Regulator Ofcom has issued a warning to all stations about following the guidelines for upcoming elections, or face a statutory sanction.
Various elections are taking place on May 5th across the UK, and in addition, the UK’s referendum for remaining in or leaving the EU will be taking place on 23 June 2016.
Ofcom is reminding all broadcasters that great care needs to be taken when broadcasting election-related or referendum-related programming. In particular, Ofcom says broadcasters should ensure that they comply with Section Five (Due Impartiality) and Section Six (Elections and Referendums) of the Code, as well as the prohibition of political advertising contained in section 321 of the Communications Act 2003 and reflected as Section 7 of the BCAP Code.
An updated version of the Ofcom list of larger parties will be published ahead of the elections.
In relation to the elections being contested on 5 May 2016, the rules in Section Six of the Code will apply when the “election period” commences, which will be as follows for the different categories of elections:
- London Assembly and Mayor of London: 21 March 2016.
- Scottish Parliament: 24 March 2016.
- National Assembly for Wales: 6 April 2016.
- Northern Ireland Assembly: 30 March 2016.
- English local (and mayoral) government: 30 March 2016.
- Police and Crime Commissioners: 30 March 2016.
In relation to the EU referendum, the rules in Section Six of the Code will apply when the “referendum period” commences, which will be on 15 April 2016.
Ofcom will consider any breach arising from election-related programming or referendum-related programming to be potentially serious, and will consider taking regulatory action, as appropriate, in such cases, including considering the imposition of a statutory sanction. If a complaint is made which raises a substantive issue concerning due impartiality during the election period or referendum period, and in Ofcom’s opinion the complaint, if upheld, might require redress before the election, it will be considered by Ofcom’s Election Committee.
The regulator says: “In such circumstances, it will be necessary for Ofcom to act expeditiously in order to determine the outcome of any such complaints in a proportionate and transparent manner before the election.
“Given this, Ofcom may expedite any investigation carried out in relation to potential breaches of the impartiality provisions of the Code during the election period or referendum period and broadcasters should be prepared to engage with Ofcom on short timescales.
“Broadcasters should note that, following a public Consultation, Ofcom will soon be publishing an updated version of the Ofcom list of larger parties ahead of the elections taking place on 5 May 2016. Broadcasters should consult the list of larger parties to ensure that any election-related programming complies with Section Six of the Code.”