What is Ofcom?
Ofcom is the UK’s independent communications regulator.
Set up by Parliament, we regulate television and radio, as well as fixed line telecoms, mobiles and the airwaves for wireless devices.
Ofcom has legal duties to protect viewers and listeners – and especially those aged under 18 – from harmful or inappropriate material broadcast on TV and radio.
Our rules for TV and radio programmes are set out in the Broadcasting Code. The Code is the rule book for TV and radio stations and it sets standards for television and radio programmes which broadcasters have to follow.
The Code includes a whole section dedicated to the rules for protecting children.
For example, Ofcom’s rules impose a watershed on TV to help prevent unsuitable material being shown before 9pm when children could be watching.
Since 2003 Ofcom has taken action on more than 300 occasions when broadcasters have scheduled unsuitable content before or immediately after the watershed.
There are also rules about the times broadcasters choose to schedule their programmes, and restrictions on offensive language, violence, sexual material, and dangerous or harmful behaviour that children might try to copy.
To ensure our rules remain up to date, we carry out regular research with parents and other viewers and listeners. This helps us understand what audiences think is appropriate, and their views on specific issues, like whether the TV watershed is at the right time.
Ofcom also works to ensure that broadcasters understand the rules and the standards we expect of them in all areas, and particularly when it comes to protecting children.
Dealing with complaints
Ofcom isn’t a censor and we don’t have the powers to approve programmes before they’re broadcast. If you have a complaint about a programme that hasn’t yet been broadcast, you should contact the broadcaster directly.
Each year Ofcom receives thousands of complaints from viewers and listeners.
We rely on viewers and listeners to be our eyes and ears and alert us to when our rules may have been broken. We consider every single complaint carefully and assess it against the Broadcasting Code to see if we need to investigate further.
Each investigation is a formal process which can take weeks but in some cases months, depending on the complexity and the issues involved.
We publish our decisions on complaints in Ofcom’s fortnightly Broadcast Bulletin. This is the formal record of our decisions. It sends a clear signal to broadcasters about what is and isn’t acceptable, and acts as an incentive for them not to break our rules.
If a broadcaster seriously or repeatedly breaks the rules, Ofcom has the legal power to impose sanctions. This could be a substantial fine or even taking away the channel’s licence to broadcast.
Making a complaint
If you’ve seen something on TV or heard something on radio that you thought was unsuitable for children, ParentPort can take you to Ofcom’s online complaints form.
If your concerns in this area are about BBC TV or radio programmes, responsibility for regulation is shared with the BBC Trust. ParentPort’s complaints section will explain this further and tell you what you can do next.
What parents, guardians and carers think is important to us. If you don’t have a specific complaint but would like to express your views about what’s suitable for children on TV and radio, please let us know. You can submit comments through ParentPort’s Have Your Say section.
Want to find out more?
Our website offers more information about us and how we work.
We also have a dedicated area on our website for parents, guardians and carers.
You’ll find more about our rules and guidance, and details about our audience research. You can also take a look at some of the decisions we’ve published recently on programmes that breached our rules for the protection of children.
If you’d like to keep up to date with all our decisions, you can receive Ofcom’s Broadcast Bulletins by clicking on this link Broadcast Bulletins. You can then add the web feed to your browser or RSS reader.