factual coverage. Our impartiality and objectivity cannot be compromised.

But we must guard against being obstructive. We need to make sure we are as creative and open as possible in the opportunities we offer partners. We should be as helpful as possible in agreeing how a partner can promote the partnership and the related activities.  In a strong partnership we will share our abilities and expertise to ensure as wide an audience as possible is excited about an initiative.


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