Ofcom’s role in a General Election – what you need to know

Published: 29 May 2024

A General Election will take place in the UK on 4 July 2024. In the election period, it’s important that broadcasters follow the rules around what they broadcast during this time. It’s also important that as the broadcast regulator, Ofcom upholds the rules and deals speedily with audience complaints about things they’ve seen or heard on TV and radio during the election period.

For this General Election, the election period begins with the dissolution of Parliament on 30 May 2024, and ends with the close of the poll at 10pm on polling day, 4 July 2024.

What are the rules that apply during a General Election?

The highest level of due impartiality applies during the election period. During this period, political parties and independent candidates must be given due weight across a broadcaster’s TV and radio coverage.

This means they must receive the appropriate level of coverage based on their past and/or current electoral support. Broadcasters must also consider giving appropriate coverage to parties and independent candidates with significant views and perspectives.

If a political candidate takes part in a programme about the constituency in which they’re standing, the broadcaster must also give the opportunity for other candidates in that constituency, based on their past and/or current electoral support, to take part too. But if other candidates cannot or do not want to take part, they cannot prevent the programme from going ahead.

Can politicians present programmes during an election?

Candidates in UK elections cannot act as news presenters, interviewers or presenters of any type of programme during the election period. Politicians who are not standing as candidates in a UK election can present non-news programmes - including current affairs - during the election period, provided that the programme complies with the Broadcasting Code rules.

Broadcasters who use politicians as presenters must pay particular attention to our new audience research findings, our updated guidance and recent standards decisions to inform their editorial decision-making and help make sure their programmes comply with the rules.

Dealing with election-related broadcast complaints

During election periods, we operate a fast-track process to make sure all complaints about election coverage are assessed and, where necessary, investigated as quickly as possible. All broadcasters must engage with Ofcom on short timescales during this period.

We are likely to consider any breaches of election programming rules to be serious and this might result in us considering imposing sanctions on a broadcaster.

We have a dedicated Election Committee to consider significant election-related complaints during an election period. The Election Committee is a sub-committee of the Ofcom Board. The Committee considers and includes up to five people drawn from the Ofcom Board, the Content Board and/or Ofcom colleagues, as determined by the Chair of the Committee. The Chairman of the Election Committee is appointed by the Ofcom Board. Because of the importance of the cases it considers, the Election Committee will reach decisions in just a few days.

Complaints about content broadcast on the BBC are handled by the BBC in the first instance and we expect the BBC to deal with all election complaints it receives rapidly, so that if a viewer or listener isn’t happy with how the BBC deals with their complaint, it can be escalated to Ofcom to assess.

Who decides which parties appear in debates and discussions?

Ofcom does not determine the line-up or format of any leaders’ debates. These are editorial matters for broadcasters, who must comply with our rules on due impartiality.

Broadcasters must make editorial decisions about election programming and allocate party election broadcasts based on evidence of past electoral and current support. Ahead of each election period, we publish a digest of past electoral and current support to help broadcasters make these decisions. Candidates and parties retain the ability to complain to Ofcom about broadcasters’ decisions.

What happens on election day?

While the polls are open, broadcasters aren’t allowed to report details of campaigning or election issues. And they must not publish the results of any opinion polls – this can only be done once the polls close.

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