People taking part in TV and radio programmes must be properly looked after by broadcasters, under new rules introduced by Ofcom.

Ofcom launched a review of protections for participants in programmes in recognition of the growing openness and concern in society about mental health and wellbeing having also noted a steady rise in complaints about the welfare of people taking part in programmes in recent years.

The new safeguards include expanding the fairness rules in Section Seven of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. There will be a new requirement for broadcasters to take due care over the welfare of people who might be at risk of significant harm as a result of taking part in a programme.

The measures are aimed at protecting vulnerable people and others not used to being in the public eye. Ofcom has said that broadcasters will need to take due care where, for example, a programme is likely to attract a high level of media or social media interest; the programme features conflict or emotionally challenging situations; or it requires a person to disclose life-changing or private aspects of their lives.

The measures do not apply where the subject matter is trivial, or a person’s participation is minor – or when the broadcaster is acting in the public interest, as is likely to be the case for most news and current affairs programming.

Under these new fairness provisions, people taking part in programmes must also be informed about any potential welfare risks that might be expected to arise from their participation, and any steps the broadcaster or programme-maker intends to take to mitigate these.

As part of the new safeguards, Ofcom is also strengthening the ‘offence’ rule under Section Two of the Code. The wording of Ofcom’s ‘Generally Accepted Standards’ rule will be strengthened and will state that material which may cause offence to viewers and listeners must be justified by the context.

Treatment of people who appear to be put at risk of significant harm as a result of taking part in a programme is now included as an explicit example of material that may cause offence to audiences.

In response to the consultation and the new safeguarding rules that are being introduced into the Code, Ofcom have said they will be publishing new guidance to help broadcasters comply with these new requirements.

The measures will apply to programmes that begin production on or after Monday 5 April 2021.

Ofcom has also widened its definition of hate speech to include intolerance of gender reassignment and “political or any other opinion”.

Ofcom now defines hate speech as: “All forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance on the grounds of disability, ethnicity, social origin, sex, gender, gender reassignment, nationality, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, colour, genetic features, language, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth or age.”

The changes have come about due to new requirements under the revised Audiovisual Media Services Regulation (AVMS) 2020 and “also take account of legislative changes following the end of the transition period for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union”, said Ofcom.

Concerns were raised by broadcasters during the consultation period about whether the definition of hate speech was now too broad and whether Ofcom may fail to consider context when deciding what is hate speech.

Ofcom in response to these concerns said: “The importance of freedom of expression in relation to political matters and content that is in the public interest is central to Ofcom’s application of the code and the proposed amendment does not change this.”

It added context was a “very important part of Ofcom’s thinking when considering the rules”.