July 18th, 2019 | Sterling

What does the future hold for background screening in the media industry?

Industry Talk

Following recent discussions with those in the media industry, it seems organizations in this sector may soon be encouraged to review their background screening programs. In particular, there’s some anticipation that those who appear on television as part of the cast for 15 minutes or more, may require specific consideration. This is likely to enhance current company policy and provide more rigorous, frequent and comprehensive vetting.

Whether or not more comprehensive compliance obligations actually come into place for media organizations, it is clear that a number of external pressures are causing significant consideration in this area. Firstly, to protect and maintain an organizations reputation and integrity and avoid the detrimental effects this can have. Secondly, the importance of safeguarding and protecting their production team, cast and network from potential untoward dangers and thirdly to mitigate the effects of public criticism. The latter is particularly prevalent in today’s social media age, as the accumulation of public opinion can collectively result in negative publicity. This was evident, and can still be seen, as part of the #Metoo movement which evolved from controversy within the media industry, bringing to light the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment.

Current Requirements

Any change in policy would align, broaden and reinforce the current pan-industry requirements introduced in 2016 by organizations such as the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky alongside the industry body PACT. This mandated the background screening for film, tv extras and supporting artists working on the set with young people under the age of 18. More specifically, any programs or films including those engaged with a child or young person during the production, either in non-speaking or speaking roles. This requirement was introduced to safeguard and protect the physical and emotional welfare of every child across the industry. Individuals must have obtained a basic disclosure certificate proving they have no unspent criminal convictions. Any cast member found to have unspent convictions contained within the sexual offenses act of 2003 will not be permitted to work on productions alongside those under 18. A standard or enhanced DBS check will not be required for everyone, but is dependent on the role and production in question.

Types of Criminal Record Checks

Basic Disclosure – This level of criminal record check searches the police national computer for unspent convictions under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders ACT (ROA) 1975. Convictions will either show or will be stated if none are present (conditional cautions for England and Wales will also be detailed). This type of check is available for any individual applying for or already employed in any position. Therefore, represents one of the most common Disclosure and Barring Services.

Standard – This level of criminal record check discloses details of all spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and warnings on the Police National Computer (PNC).

Enhanced Disclosure – This level of criminal record check discloses details of all spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and warnings on the Police National Computer (PNC). An Enhanced Disclosure may contain non-conviction local police force information. Depending on the position, may also check the relevant ISA barred lists to ensure the individual is not barred from working with children and/or vulnerable adults.

Importance of Comprehensive Background Screening

Within the United Kingdom there are over 11 million people with a criminal record and approximately 735,000 people with unspent convictions. Of course, this does not mean that all individuals with unspent convictions represent a danger or should be exempt from the cast. Instead, media organizations and productions firms should consider each case separately and discuss the results with the candidate, while ultimately ensuring they meet compliance obligations

By having a robust screening process in place that includes the relevant criminal record and social media checks, businesses can heighten their due diligence process and mitigate potential risk. A recent BBC leadership debate highlighted the continued need for more thorough screening in the media, after it came to light that the guest Abdullah Patel had allegedly shared anti-Semitic and sexist tweets on social media. A comprehensive screening program can give organizations the insight necessary to make an informed judgement as to whether to cast an individual or to take the relevant preventative action. If a decision is made to cast someone with unspent convictions or hiring organization is made aware of prior inappropriate behaviours, at least they are alerted to the risks… On the other hand, choosing not to screen at all may represent a danger in itself, as they are choosing to ignore them.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.