Media Parents

C4 Editorial Ethics Masterclass

August 29, 2010 @ 2:24 pm Posted in Events, News Comments

On Thursday 22nd April Channel 4 gave a day-long Editorial Ethics Masterclass for researchers, APs, PDs, PMs, SPs and the odd Exec, with the aim of sharing best practice and giving a grounding in ethics to independent producers and freelancers.  It was Chaired by Peter Dale, with Julian Bellamy kicking off proceedings.  Here is some of the information I took away from it, and there are links to C4’s independent producer handbook, the Ofcom guidelines and the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines at the end.  Channel 4 are keen to suggest that the notes here are meant as a complement to the Independent Producer Handbook, not a replacement for it, so please do read the good book.

Part One : TRUST

Kevin Sutcliffe (C4 Deputy Head of News & Current Affairs) spoke as the voice of dogged experience on Ofcom rulings and being taken to court by contributors.  His main points were to conduct yourself responsibly from the outset of a production in any form of CORRESPONDENCE – from initial calls, to letters, emails and notebooks.  In an investigation any of this can be called and used as evidence so be careful how you represent yourself, your company and your broadcaster : “All documents continue to exist, they can be found and investigated”.

Sutcliffe said that a PITCH document which contains biased content is likely to stop a Commissioning Editor from seeing you as it reflects that you are not likely to be fair-minded in your programme-making.  C4 he said wants pitch docs which are modulated and fair, with caveats.

Be mindful of how you are representing yourself and C4 in the DEVELOPMENT PERIOD, and how you reflect back to C4 about your CONTRIBUTORS.  When approaching contributors, producers have a responsibility to fairly reflect the way a film is described, and efforts should be made to ensure that emails / letters being sent out by different team members to different contributors are consistent in their content.

In everything your HOUSEKEEPING should be methodical.  In the event of an investigation everything on a production can be scrutinised, from your notebooks to your rushes.  When you are under pressure from a more senior team member to deliver on a particular storyline, it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind that in the event of an investigation it’s your interview technique and handling of contributors that will be analysed in the rushes, so the buck will stop with you.

The mantra for the day was unquestionably “IF IN DOUBT REFER UP” as soon as possible, through your Exec to the Comm Ed and / or a C4 lawyer.  C4 has a duty lawyer on call at all times through the C4 switchboard.

Hamish Thomson (C4 Lawyer, Legal & Compliance) stressed that producers must update participants if and when the remit of a programme changes.  (He also spoke on defamation which I’ll cover elsewhere).  Participants should be made aware of who they’re juxtaposed against in the film as this could affect INFORMED CONSENT.


If you don’t feel that a contributor is giving a truly informed consent, ask yourself what don’t they know, and why don’t they know it?

Have you edited the material fairly? Have you distorted views? Changed the sequence of events?

Does the programme make a criticism of anyone? If people are criticized in your film then they most probably will be owed a right of reply.

Secret filming and doorstepping – read the producers guidelines below and seek advice at the earliest opportunity.

You have a responsibility of trust both to the contributors in your show, and to the viewers.  The viewers will trust that a programme will not be faked, so refer up if in any doubt. In making any programme you should read the Viewer Trust Guidelines, section 7A of the Producer Handbook.

Katie Bailiff (Head of Programmes, Century Films) said to ask yourself as a safety check “What might the tabloid headline be if things go wrong on a production?”

INFORMED CONSENT : beware of a programme set up by someone else – you can never discuss the nature of a programme too many times with contributors.

FACT CHECK AS YOU GO : if you are making a programme in which contributors refer to other indentifiable characters, you are going to need to fact check with all of these people to avoid defamation.  One tip is to make a family tree of your contributor’s family so you can fact check with people if they have been mentioned.  Keep checking your facts and access, as “assumption is the mother of all cock-ups”.

ON CAMERA CONSENT : this should include a description from the programme-maker of what the programme is whilst the contributor listens, in addition to the contributor’s verbal consent.

Handling a VIEWING WITH CONTRIBS PRE-TX :  ALWAYS check this your Comm Ed before it happens, as pre-TX viewings only usually happen in exceptional circumstances.  Safeguard the editorial control of your film by thanking the contributors for coming along to watch and “pick up on factual inaccuracies”.  The editorial control of the film always remains with the broadcaster.


Channel 4 & 5 Handbook :

Ofcom guidelines:

BBC Editorial Guidelines:

if you want to attend the next Channel 4 Editorial Ethics day then please reply to the thread on the Media Parents watercooler:


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