Section 15: Conflicts of Interest - Introduction

Section 15.1

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Our audiences must be able to trust the BBC and be confident that our editorial decisions are not influenced by outside interests, including political or commercial pressures. This section explains how an individual’s activities might affect the public’s perception of the BBC.

A potential conflict of interest arises when there is the possibility that an individual’s external activities or interests may affect, or be reasonably perceived as affecting, the BBC’s impartiality and its integrity, or risk damaging the BBC’s reputation generally or the value of the BBC brand. Conflicts of interest may occur in any area of our work.

It is a requirement that all BBC staff must formally declare any personal interest which may affect their work with the BBC. This requirement extends to freelance presenters, reporters, producers and researchers and other workers. The onus to declare personal interests rests with the individual. Each department also has a responsibility for identifying its areas of vulnerability. There may be particular sensitivities around on-air talent.

Individual BBC managers must decide what action is needed in response to declared potential conflicts of interest. There may be times where individual freedoms may need to be constrained or where individuals may be restricted in the areas in which they can work or in certain aspects of their roles. These decisions will depend on the kind of output they are involved in, their role, how senior they are and on the nature of their personal interests and external activities.

Conflicts of interest are not regulated by Ofcom, except where they may lead to a failure of due impartiality [1] . The BBC’s policy on personal interests forms part of the contract of employment that applies to BBC employees. Failure to comply with these Guidelines or to follow the related Guidance may be a matter for BBC Human Resources. For individuals who are otherwise engaged by the BBC – including freelance presenters, reporters, producers, researchers and other on-air talent – failure to comply with these Guidelines and related Guidance would normally be a contractual matter.

The principles on conflicts of interest apply to everyone, but the application of the principles varies according to an individual’s role and their level of involvement with BBC content. This reflects audience expectations of the impartiality and integrity of BBC output, in particular its news and current affairs.

There are additional legal and regulatory constraints on those involved in financial journalism or those who are involved in output offering financial or consumer advice.

An individual’s political, commercial, financial or other interests must not influence, or be reasonably perceived as having influenced, BBC editorial judgements.

Those involved in commissioning, production, marketing, or who have any other role in the creation of BBC content, must have no material connection with products, businesses or other organisations featured in that content.

The involvement of talent, or their agents, in the ownership or senior management of independent production companies making output for the BBC risks damaging the public perception of the BBC’s impartiality, independence and integrity. The BBC must maintain overall editorial control of all aspects of the content.  

These Guidelines are not intended to prevent the BBC from using staff, freelances and presenters with expertise or specialisms in particular areas. Nor is anything in these Guidelines intended to prevent elected officials of the BBC’s recognised trade unions carrying out legitimate activities on behalf of their union.

Detailed guidance on Conflicts of Interest is available on the Editorial Guidelines website. This also includes advice for financial journalists.

[1] The Ofcom Broadcasting Code, Rule 5.8: Any personal interest of a reporter or presenter, which would call into question the due impartiality of the programme, must be made clear to the audience.

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