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04 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 advertisement is likely to be broadcast must be taken into account to avoid unsuitable scheduling (see Section 32: Scheduling).




Relevant Codes

Section 5: Children 

Section 10: Prohibited Categories   

Section 15: Faith, religion and equivalent systems of belief 

Section 17: Gambling  

Section 18: Lotteries

Section 19: Alcohol

Section 20: Motoring 

 Section 23: Telecommunications-based sexual entertainment services

Section 26: Services offering individual advice on consumer or personal problems

Section 30: Pornography

Section 32: Scheduling 


Help Notes

Telecommunications-based sexual entertainment services 


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

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

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.

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).

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 loudness-level meter, ideally conforming to ITU recommendations1. If a peak-reading meter2 is used
instead, the maximum level of the advertisements must be at least 6dB less than the maximum level of the programmes3 to take account of the limited dynamic range exhibited by most advertisements.

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

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

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

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

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


Back to Codes

Previous: 03 Misleading advertising

Next: 05 Children


AdviceOnline Database

Help Notes

Check out our Help Notes for formal regulatory guidance on the application of the Advertising Codes.

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