What is compliance?
Ah – well it’s one of the things that worry broadcasters and productions the most. Misunderstanding compliance can get you into serious problems on a television production. It’s an area of television that’s about as popular as health & safety! Both are often seen as departments designed to prevent you realising all those wonderful ideas you have for television features, peopled by naysayers. But both the health & safety and the compliance department can be – and should be – your best friends when making television programmes. They are there to keep you out of trouble.
Television companies must abide by certain rules designed to ensure the consumers – the viewers – are not misled in any way. Break those rules and broadcasters risk serious fines or having their license revoked. All producers must comply with the rules. The compliance department makes sure you do.
Using commercial products as props can lead to ‘undue prominence'; leaving in a swear word at the wrong time of day, allowing a presenter to pronounce biased views on a legal case, demonstrating sex toys in a daytime feature, using children on screen – all these scenarios and many many more can lead you into trouble.
James Howard has worked in right administrations, competitions, acquisitions and sponsorship in television. He is now an Editorial Compliance Executive at BskyB.
James is here to tell what it’s all about:
A Job in TV Compliance?
Television Compliance (not to be confused with Financial Compliance which is a completely different thing) is an area which, to be honest, gets a lot of bad press.
TV Creatives have historically resented this shadowy Broadcasting department whose sole purpose (in their opinion) seems to be to stand in the way of their fantastical creative visions & cock block their beautiful productions at every turn.
If you don’t believe me, have a look at Stephen Fry’s thoughts on the area here:
There’s an old adage that no one ever sets out to work in compliance. That it just kind of happens to a certain sort of person. Certainly as you fantasise about your forthcoming glittering career which sees you gather nomination after nomination at the National TV Awards, Compliance is most probably the furthest thing from your mind.
But maybe a bit of closer inspection of TV compliance is warranted. So what the hell is it?
In a nutshell the Broadcasting industry (and to a wider extent the entire UK Communications industry) is regulated by The Office of Communications – (‘Ofcom’ for short), a regulatory body which has a direct report into the British Government via the Department of Media & Culture.
In order for a Broadcaster to transmit in the UK, they are required by law to have an OfCom licence and are therefore obliged to comply with regulations that OfCom stipulates as a condition of that licence.
The regulations (best exemplified by The Broadcasting Code found here): http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/broadcasting/broadcast-codes/broadcast-code
cover virtually every aspect of what you as a viewer watch on your TV screen and are generally concerned with ensuring that broadcasting standards in the UK remain high and do not dissolve into the Televisual equivalent of Sodom & Gomorrah.
Thus, everything from Protecting the under 18’s, Fairness & Privacy, the amount of Advertising, Sponsorship, Competitions, Crime, Religion, Harm & Offence, Due impartiality and more is covered and ruled upon.
How these rules are interpreted and applied to a specific broadcaster’s programming content and on air presence is down to that Broadcaster’s Compliance Department.
It is a big deal as well. Ofcom has the power to pull a broadcaster off air, and fine broadcasters huge amounts of money if it finds a broadcaster in breach of its licence.
ITV was fined a jaw dropping £5.67 million by Ofcom over the PRS scandal whilst MTV also very publicly had its bottom slapped when repeated transmission of bad language before the watershed brought down a fine of £255,000. Even the Broadcasting bastion of good taste and decency that is the BBC were yanked up in front of the Regulatory Headmaster and fined £150,000 for the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross fiasco.
When OfCom came into being around 2003/4, Broadcasters realised that as the multi-platform digital broadcasting world came to be the norm, the sheer volume of content now required to fill the multiple schedules warranted a bespoke compliance team to be across ALL programming, both commissioned and acquired, to ensure they were not found in breach of the Broadcast code.
And so it came to pass that Broadcast heavyweights began to grow their own compliance teams, Departments whose sole purpose in life was to monitor all the content of the channel/s from script level to final TX to ensure that everything was compliant with the Broadcast code.
What does a Compliance Officer do?
A compliance officer will typically have involvement from pre-production of a new commission and work with the production team to ensure that the producer’s intent is realised as closely as possible while satisfying the OfCom rules. (This isn’t as easy as it sounds and is most likely the reason that the compliance officer is stereotypically seen as the bod that likes to say ‘No’.)
As well as this, you will view all types of content and typically edit material (either by yourself or with an editor) as necessary in order to make the content OK for Transmission at various times of day.
It is an interesting and varied job but requires a good working knowledge of the Broadcast code and how the rules apply to content, alongside a strong understanding of what is generally considered offensive and what’s deemed OK by the viewing public at large.
How do you get to work in Compliance?
Routes of entry are not really the same as production. You don’t really find that many runners hoping to catch their big break in compliance. Some Presentation Schedulers find their way into compliance, and in general working in any TV role that has an aspect of compliance attached to it is a good way in. Also offering your services to any of the other regulatory bodies out there will serve you well. (Clearcast who clear Spot advertising for the Broadcast industry is a good example).
If you find yourself hearing the ‘F’ word go out at 3.30pm on a Sunday afternoon and the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end… if the joys of editorial judgement without the hands on-ness of production is your thing….and you aren’t really bothered what Stephen Fry might think of you…a career in compliance might be worth considering…