You can complain directly to the BSA about an election programme that you consider breaches the Election Programmes Code
Election programmes are broadcast on television or radio during the general election period or a by-election and usually appear as short promotional/campaign clips for political parties or candidates.
Complaints about other programmes that relate to an election (eg news and current affairs coverage, satire or comment) should be made under the Radio, Free-to-Air or Pay Television Codes and sent directly to the broadcaster.
Some deadlines apply
- You have 60 working days from the date of broadcast of an election programme to complain directly to the BSA about a breach of the Election Programmes Code.
- If your complaint relates to a programme which is about the election but is not an election programme, you only have 20 working days from the date of the broadcast to complain directly to the broadcaster.
The BSA’s role is to address complaints about the content of ‘election programmes’ broadcast on TV or radio, and to determine whether they breach the Election Programmes Code (section 8(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1989). These complaints are made directly to the BSA. The BSA will endeavour to deal with election programme complaints as quickly as possible, after giving the parties involved an opportunity to comment.
Only general elections or by-elections for members of the House of Representatives are covered. Local body elections are not covered by this Code.
The BSA also considers complaints about the content of other programmes which may relate to the election (eg, broadcast news and current affairs coverage, satire and comment), under the Radio, Free-to-Air TV or Pay TV Codes. These complaints must first be made to the broadcaster, and then can be referred to the BSA if the complainant is dissatisfied with the response.
The BSA does not consider complaints about compliance with requirements such as promoter statements, written authorisation, allocation of funding, timing of broadcasting, or expense limits. These are dealt with by the Electoral Commission.
Section 69(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 defines an election programme as a programme that is broadcast on TV or radio during an ‘election period’ and:
- encourages or persuades, or appears to encourage or persuade voters to vote, or not to vote, for a
political party or the election of a constituency candidate; or
- advocates support for, or opposes, a constituency candidate or political party; or
- notifies meetings held or to be held in connection with an election.
Usually, election programmes will appear as short promotional / campaign clips broadcast on TV or on radio, for political parties or constituency candidates.
The Court of Appeal has held that election programmes are only those that are broadcast for political parties or candidates – and not programmes initiated by broadcasters or other third parties.
This means that other programmes about election matters that are broadcast on TV and radio, including news, comment or current affairs in relation to an election, are not ‘election programmes’ and are not subject to the Election Programmes Code. For example, if a comedy programme aired on television in the lead-up to the election included a skit featuring or parodying a particular party and candidate, it would not be considered an election programme. If a political documentary aired on television shortly before the election, which commented on a party’s track record on a contestable policy issue, this also would not be considered an election programme.
These programmes must however comply with the relevant broadcasting standards for Radio, Free-to-Air TV or Pay TV.
If the item is a third party-initiated ‘election advertisement’, it may be subject to the requirements under the Electoral Act (for which the Electoral Commission has responsibility), and any complaints about the content of such an advertisement may be made to the Advertising Standards Authority.
Complaints about the content of TV or radio programmes that relate to the election, that are not election programmes or election advertisements, can be considered by the broadcaster under the relevant broadcasting code of practice (Radio, Free-to-Air TV or Pay TV), and then referred to the BSA if the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome.