Code of Programme Standards
The Code of Programme Standards seeks to promote responsible broadcasting in which access to information, entertainment and education and a range of views are enhanced and undue offence and harm reduced. It seeks to acknowledge the diversity of tastes and interests that exist in contemporary Irish society and encourage and facilitate broadcasting that caters for diversity.
It advises viewers and listeners on the standards they can expect from broadcasting services and enables them to hold broadcasters accountable in the event that they believe that the broadcaster has behaved irresponsibly. They may make a complaint to the BAI.
Complaints should be made to the broadcaster in the first instance. Grounds of complaints should be set out with the reference to one or more of the principles. Complaints must be considered by the broadcaster in accordance with the Code of Practice for Complaint Handling.
The Code distinguishes between harm and offence. What causes offence differs from person to person and is largely subjective. There is no guarantee that programme material will be free from offence. There is no right not to be offended. Harm is said to be less subjective. It has an effect in the sense that it causes mental, psychological, or physical harm. Programmes may not cause harm.
The Code requires that broadcasters respect community standards. They shall take due care in broadcasting depictions and descriptions of violence. They shall have due regard to the appropriateness or justification for the inclusion of violent conduct having regard to the principles of the Code.
They shall take care in broadcasting depictions or descriptions of a sexual nature, in particular, having due regard to the appropriateness or justification for inclusion of sexual conduct, having regard to the principles of the Code.
They shall have due regard to the appropriateness and justification for inclusion of offensive language. They shall be alert and guard against the use of coarse or offensive language in live programmes and where such incidents occur, take timely steps to minimise any offence caused, acknowledging, clarifying and apologising for the language used.
The Code requires broadcasters to take account of a range of contextual textual factors which may influence to viewer’s or listeners perception of material and the degree of harm or offence that may occur including time of broadcast, type of programme, likely expectations of the viewers/listeners, use of audience information and guidance, likelihood that persons will be unintentionally exposed to the content, type of channel or service in which the material was broadcast, whether inclusion is editorially justified, the likely size and composition of the audience for that broadcast and programme material.
A further principle recognises that broadcasting should be a force for public good enriching person’s lives through entertainment, information and other broad programming. Broadcasters must be free to make programmes that are provocative and deal with sensitive issues. However, they must take due care to ensure that audiences are not exposed to harmful content and must provide adequate information to audiences to allow them to make informed choice about what they listen to and watch.
Protection of Audience
Some viewers and listeners by virtue of their age, particular circumstances or vulnerability may be in need a special consideration. Individual viewers and listeners may require support mechanisms for further information guidance or guidance when they are exposed to content with which they identify strongly by virtue of their personal circumstances and experiences and which may cause them distress.
Persons may require protection from material which may cause a physical reaction such as photo-sensitive epilepsy or persons susceptible to hypnosis. Viewers or listeners may required to be protected from content which purports to be one thing when it is in fact another, i.e. seemingly factual while actually fictional or controversial.
The Code requires that children and listeners with particular needs should be protected from material which is unsuitable for them. Broadcasters should respondent to the diversity of children’s experience and offer them programmes that are relevant. However, they should not be exposed to programmes which would seriously impair their moral, mental, or physical development, including programmes involving pornography, or gratuitous violence.
Broadcasters share responsibility with parents and guardians for what children listen to and watch. In this context, children are persons under the age of 18 years. Children’s programmes are those with an audience profile of over 50% of persons under 18 years. This principle recognizes that children of different ages require different levels of protection and that broadcasters provide a range of programming for children, some of which did make a more mature themes appropriate to the lived reality and experience of older children.
The cede requires that the manner in which persons in groups and society are represented shall be appropriate and justifiable and shall not prejudice respect for human dignity. Robust debate is permissible as is the challenging of assumptions. However, programme material shall not stigmatise support or condone discrimination or incite hatred against persons in society, in particular on the basis of age, gender, marital status, membership of the traveling community, family status, sexual orientation, disability, race, nationality, ethnicity or religion.
The code emphasises that BAI supports robust and responsible programming that facilitates viewers and listeners in understanding subjects of public importance and informs them in the public interest. Public interest considerations should not be seen as a test used to limit broadcasting freedom but rather a principle that animates broadcasting and serves in a democratic society.
Public interest content may include programme material that reveals or detects crime, protects public health or safety, exposes false or misleading claims by individuals or organizations; discloses incompetence of individuals or organisations that affect the public; exposes misuse of public funds; exposes breaking the law; encourages or facilitates debate and understanding of social and political topics; informs the public or raises a debate on matters of public importance.
Broadcasters must have been regard to other matters of public importance to society. In particular, they shall protect the interests of the audience where the provision of broadcasting service has one of its objectives, the promotion of the interest of any organisation. A broadcaster shall not broadcast anything likely to promote or incite to crime or tending to undermine the authority of the State.
The principle should not be interpreted to inhibit broadcasters from challenging public policy or having open debates about how government or society operates or does not operate. The principle recognises that public interest can be adversely affected by the omission of material or the inadequate representation of information or viewpoints.
The code recognises that individuals have a right to privacy. This must be respected and not unreasonably encroached on, either in the means employed or in the programme material broadcast.
The right to privacy is not absolute. It is a right to privacy that is reasonable in the circumstances. It must be balanced against other rights and considerations such as the public interest, freedom of expression, the rights of others, requirements of public order and the common good. The causal or incidental broadcast of people in public settings shall not normally be considered an unwarranted or unreasonable encroachment on privacy.
