Radio Cardiff has admitted to breaking four rules from Ofcom’s Broadcast Code, saying the content in question was ‘completely wrong’.
The breakfast show presenter on the community station interviewed Neil McEvoy, the Plaid Cymru candidate contesting the Cardiff West constituency in the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections.
But one listener objected to this candidate’s appearance when “no other party was invited onto the programme”.
The breakfast show presenter, in their defence, they said that they had not ever seen any of the Ofcom rules prior to Ofcom’s investigation in this case and apologised for this fact.
But Radio Cardiff challenged this, saying that the presenter had been provided with a “rough breakdown” of Ofcom’s election rules in its 11 April 2016 email that had been sent to all presenters.
The Licensee said it intended to provide “more in depth training available to all presenters in relation to pre-election periods in the future”. It added that it was “loath to lose an experienced and valued presenter” like the presenter of No Frills Breakfast in this case. Therefore, Radio Cardiff’s management meeting had decided not to dismiss the presenter, but to offer the presenter further training including on political objectivity and the importance of factual integrity, particularly in relation to preelection periods, if [the presenter] is agreeable”.
The presenter said that during the programme in question Neil McEvoy had “surprised me when he popped into the studio” to talk about a newspaper article that had been published that day. The presenter added that “Our conversation did digress into a chat about the Assembly election and I am not the kind of presenter who cuts guests off when they are venting their feelings about an issue”. However, the presenter said that “With Hindsight I have agreed with Radio Cardiff Management that I should have turned off his microphone and I apologise for not doing so”.
Neil McEvoy argued that he was invited to the station to take part in a breakfast show during the election campaign.
Ofcom’s published Guidance to Section Six of the Code states that there is no obligation on broadcasters to provide any election coverage. However, if broadcasters choose to cover election campaigns, they must comply with the rules set out in Section Six of the Code, and in particular the constituency and electoral area reporting requirements laid out in Rules 6.8 to 6.13 of the Code.
These specific rules apply to the broadcast of a particular constituency and electoral area report or discussion during an election period. Ofcom considers these rules to be particularly important because they reflect a statutory duty9 placed upon Ofcom, namely, to have in place a code of practice with respect to the participation of candidates in broadcast items at various elections. As such, we consider it a fundamental requirement upon Ofcom licensees that they should comply with Rules 6.8 to 6.13, if featuring candidates in broadcast items during elections.
Ofcom has decided the programme was in breach of rules 6.8, 6.9, 6.11 and 6.13.
Rule 6.8 requires that due impartiality is strictly maintained in a constituency report or discussion and in an electoral area report or discussion.
Rule 6.9 obliges broadcasters to ensure that if a candidate takes part in an item about his/her particular constituency, or electoral area, then candidates of each of the larger parties must be offered the opportunity to take part. The larger parties for any given election are listed in the Ofcom list of larger parties. For the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections, the larger parties were: the Conservative Party; the Labour Party; the Liberal Democrats; Plaid Cymru; and UKIP.
The relevant parts of Rule 6.11 require, in summary, that if a radio licensee broadcasts any constituency or electoral area report or discussion after the close of nominations it must include a list of all candidates standing, giving first names, surnames and the name of the party they represent. This rule goes on to set out what should happen if a constituency report on a radio service is repeated on several occasions in the same day.
The relevant parts of Rule 6.13 state, that if coverage is given to elections to the Welsh Assembly then Rules 6.8 to 6.12 apply in offering participation to candidates. In this instance, with a radio station, all parties who have a candidate in the appropriate region should be listed in sound although it is not necessary to list candidates individually.