How to complain about television, radio or on demand services
Most of us can now tune into dozens, if not hundreds, of TV and radio stations at the touch of a button.
We can pause live TV, choose films and shows on demand and watch them on everything from high definition TVs and computers, to mobile phones and games consoles.
But while increased choice has brought many benefits, there may be times when you see or hear a programme which you find offensive or think is harmful.
This guide explains more about our regulation of television and radio content, and the role of other broadcasting regulatory bodies.
It also sets out the most common types of viewer and listener complaints and in each case, tells you who to contact if you want to make a complaint.
I want to complain about the content of a TV or radio programme
What are Ofcom’s rules?
Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code sets standards for the content of television and radio programmes.
All broadcasters licensed by Ofcom (as well as S4C, and the BBC in certain areas) must comply with the Code’s rules. For more information on the BBC, see the box below.
Our rules cover areas including: protecting children from programmes that are unsuitable for them; protecting audiences from harm and offence; the portrayal of crime; religion; impartiality and accuracy; sponsorship and product placement; and fairness and privacy.
The Code’s rules about impartiality and accuracy don’t apply to BBC programmes.
The BBC Trust is responsible for the regulation of the BBC in these areas.
Any complaints about the accuracy and impartiality of BBC programmes should be made to BBC Audience Services through its website.
The BBC’s website also explains how to escalate a complaint if you are still unhappy.
How do I complain to Ofcom?
If you think a programme you’ve seen or heard has breached our rules, you can submit a complaint to us.
You can also complain directly to the broadcaster of the programme if you wish.
If you want to make a complaint then try to submit it as quickly as possible after the programme has aired. All complaints should be submitted within 20 working days of the broadcast of the programme.
Please note that Ofcom is a post-transmission regulator. This means we can only look at complaints about programmes that have already been broadcast.
If you believe you’ve been treated unfairly in a programme or that your privacy has been infringed without good reason in a programme, or in the way it was made, the Code’s fairness and privacy rules may apply.
What happens after I make a complaint?
Filling in the online complaints form is the quickest way to complain.
You can also make a complaint by phone by calling 020 7981 3040, 0300 123 3333, or if you want to complain in Welsh 020 7981 3042.
I want to complain about subtitling, signing or audio description on a TV programme
Our Code on Television Access Services sets targets for the amount of TV subtitling, signing and audio description that broadcasters must provide.
We also have guidance about how access services should be presented.
However not all broadcasters have to follow the Code.
In the first instance, complaints about subtitling, signing or audio description should be made to the broadcaster.
If you feel that a broadcaster is not following the rules, you can submit a complaint to us.
If you are unable to complete the complaints form please call our Advisory Team on: 0300 123 3333 or 020 7981 3040.
Complaints about advertising
I want to complain about the content of a TV or radio advertisement
If you wish to complain about a television or radio advertisement, the organisation to contact is the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The ASA enforces The UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code). This Code contains rules which apply to both television and radio broadcast advertisements.
However, Ofcom is responsible for dealing with complaints about political advertising and sponsorship credits. The rules on political advertising can be found in the BCAP Code. The rules on sponsorship credits can be found in Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code.
I want to complain about the amount of advertising on TV
Ofcom handles complaints about the amount of advertising that appears on the channels it licenses.
Complaints about Video on Demand services
Video on Demand (VOD) services allow you to watch or listen to video or audio content when you choose to.
They range from services where you can pay to access a library of content – such as BT Vision or Virgin Media – to catch-up TV services like the BBC iPlayer, 4OD, ITV Player, Sky Player and Demand Five.
These services are not subject to Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code, however they have to abide by a set of minimum standards under European law.
For example, VOD services must not contain any material likely to incite hatred and must not contain material which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of under 18s. VOD programming must also comply with rules governing advertising, sponsorship and product placement.
You can only complain about a programme/advert on a regulated Video on Demand service.
I want to complain about a programme on a VOD service
The Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) handles most complaints about VOD programmes.
However, if you wish to complain about content on BBC iPlayer you should either contact the BBC directly through BBC Audience Services or complain directly to Ofcom.
I want to complain about an advertisement on a VOD service
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) handles complaints about VOD advertisements.
I want to complain about TV or radio interference or reception problems
The BBC is now responsible for investigating complaints about domestic radio and television interference.
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