Complaints regarding privacy must be made by the person whose privacy may have been unreasonably encroached on. The parent, guardian or representative nominated by the person may make a complaint on behalf of the person, where appropriate.
Fairness and Objectivity
The Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs lays down principles of fairness and or objectivity. There are specific requirements regarding elections and referranda coverage.
In the treatment of news and current affairs, content broadcasters must comply with the following principles set out and articulated in the Code:
- objectivity and impartiality;
- accuracy and responsiveness;
- transparency and accountability.
Broadcasters must deal fairly with contributors to current affairs content and persons or organisations referred to in the content. In the normal course of events, interviewees for news and current affairs shall be made generally aware of the subject matter and nature and format of their contributions so that their agreement to participate constitutes informed consent.
Consent of Participants
A broadcaster shall not generally broadcast any news or current affairs interview with any person without their consent. The broadcast of the news or current affairs content in the absence of consent must be editorially justified. Requests for withdrawal of consent must be given due consideration, having regard to the public interest, natural justice and principles of fairness, objectivity, and impartiality.
Care should be taken with the inclusion of interviews with children, vulnerable persons in news and current affair’s broadcasts. The overriding principles must be to avoid the broadcast of material that may be unfair or detrimental to their interests.
The consent of a parent, guardian or legal representative shall generally be obtained prior to broadcast of an interview with a child under 16 years or a vulnerable person, where the subject matter is a sensitive or serious matter or where not to do so could be deemed unfair. A decision to broadcast an interview, in the absence of such consent must be justified in the public interest.
Where a person or organisation refuses to contribute to news or current affairs content or make no comment, the broadcast shall make this fact clear and shall report in a reasonable manner the person or organisation’s explanation for declining to participate where not to do so would be deemed unfair.
The refusal of a person or organisation to participate shall not preclude the broadcast of news and current affairs content. However, the broadcaster has a responsibility to reflect, insofar as practicable, the views of the absent party and to do so fairly. The editing process shall not distort the context and meaning of the original interview.
A broadcaster shall ensure that the reuse of any material in a news or current affairs context including the use of archived material does not create unfairness or result in inaccuracy.
Potentially Unfair Techniques
The reconstruction, re-enactment or filming of current affairs content shall only be used in exceptional circumstances. It must be warranted, and appropriate procedures must be in place for the authorisation of such recordings at the most senior editorial level, in writing.
Any person secretly filmed and recorded shall be afforded the opportunity to participate in the news or current affairs content that will include the recording, if in the opinion of the broadcaster, not affording the opportunity to do so would be unfair to that person.
By its nature, a direct unarranged approach (door stepping) may contravene fairness. However, in appropriate circumstances, it may be justifiable to dispense with normal practice of making arrangements for interviews or with a representative and with suitable notice. It may be demonstrated, if the matter is demonstrably in the public interest, that the interviewee is unlikely to co-operate, if approached in the normal way and the approach is necessary for the authenticity and credibility of the content.
Broadcasters must have in place appropriate policies and procedures for handling contributions to social media. Any undertakings given to a contributor regarding confidentiality or anonymity shall be clear and be honoured. Any associated audio-visual techniques used in filming and editing shall be carefully applied to ensure complete confidentiality is achieved and commitments given are honoured.
Accuracy and impartiality
News and current affairs content should be presented with due accuracy having regard to the circumstances and facts known at the time of preparing and broadcasting the content. Two or more related broadcast may be considered as a whole, if they are transmitted within a reasonable time period and the links are made clear to the audience.
Views and facts shall not be misrepresented or presented in a way that renders them misleading. Presenters should be sensitive to the impact of their language and tone in reporting news and current affairs so as to avoid misunderstanding of the matters covered.
A significant mistake shall be acknowledged and rectified as speedily as possible in an appropriate and proportionate manner. A broadcasting correction or clarification shall have regard to the time and circumstances of the original broadcast.
A news presenter or reporter in a news programme may not express his own personal views on matters that are either of public controversy or the subject of current public debate. It is an important part of the role of a broadcaster of current affairs programmes to ensure that the audience has access to a wide variety of views on the subject of the programme to facilitate expression of contributors opinion, sometimes by forcible question and reflect the views of those who cannot or do not choose to participate.
Accordingly, a presenter or reporter shall not express his own views on matters that are either of public controversy or the subject of current public debate such that a partisan position is advocated. The personal views or authored current affairs segments can be appropriate subject to normal editorial control. This does not exempt the segment or programme or a series of them from the statutory obligations to be impartial, objective and fair all interests concerned.
An authored item or programme may be permitted if part of a series of related statements and programmes which taken together discharge the statutory obligations. A personal view or authored section shall be clearly signalled to the audience at the outset or in a case of a series at the start of each of them.
Coverage of election or referenda shall comply with the Codes of Practice issued by the BAI. All legislative requirements regarding the source and compiling, producing and presenting news and current affairs content shall be followed. The broadcaster shall have due regard to guidance issued in respect of Codes.
Conflict of Interest
Each broadcaster shall have and implement appropriate policies and procedures to address any conflicts of interest that may arise or exist in respect of anyone with an editorial involvement in the news or current affairs content, whether such person works on-air or off-air.
Any professional, personal or business or financial interest of anyone with an editorial interest in news or current affairs content that calls into question or might be perceived as calling it to question, the fairness, objectivity and impartiality of a programme or item shall be brought to the attention of the audience.
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