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New draft broadcasting code for TV

By Steven | March 9, 2009

The BSA has released a new draft of the free-to-air TV code for public consultation. The proposed changes are conveniently set out alongside the existing provisions.

The changes that leap out at me:

1. Balance is renamed “Controversial issues – viewpoints”. But the substance remains the same (it has to: it’s in the Broadcasting Act). However, the new guidelines point to an expansion of the BSA’s trend toward taking a contextual approach to balance.

2. Impartiality is dropped from the guidelines for balance, and from the accuracy standard. It pops up in the accuracy guidelines – but only for “news”. It seems current affairs and factual programmes need no longer be impartial.

3. The changes to the Accuracy standard┬ápartly follow the changes to the radio code and require only that reasonable care to be taken with the accuracy of material points of fact. The requirement that fact and comment be clearly distinguishable has been dropped, but it’s spelled out that the accuracy standard only applies to “unqualified statements of fact” and not “analysis, comment or opinion”. Broadcasters have to correct “material errors” rather than “significant” ones, though it’s not clear what the difference is.

4. The radio code standard for accuracy makes it clear that a misleading broadcast may be inaccurate. (For example, when information is omitted that puts a whole different complexion on an issue, the broadcast might be found inaccurate because it’s misleading even though there’s nothing literally false. The BSA has always taken this approach, regardless of the wording of the code. It seems sensible for this to be reflected in the standard). For some reason, in the draft TV code the reference to “misleading” is in the guidelines, but not the standard itself.

5. The privacy principles seem to be unchanged.

6. Under fairness, the guideline that people (especially children) not be “exploited, humiliated or unnecessarily identified” has morphed into “exploited, humiliated or unfairly identified”. Seems fair enough to me.

7. Discriminiation and denigration get their own heading, instead of being lumped under fairness. The threshold for a successful complaint (always pretty high) seems to have been lifted: to breach the standard, a broadcaster would have to “encourage discrimination/denigration” instead of merely portraying persons in a manner that encourages discrimination/denigration.

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