Could UK radio tell people how to vote in the forthcoming referendum?

By James Cridland for
Posted 7 March 2016, 5.04am est


As Britain sees a referendum on retaining membership of the EU - where, by law, broadcasters have to remain impartial - Australia may be going to the polls soon to decide about legalising gay marriage.

Unlike many countries, gay marriage is still unrecognised in Australia. Same-sex couples are prevented from marrying. Should they win an election later this year, the Australia Coalition Government has a promise: to take Australians to the polls in a "plebiscite", a vote to discover the will of the Australian people, with regard to a potential change. Unlike Britain, votes in Australia are mandatory.

As it's done in the past, Sydney's 2DAY FM changed its name to 2GayFM over the weekend, to support the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardis Gras. This year, the station also released an online campaign, led by breakfast hosts Rove and Sam, in a bid to support Marriage Equality. In a statement, the radio station said:

It’s 2016. Love is equal, but in Australia marriage is not. We call on all government officials to define marriage as a union of two people, no matter their sexuality. Stand with us. #ThisNeedsToChange.

A video was released on Facebook with many of 2DAY's stars promoting the campaign and arguing for equality.

In the UK, Ofcom rules on impartiality only apply to Ofcom licenced broadcasts. Radio station social media accounts don't fall under the rules of Ofcom - indeed, nor does internet radio broadcasting.

This overt political statement from an Australian broadcaster leads to an interesting question. Could UK radio stations and companies do the same during the EU referendum, if they wanted to, on social media and even within their online radio streams? If I was listening to a radio station, could a "split link" on FM contain entirely different content online? And would any radio companies care that much to try?

It's certainly one to watch...

More information

Sydney, NSW
James Cridland — James runs, and is a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. He also publishes a free daily newsletter about podcasting, Podnews, and a weekly radio trends newsletter.


5 years, 2 months ago

A few years ago, I was part of a community programme unit on a student radio station in Ayrshire. We got involved in the "Save Ayr Hospital A & E Unit" campaign.
The studio presenter announced periodically that the programme was on the campaign trail to save the A & E wing, while yours truly accompanied the protest march, interviewing local MPs, MSPs and other participants. We marched down Ayr's High Street and Sandgate to the County Buildings. There was a live feed of the ongoing March through to the campus radio studio.

Considering, the protest march had multi-political party support, we were allowed to do the campaign programme on the radio.

The EC membership referendum covering the UK is not supposed to be a partisan issue! Meaning that people from every political hue may either vote to stay in or out! Even in Scotland with a large support for the SNP, no one really does know how the Scots will vote!
The point being, if the EC membership referendum is deemed as non-political, individual programme campaigning should be allowed on a radio station. That is, as long as other individual programming either include "a right to reply" session or create a programme with an alternative view!

I do realise, broadcasting rules would be broken if campaigning was intended for the Scottish Parliamentary Elections on Thursday, May 5th!

5 years, 2 months ago

Interesting thought but it's Representation of the People Act, not just OFCOM impartiality. My understanding is a broadcaster's social media accounts WOULD fall under that. We won't know for sure until someone decides to test it, and it would be a very brave station who did.

5 years, 2 months ago

Willie - in an election or referendum campaign period a simple 'right of reply' isn't enough. There's specific legislation - 'The Representation of the People Act' which is in addition to any OFCOM guidelines.

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