Broadcasting is the subject of many different laws ranging from defamation and contempt to obscenity, privacy, incitement and health and safety. Legal problems may arise not just with what we broadcast but with how we create our content, so appropriate legal advice should be taken in good time. Those making content in-house should approach the Programme Legal Advice department directly.
Independent producers may refer legal questions through their commissioning editor (who will discuss them with Programme Legal Advice) but should not hesitate to take independent legal advice. There are some areas where this is essential.
The BBC has a separate Principal Solicitor, Scotland, who can advise on Scots law issues.
When considering the issues raised by the Editorial Guidelines it is often necessary to distinguish between the law on the one hand, and broadcast regulation and the BBC's ethics on the other. There may be occasions when content is sufficiently legally safe to broadcast, but still raises regulatory or reputational risks for the BBC, such as when children are involved or privacy matters arise. In these circumstances the BBC seeks to behave ethically. While lawyers can therefore offer legal advice, the final decision remains an editorial one.
Any decision to proceed with a programme despite legal advice must be referred to the most senior editorial level in the relevant division and Director Editorial Policy and Standards.
There are different political cultures and structures in the UK, and different national and regional sensitivities, which we should respect and reflect. There are differences in the powers of the UK Parliament at Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and the assemblies of Wales and Northern Ireland. There are also significant differences in the legal systems in the nations, as well as in the provision of, for example, education, health and social services.
Any content producers intending to produce programmes about Northern Ireland or significant projects involving the Republic of Ireland, should discuss their proposals at an early stage with Director Northern Ireland. Similarly, content producers outside Scotland and Wales should inform the director of the relevant nation in writing of their plans to produce programme material which deals significantly with national issues or themes, or which is based in the relevant nation.
The BBC has specialists in many subjects who may be able to help those making content for the BBC achieve the highest editorial standards. Such specialists include, but are not confined to, the language services of the World Service, the specialist editors in Newsgathering, the Political Research Unit, the Religion and Ethics Department, the Science Department, and the Natural History Unit.
BBC Fair Trading Guidelines
The BBC Editorial Guidelines are concerned with editorial issues and any references to commercial products and organisations in our content. Advice on the BBC's commercial activities and commercial exploitation of the BBC brand, including its use in association with third parties, can be found in the BBC's Fair Trading Guidelines. They cover questions such as the acceptability of BBC commercial ventures and how they should be undertaken, use of the BBC brand, off-screen promotional activities and trading fairly.
BBC Safety advises on occupational health, safety, security and environmental issues affecting the BBC. BBC Safety has specialists on call 24 hours a day for urgent operational enquiries and to respond to emergencies.