Section six: Elections and referendums
This section covers the special impartiality requirements and other legislation that must be applied at the time of elections and referendums.
(Relevant legislation includes, in particular, sections 319(2)(c) and 320 of the Communications Act 2003, the BBC Charter and Agreement, and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Broadcasters should also have regard to relevant sections of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (as amended) (“RPA”) – see in particular sections 66A, 92 and 93 (which is amended by section 144 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000).)
Rules made under section 333 of the Communications Act 2003 (regarding party election broadcasts, party political broadcasts and referendum campaign broadcasts) and the BBC Agreement, and referred to in paragraph 18 of Schedule 12 to the Communications Act 2003, are contained in Ofcom's Rules on Party Political and Referendum Broadcasts (PDF, 206.9 KB). However, such broadcasts are also required to comply with the relevant provisions of this Code, for example the provisions regarding harm and offence – notwithstanding that the content is normally the responsibility of the relevant political parties.
To ensure that the special impartiality requirements in the Communications Act 2003 and other legislation relating to broadcasting on elections and referendums, are applied at the time of elections and referendums.
Programmes at the time of elections and referendums
6.1: The rules in Section Five, in particular the rules relating to matters of major political or industrial controversy and major matters relating to current public policy, apply to the coverage of elections and referendums.
Programmes at the time of elections and referendums in the UK
The remainder of this section only applies during the actual election or referendum period which is defined below.
Meaning of “election”
For the purpose of this section elections include a parliamentary general election, parliamentary by-election, local government election, mayoral election, Police and Crime Commissioner election, Scottish and Welsh Parliament elections, and Northern Ireland and London Assembly elections.
Meaning of "referendum"
For the purpose of this section a referendum is a statutory referendum (to which the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (“PPERA”) applies or to which section 127 of PPERA is applied) which includes a UK-wide, national or regional referendum held under the provisions of an Act of the UK Parliament or the Scottish Parliament, but does not extend to a local referendum.
6.2: Due weight must be given to the coverage of parties and independent candidates during the election period. In determining the appropriate level of coverage to be given to parties and independent candidates broadcasters must take into account evidence of past electoral support and/or current support. Broadcasters must also consider giving appropriate coverage to parties and independent candidates with significant views and perspectives.
Meaning of "election period"
For a parliamentary general election, this period begins with the dissolution of Parliament. For a parliamentary by-election, this period begins with the issuing of a writ or on such earlier date as is notified in the London Gazette. For the Scottish Parliament elections and Welsh Parliament elections, the period begins with the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Parliament as appropriate or, in the case of a by-election, with the date of the occurrence of a vacancy. For the Northern Ireland Assembly, the London Assembly and for local government elections, it is the last date for publication of notices of the election. In all cases the period ends with the close of the poll.
Meaning of “candidate”
Candidate has the meaning given to it in section 93 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (as amended) and means a candidate standing nominated at the election or included in a list of candidates submitted in connection with it.
6.3: Due weight must be given to designated organisations in coverage during the referendum period. Broadcasters must also consider giving appropriate coverage to other permitted participants with significant views and perspectives.
Meaning of "designated organisation" and "permitted participants"
Designated organisations and permitted participants are those that are designated by the Electoral Commission.
Meaning of "referendum period"
For referendums different periods may apply. A referendum held under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (as amended) begins when the draft of an Order is laid before Parliament for approval by each House. In the case of a referendum held under other Acts, the time at which a referendum period commences is given in the individual Acts. In the case of an Order before Parliament, the time will be given in that Order. In all cases the period ends with the close of the poll.
6.4: Discussion and analysis of election and referendum issues must finish when the poll opens. (This refers to the opening of actual polling stations. This rule does not apply to any poll conducted entirely by post.) BBC ODPS are not required to remove archive content for the period when the polls are open.
6.5: Broadcasters may not publish the results of any opinion poll on polling day itself until the election or referendum poll closes.
6.6: Candidates in UK elections, and representatives of permitted participants in UK referendums, must not act as news presenters, interviewers or presenters of any type of programme during the election period. BBC ODPS are not required to remove archive content for the election or referendum period.
6.7: Appearances by candidates (in UK elections) or representatives (of permitted participants in UK referendums) in non-political programmes that were planned or scheduled before the election or referendum period may continue, but no new appearances should be arranged and broadcast during the period. BBC ODPS are not required to remove archive content for the election or referendum period.
Constituency coverage and electoral area coverage in elections
(Rules 6.8 to 6.12 will only apply to S4C and/or the BBC if the relevant broadcaster has adopted them under the RPA as its Code of Practice.)
6.8: Due impartiality must be strictly maintained in a constituency report or discussion and in an electoral area report or discussion.
Meaning of “electoral area”
Electoral area (for example electoral division, borough ward or other area) is the local government equivalent to the parliamentary term “constituency”.
6.9: If a candidate takes part in an item about his/her particular constituency, or electoral area, then broadcasters must offer the opportunity to take part in such items to all candidates within the constituency or electoral area representing parties with previous significant electoral support or where there is evidence of significant current support. This also applies to independent candidates. However, if a candidate refuses or is unable to participate, the item may nevertheless go ahead.
6.10: Any constituency or electoral area report or discussion after the close of nominations must include a list of all candidates standing, giving first names, surnames and the name of the party they represent or, if they are standing independently, the fact that they are an independent candidate. This must be conveyed in sound and/or vision. Where a constituency report on a radio service is repeated on several occasions in the same day, the full list need only be broadcast on one occasion. If, in subsequent repeats on that day, the constituency report does not give the full list of candidates, the audience should be directed to an appropriate website or other information source listing all candidates and giving the information set out above.
6.11: Where a candidate is taking part in a programme on any matter, after the election has been called, s/he must not be given the opportunity to make constituency points, or electoral area points about the constituency or electoral area in which s/he is standing, when no other candidates will be given a similar opportunity.
6.12: If coverage is given to wider election regions, for example in elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly or London Assembly, then Rules 6.8 to 6.12 apply in offering participation to candidates. In these instances, all parties who have a candidate in the appropriate region should be listed in sound and/or vision, but it is not necessary to list candidates individually. However, any independent candidate who is not standing on a party list must be named. Where a report on a radio service is repeated on several occasions in the same day, the full list need only be broadcast on one occasion. If, in subsequent repeats on that day, the constituency report does not give the full list of candidates, the audience should be directed to an appropriate website or other information source listing all candidates and giving the information set out above.