20 December 2022

Ofcom’s rules on politicians on TV and radio

We’ve recently been asked questions about the rules around politicians presenting, and appearing on, TV programmes.

This follows several recent announcements of serving politicians being hired to present their own TV shows.

These rules can seem complicated, but they are incredibly important. They are set out in the Broadcasting Code, and are there for broadcasters to use when making programmes.

There are special rules that apply during elections or referendums. In fact, there is a whole section of the Broadcasting code that applies in election and referendum periods.

Are politicians allowed to present TV and radio shows?

Yes they are – with some exceptions.

News content

Because audiences expect broadcasters to apply the highest level of due impartiality to news programmes (such as news bulletins) our rules state:

“No politician may be used as a newsreader, interviewer or reporter in any news programmes unless, exceptionally, it is editorially justified. In that case, the political allegiance of that person must be made clear to the audience.”

Non-news content

However, outside of news programmes, there is no Ofcom rule that prevents a serving politician or political candidate from hosting or appearing on a TV or radio show – provided they aren’t standing in an election taking place, or about to take place.

This means that politicians are allowed to present current affairs programmes, such as audience phone-ins, but they must make sure a range of views are reflected in their programme.

During election and referendum periods

During an election period, political candidates or people representing organisations taking part in a referendum must not present any TV or radio programme. This includes programmes that have no discussion of politics or current affairs.

Candidates and referendum representatives are allowed to appear in (but not present) non-political programmes that were planned or scheduled before an election or referendum period, but no new appearances should be arranged and broadcast during that period.

What are Ofcom’s rules that apply during an election or referendum period?

During an election period, political parties – and also independent candidates –must be given due weight in any TV and radio coverage.

This means they must receive the appropriate level of coverage across an election period based on their past and current electoral support. Broadcasters must also consider giving appropriate coverage to parties and independent candidates with significant views and perspectives. Similar rules apply to coverage of referendums.

If a political candidate takes part in a programme about the constituency, region or ward for which they’re standing, the broadcaster must also give the opportunity for other candidates in that electoral area to take part also. But if other candidates cannot or do not want to take part, they cannot prevent the programme going ahead.

If a candidate takes part in a programme after an election has been called – even if it’s not a political programme – they must not be given the opportunity to discuss points about the constituency, region or ward in which they’re standing, without other candidates being given a similar opportunity.

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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