ATCP: Keeping True Crime in Top Form

A band of indie true-crime specialists from the U.K. and Ireland have come together to form the Association of True Crime Producers (ATCP), with a mission to establish and enforce best practice guidelines for the genre. The founding partners—Avalon, FirstLookTV, ITN Productions, Monster Films, Peninsula Television, Phoenix Television, Rare TV, Revelation Films, Title Role and Woodcut Media—are committed to protecting parties associated with true-crime programming, including the families of those at the center of the stories and the teams working on the productions.

The ATCP formed organically over several months, according to Kate Beal, founder and CEO of Woodcut Media and chair of the recently launched ATCP. “Individual producers were discussing with each other different scenarios that were occurring on productions, and with the increasing popularity of the genre, it became clear that we needed to come together to take positive action,” she explains. “Through a series of meetings, it was decided to create an association that would promote high ethical standards within the true-crime genre and give producers a safe space to share best practices with each other. The first ten founding indies worked hard to create the guidelines and get the association moving. Now, we’re heading into the next stage of development with new producers joining every week. It’s an exciting time for the ATCP, as the future isn’t simply about a set of guidelines. It’s about ongoing education and discourse within the field of true-crime program-making.”

As mostly U.K. indies, the group will be adhering to the Ofcom codes of conduct, “and this is the fundamental basis of our program-making,” Beal says. “However, our guidelines go further in terms of best practice and duty of care. We have written 13 simple principles, which cover all aspects of a project—from preproduction to once it’s been on air. A lot of it is common sense, and much of it has been developed by the founding producers over the years. The guidelines focus on everyone connected to the featured crime. This could include the family of the victims, the family of the perpetrator, the investigators and other members of the public involved with the case. The guidelines also discuss the duty of care toward production teams, which, as we know, is crucial when dealing with distressing content. We ask members to adhere where practicably possible to the guidelines and work with broadcasters to ensure the ethical principles are maintained.”

The importance of a group with an aim such as this is increasingly important to have in place at this current juncture of the genre’s popularity, notes Beal. “Over the past 15 years, the true-crime genre has been maturing, and along with it, the producers have developed individual best practices. In recent times, there has been a real boom in the genre. It’s enabled us to tell stories in alternative shapes and forms—from feature docs to formatted shows to ongoing adjudicated series. All networks and platforms are, in their own way, featuring true-crime content. As new-to-the-genre indies start producing these shows, it’s vital that we maintain a high level of duty of care within each project, in particular with the families of the victims and the care of the production teams. Education around this area in terms of approach and sensitivity is more important than ever with the high number of true-crime hours currently being commissioned.”

Beal says there are a number of reasons why the true-crime genre is in a particularly popular period. Paramount to them all, though, is that “these stories matter.” She adds: “For thousands of years, we’ve told each other stories of good and evil. This is simply an extension of that. In today’s context, the viewer is reassured to see that although bad things do happen in the world, the police are there, doing their job, and more often than not in the case of murder, the perpetrator is punished. In one sense, seeing that justice has been served gives the viewer a sense of well-being.”

The big-picture role of the ATCP is to continue to promote high ethical standards within true-crime program-making. “This will ensure that the genre continues to be respected by those taking part and by the viewers,” says Beal. “The contributors trust us to tell their stories, and we need to continue to earn that trust. The viewers need to know that we are representing these stories in the most truthful, sensitive and ethical way possible.”