Compliance and regulation in Northern Ireland

 

What you need to know from a media & marketing perspective

 

These days compliance and regulatory matters seem to get even deeper and more complex as each year passes.

Media law is high profile, and most people know that they must pay more than a passing regard to the basics: copyright, privacy, defamation and contempt of court for starters. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself on the wrong side of a judge.

Northern Ireland has its own legal set-up and specific legislation – and is therefore home to a thriving law industry that includes an army of lawyers keen to be seen standing up for their clients’ rights.

However, most people don’t realise that you need to also be aware of a whole range of regulatory regimes – and not just for the sector you happen to work in.

Why is this? In the old days, there were very few publishers: material was published by newspapers, radio, TV and book companies. They were responsible for what they published.

However, the dawn of the internet – and, later, social media – means almost everyone has become a publisher. Yes, you are now a publisher. And with those rights also come responsibilities.

So if you’re hoping for example that newspaper, radio or TV websites will pick up your press release or case history, then you have to give them material that won’t land them in hot water with their regulator.

Or if you’re making claims about a product, or doing something for your charity, that you don’t fall foul of advertising regulations or the rules governing charitable status.

ONLINE, NEWSPAPERS& MAGAZINES:

The clear majority of newspapers and magazines are regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation in London. But did you know that IPSO’s powers extend over newspaper websites and social media channels as well?

So, material published on digital channels needs to conform to the same strict standards as stories published in print.

This matters because, say you are a business publishing a video news release, or a charity publishing a news release, you need to ensure the material you publish is accurate, legal and ethical. If you land a paper in hot water they will never trust you again – so kiss goodbye to all that free publicity!

Get to know the Editors’ Code of Practice and, if you want to be very nerdy, the Editor’s Codebook. Bottom line: check and double check that facts are accurate and be extra careful if children are involved in any of your videos.

TV & RADIO:

Material on television and radio is covered by official regulator Ofcom and its broadcast codes – see here for the Northern Ireland Ofcom link.

The strictest interpreters of TV and radio standards are the mainstream and public service broadcasters – in particular the BBC, ITV, Sky, Channel 4 and main radio stations – and their online platforms – many of whom have their own internal codes.

The lesser radio stations and satellite TV channels are all governed by Ofcom but are more likely to stick to the letter of the law rather than the spirit.

The same rule applies, if you are submitting material it is very much in your interest to ensure it is Ofcom-compliant – for example on product placement – and that you do not find yourself in the embarrassing and reputationally-damaging position of having to help them investigate an Ofcom complaint.

CHARITY REGULATION IN NORTHERN IRELAND:

The laws and codes of practice for charity regulation in NI are surprisingly complex, due to the potential for abuse, of course.

The setup is currently being reviewed (2017) by the Department for Communities. If you want a good glimpse of how complex this is have a look at their advisory page. It’s a bit of a ‘mare of acts, orders, commencement orders and provisions!

The bottom line is to ensure if you’re a charity that you are registered with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland. Indeed …. local charities were recently ‘named and shamed’ by the Commission as ‘being in default’.

There are rules, regulation and guidance about how a charity operates and how it interacts with civic society and the political sphere. Be ignorant of them at your peril!

ADVERTISING STANDARDS AUTHORITY:

Advertisements in Northern Ireland come under the umbrella of the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority.

This is a vast and complex area that is forever updating and changing. Just by way of a tiny example, in March the ASA issued specific guidance for the UK’s 4,800 osteopaths on how they should approach the whole issue of advertising.

The same month it also issued guidance for promotional online marketing, proving the ASA well aware of the migration into the digital marketing space as well as traditional advertising on TV and in newspapers.

It also last month issued new guidance on what might traditionally have been referred to as Advertorial – or advertising features (or promoted content).

CONCLUSION:

The bottom line is that all of these complex schemes are very real and many have actual teeth.

Most video production houses will simply hand you a video without making any genuine consideration of regulatory matters, even though it is of clear importance to your own reputation.

SmartVideo’s managing editor Paul Connolly has experience in regulation and will review videos with an eye on regulation.

Obviously, this is no substitute to fully expert legal advice from your own representatives, and no warranty can be offered. But it at least addresses this critical area in a clear and structured way that sometimes, in the rush to publish marketing content, can be neglected – with alarming consequences

Paul Connolly

SmartVideo’s managing director Paul Connolly is a former member of the board of the UK Society of Editors and, as a former managing editor of the Belfast Telegraph group, has worked with the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Paul checks all videos issued by SmartVideo for compliance and regulatory matters.