Following the announcement of an early general election, it is an important time to remind Ofcom-regulated radio stations the set of practices that are required to follow during the election period. Ofcom take the rules about covering elections very seriously, and broadcasters must understand their obligations in order to avoid any fines or unwanted publicity.
The election period will start on 3rd May, and from this day until 10pm on 8th June, Ofcom rules will take effect.
1. Do not show bias
Political parties monitor stations for any hint of bias. This means that your station must cover each party in a balanced manner. Ofcom advises that you should use your own judgement of parties based on evidence of past and current electoral support. You should aim to keep timing sheets recording any coverage given and to which party. Take note of how you covered the party (e.g. interview, copy) and the time of broadcast.
2. Presenters must remain neutral
Presenters should remain neutral and must not show their political allegiance on air to avoid a fine. Furthermore, candidates are not permitted to act as presenters during the election period.
3. All candidates must get roughly equal airtime
This means that there should be no glaring discrepancy, however you are not required to have a stopwatch. The chair should put forward policies of candidates who are not available for discussion but should remain impartial.
4. Constituency reports must be balanced
Constituency reports must include equal contributions from each of the main parties. On first broadcast, they must include a list of all candidates, giving first and last names and the name of the party they represent or, if they are standing independently, the fact that they are an independent candidate. Subsequently, you must direct listeners to a website link containing the above information.
5. Reports must be accurate and without malice
If a candidate says something defamatory during discussions, you will only be protected from libel if your report is accurate, fair and without malice.
Letting candidates phone-in your station as as callers is not a good idea as it could show bias. Before having a caller on air, you should ask if they are standing in the election. Furthermore, presenters should not take advantage of their position on air. Presenters should summarise alternative points of views in order to reflect a range of views.
7. Opinion polls “suggest”
You can report opinion polls as news as long as the terminology is correct. Polls do not “show”/”prove”, they “suggest”.
8. No political comment can be broadcast on polling day
Thursday 8th June is polling day. Polls open at 7am and close at 10pm. During this time, you cannot broadcast any political comment apart from basic facts such as the weather, general turnout predictions and politicians voting. Furthermore, broadcasters may not publish the results of any opinion polls on polling day until the election closes.
Please note that this advice is only intended as a short guide. For the full details, see the Ofcom website.