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Notes of Guidance

4. Harm and Offence

Advertisements must not be harmful or offensive. Advertisements must take account of generally accepted standards to minimise the risk of causing harm or serious or widespread offence. The context in which an ad is likely to be broadcast must be taken into account to avoid unsuitable scheduling (see Section 32: Scheduling).

Advertisers have an obligation to ensure that the advertisements they broadcast are not likely to cause harm or offence to viewers. Clearcast assesses all advertisements to establish what, if any, timing or scheduling restrictions need to be applied to make sure that the audience is unlikely to be harmed or offended by their content. Particular consideration is given to advertisements likely to be seen by children and that may contain action that, if copied, could cause them harm.

There are also a number of products and services which, because of their nature, are automatically scheduled away from programmes that are likely to be seen by children. These can be found in section 32 of the BCAP Code. As well as these automatic restrictions, Clearcast may, depending on their content, restrict the advertisements beyond the minimum required for the product/service advertised.

A full list of restrictions applied can be found in Appendix 4 of this guidance.

4.1 Advertisements must contain nothing that could cause physical, mental, moral or social harm to persons under the age of 18.

Those under the age of 18 are afforded particular protection by the Code and the Audio Visual Media Services Directive. Clearcast assigns timing and/or scheduling restrictions to advertisements if it believes their content is likely to lead to young people emulating dangerous activities that could lead to their harm. Similarly, advertisements that might cause distress or that include scenes of behaviour that are not socially acceptable, will be either rejected or scheduled away from audiences under 18.

Specific care is needed with advertisements for films and video games, particularly those that contain graphically shocking, violent or sexual images, to make sure they are not broadcast at times when children are likely to be watching.

Irrespective of their content, advertisements for films or games with a certification rating of 15 and above are automatically assigned a restriction to minimize the chances of children seeing them.

BCAP and CAP have published joint guidance on advertisements for videogames and films which can be found here

4.2 Advertisements must not cause serious or widespread offence against generally accepted moral, social or cultural standards.

All advertisements should be prepared with responsibility towards the likely audience and care should be taken not to offend any vulnerable sections of society. If Clearcast thinks advertisements are likely to cause serious or widespread offence it will reject them. Merely because some may object in principle to certain products or services being advertised, this is not a reason to reject advertisements for them, provided general standards are not breached. Sexual and violent images should be relevant and not gratuitous; images of male or female genitalia are not acceptable.

Bad language or swearing in advertisements can cause widespread offence and are generally not permitted. There may be certain specific circumstances where bad language or swearing is permitted if it is relevant. Use of any bad language will attract timing restrictions with exact restrictions being dependent on the specific language used; deletion of expletives by using bleeping or other devices is generally not acceptable.

The ASA regularly rules on these issues. Links to sample rulings are below:




4.3 Advertisements must not exploit the special trust that persons under the age of 18 place in parents, guardians, teachers or other persons.

4.4 Advertisements must not include material that is likely to condone or encourage behaviour that prejudices health or safety.

Advertisements should observe health and safety regulations; they should not show products being used in ways that could cause danger or harm to people. For example, advertisements showing activities such as dangerous sports should show all relevant safety precautions being taken. Depiction of illegal activities is acceptable only in certain circumstances e.g. film footage or in public service and charity advertising that cautions against them.

Children’s safety is of particular importance and further guidance on this can be found in section 5.

The ASA has ruled on this issue. Links to sample rulings are below:




4.5 Radio only – Advertisements must not include sounds that are likely to create a safety hazard, for example, to those listening to the radio while driving.

4.6 Television only – Advertisements must not include visual effects or techniques that are likely to affect adversely members of the audience with photosensitive epilepsy (see Ofcom’s Guidance Note for Licensees on Flashing Images and Regular Patterns in Television).

All advertisements submitted for clearance are checked for flashing images and run through a flash pattern analyser. Advertisements that do not pass the flash test are not cleared for broadcast. Ofcom has produced guidance in this area, which can be found in annex one of this document.

Clearcast offers an online flash test for anyone that wants to check material to ensure compliance with Ofcom’s Guidance. More details can be found here.

4.7 Television only – Advertisements must not be excessively noisy or strident. The maximum subjective loudness of advertisements must be consistent and in line with the maximum loudness of programmes and junction material.

Broadcasters must endeavour to minimise the annoyance that perceived imbalances could cause, with the aim that the audience need not adjust the volume of their television sets during programme breaks. For editorial reasons, however, commercial breaks sometimes occur during especially quiet parts of a programme, with the result that advertisements at normally acceptable levels seem loud in comparison.

Measurement and balancing of subjective loudness levels should preferably be carried out using a means of subjective loudness measurement conforming to standards derived from relevant ITU recommendations.

BCAP considers that subjective loudness-based measurement techniques represent best practice. However, if broadcasters use a peak programme meter (PPM) instead, the maximum level of the advertisements must be at least 6dB less than the maximum level of the programmes to take account of the limited dynamic range exhibited by most advertisements.

Broadcasters are urged to refer to BCAP’s guidance on sound levels in advertising for more information on the technical aspects of the rule and information about its application (available here: https://www.asa.org.uk/resource/sound-levels-in-advertising.html ).

4.8 Advertisements must not condone or encourage harmful discriminatory behaviour or treatment. Advertisements must not prejudice respect for human dignity.

Advertisements should not cause offence through encouraging or condoning discrimination on the basis of gender, age, disability, race, religion or sexual orientation and they should not depict negative stereotypes.

4.9 Advertisements must not condone or encourage violence, crime, disorder or anti-social behaviour.

Advertisements that depict violence are likely to attract timing restrictions with exact restrictions being dependent on the strength of content. Violent images that are clearly theatrical, slapstick or cartoon in nature may be considered more acceptable than those that are realistic.

4.10 Advertisements must not distress the audience without justifiable reason. Advertisements must not exploit the audience’s fears or superstitions.

Advertisements should not use language or images that unjustifiably appeal to fear or anxiety. Special care is needed in the depiction of death because it is a subject that, if not relevant to the advertised product or service, can cause offence, particularly to those who are recently bereaved. Use of religious images, artifacts and symbols also need to be handled particularly carefully, especially if humour is being used. Certain advertisements such as those for charities and public service advertisements can be given some leeway to appeal to fear where it is considered appropriate; such advertisements are likely to attract timing or scheduling restrictions. The ASA has ruled on this issue:




4.11 Television only – Animals must not be harmed or distressed as a result of the production of an ad.

Animals need to be properly looked after and cared for when used in advertisements. Clearcast will seek assurances that all animals are well treated and unharmed during filming; we may also ask for written confirmation from a qualified veterinary surgeon or animal handler to attest to the well-being of animals on set. How animals are depicted is also important.

Showing animals dressed up may cause offence to animal lovers and could encourage emulation by children. Scheduling restrictions are usually imposed on such advertisements to ensure they are not transmitted when young children are likely to be watching.

The RSPCA publishes Guidelines for the Welfare of Performing Animals, which can be found here.

4.12 Advertisements must not condone or encourage behaviour grossly prejudicial to the protection of the environment.