TV laws and the media


The creative aspects of TV programme-making are governed by some of the laws that apply to other editorial and journalistic activities. TV laws (and other media laws) exist to:

  • Protect copyright
  • Prevent the broadcast of indecent, libellous or defamatory material
  • The exploitation of individuals who appear in television programmes and documentaries

Most TV and media companies usually employ lawyers specialising in these areas to review content before it is broadcast or published, in order to ensure that the company is not breaking any of these laws and risking prosecution by doing so.

What is TV law?

As a broad concept, television law can be split into two main areas of concern for those in the industry.

The first is the legal side of TV production which will include:

  • Development and financing agreements
  • Distribution
  • Exploitation of the TV programme created

To put it simply, this is the creation stage, long before the programme is shown to the public.

Monopoly and mergers laws prevent any one individual or company dominating the ownership of a particular industry, in this case broadcast media. Laws on programme distribution affect how widely programme makers can sell their output, or license other companies to broadcast it, both at home and overseas.

As well as buying in programmes from production companies, the TV companies bid competitively to pay for coverage they wish to screen exclusively, for example, high-profile sporting events.

Exclusive broadcasting rights must be respected in order to protect the revenues of the TV companies. TV laws change constantly to reflect advancing technology. Laws relating to advertising, subscriptions and exclusivity are therefore changing to reflect the advent of digital broadcasting and viewing via the internet rather than on TV, which has implications for all broadcasters.

The role of Ofcom

The second area of television law that is of perhaps a greater concern is regulation from the independent regulatory body Ofcom (the Office of Communications), the ultimate authority on TV regulation. This body is accountable to Parliament and its responsibilities are set out in the Communications Act 2003.

Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code contains a set of principles and rules which broadcasters must adhere to and Ofcom can impose fines of up to £250,000 when the broadcaster is in breach of the Code.

The aim of the Code is to ensure that all broadcast content is decent and suitable for the viewing audience. Ofcom, however, does not preview the content before it goes on air, and therefore lawyers will make content-clearing checks in an attempt to prevent any fines being issued by Ofcom once the programme is aired.

Legal assistance is imperative at all stages of the broadcast process. Finding a solicitor who has in-depth knowledge and experience in television law could save you or your company from heavy fines or bad publicity.

Do you have a dispute involving TV law or media production? TV law is a niche area of law but Contact Law works with a few media law specialists who have vast experience in your type of dispute. Please call us on 0800 1777 162 or complete the web-form above.

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