Why radio and TV can't talk about politics on polling day

By James Cridland for
Posted 22 June 2016, 9.33pm edt

James Cridland

Ofcom is blamed for many things by broadcasters. It's particularly blamed when broadcasters might want to express a point of view - erroneously, in many cases, since Ofcom actually requires overall balance but doesn't require presenters not to have their own views.

But on polling day, like the recent EU referendum, you'll hear almost nothing. There'll be no phone-in conversations on it; no coverage of what individual parties say. No analysts, no talking-heads, no arguments, no point-scoring.

The entire coverage is limited to facts: the polls are open; people are voting; look: here's a picture of a politician voting; the polls are open until 10.00pm tonight, that sort of thing. (Actually, the polls are open until everyone who arrived at the polling station before 10.00pm has had a chance to vote, as if this post wasn't boring enough.)

Anyway - the blame doesn't lie with Ofcom: it's a law passed by the UK Parliament. Ofcom has to ensure that broadcasters follow the law; it doesn't set the law. So, it isn't Ofcom's "fault".

While Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights allows freedom of expression, it's careful to highlight that it may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society. And the UK laws are laid down by the Representation of the People Act 1983 (as amended).

So, the rules are:

6.4 Discussion and analysis of election and referendum issues must finish when the poll opens.

6.5 Broadcasters may not publish the results of any opinion poll on polling day itself until the election or referendum poll closes.

The polls open at 7.00am, and from that time, no discussion should occur on UK media other than simple reporting of facts.

If you, personally, break the law you can be fined up to £5,000 or even get six months in prison; and broadcasters could get their licences removed if they break the law.

Online, you can tell people how to vote, though. Or, merely, to vote. Which you should.

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Disclosure: I'm not a media lawyer.

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.


6 years, 3 months ago

In the RF, there's a law requiring a 'silent day' - the day immediately before the polling one.
Few people care about law at all in Russia though. Savages.

8 months, 3 weeks ago

Well, I didn't expect this link to be so useful. Now I know how to juggle everything. Probably now is the time to go to college. God, I can't wait to get started!

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