The Broadcasting Act 1989 contains special rules for the broadcasting of election programmes on television and radio. A summary of how these rules apply to MPs is provided in this section.
Part 6 of the Broadcasting Act governs how and when radio and television can be used in election campaigns. You need to carefully consider whether any broadcasting that you are involved in falls under the definition of ‘election programme’ for the purposes of the Broadcasting Act.
The definition of an election programme covers any programme that:
- appears to encourage or persuade voters to vote or not vote for a party or candidate, or
- advocates support for or opposes a candidate or party, or
- notifies meetings held or to be held in connection with an election.
These restrictions do not apply to programmes initiated by a broadcaster e.g. editorial content, news, comment, current affairs, entertainment, documentaries etc. or to programmes broadcast for any person other than a party or candidate. (The Electoral Commission v Watson & Anor 2016)
An election programme can only be broadcast during the ‘election period’ which is the period from writ day to the day before the election (23 August to 22 September). It is prohibited to broadcast an election programme at any other time. During the election period, a party can only use money allocated by the Electoral Commission to broadcast election programmes.
During the election period, a candidate can only promote his or her own election. A candidate broadcast cannot feature more than one candidate.
Although the party name and policies can be mentioned, an electorate candidate cannot encourage the party vote, promote the party’s list or attack other parties or candidates.
Radio advertisements publicising constituency services
If you advertise your constituency services on radio, particular care needs to be taken once you have announced your intention of standing as an electorate candidate. You need to ensure the advertising does not fall within the definition of an election programme because of content that directly or indirectly appears to encourage or persuade voters to vote for you as a candidate.
The Commission would recommend you review the content of your regular radio advertisements, and avoid the use of by-lines, for example.
If in doubt you can seek advice from the Commission. We are happy to review your scripts.