Election Guidelines 2012
May 2012: Guidelines In Full
In this article
(Approved by the Editorial Standards Committee of the BBC Trust, 1st March 2012)
PLEASE NOTE: These Election Guidelines include a number of Appendices setting out information specific to the different elections and different parts of the UK, available here. It is important that these are also read and understood.
Election Campaigns for:
- Local Government in Scotland
- Local Government in Wales
- Local Government in England (outside GLA area)
- Greater London Authority (including Mayoral)
(There are no scheduled elections in Northern Ireland)
Polling Day: 3rd May 2012
Anyone requiring further advice on the application of these guidelines should consult the Chief Adviser Politics
1.1 The Election Period and when the Guidelines Come Into Effect
Please note that there are different Election Periods across the UK, beginning on three different dates:
The Election Period for the elections in the Greater London Authority, including the London Mayoral election, begins on 20th March 2012 (00.01).
The Election Period for the local government elections in Scotland begins on 22nd March 2012 (00.01)
The Election Period for the local government elections in England and Wales begins on 27th March 2012 (00.01).
The guidelines remain in effect throughout the UK until the close of polls at 10pm on 3rd May 2012.
However, election campaigning, especially in the London Mayoral election, will begin before the formal election period and content producers should be sensitive to the need for particular care in the period between now and then. Advice is available from the Chief Adviser, Politics.
There is no legal distinction, once the election has been called, between the periods before and after the close of nominations. It is now all referred to as the “Election Period” – there is no longer a “pending period”.
In Scotland, all 32 unitary authorities will hold elections using the Single Transferable Vote system. There are a total of 1,222 seats being contested.
In Wales, 21 of the 22 unitary authorities will hold elections using “First Past the Post” system. There are a total of 1,224 seats being contested.
In England (outside the Greater London Authority), elections using “First Past the Post”, take place in:
all 36 Metropolitan authorities (827^ seats contested)
74 District councils (1,106^ seats contested)
18 Unitary authorities (311^ seats contested)
There are a total of 2,244^ seats being contested in England (outside GLA).
In London: The election for London Mayor will be contested using the Supplementary Vote system. The election for the London Assembly uses the Additional Member system, electing 14 constituency members and 11 London-wide members to a total of 25 seats.
Please note: In addition to council elections on 3rd May 2012, there will be referendums in 11 cities in England asking whether each should have directly-elected Mayors. For advice on their coverage, contact the Chief Adviser, Politics.
1.3 The Guidelines
There is no area of broadcasting where the BBC’s commitment to due impartiality is more closely scrutinised than in reporting election campaigns.
These Guidelines are intended to offer a framework within which journalists:
- can operate in as free and creative an environment as possible,
- deliver to audiences impartial and independent reporting of the campaign, giving fair coverage, rigorous scrutiny and due weight to the policies and campaigns of all parties.
The BBC is also legally obliged to adopt a Code of Practice with respect to “the participation of candidates at a parliamentary or local government election in items about the constituency or electoral area in question which are included in relevant services during the election period”. This obligation is fulfilled by Section 4 of these Guidelines.
The BBC is also required, under the terms of its Charter and Agreement of 2006 to ensure that political issues are covered with due accuracy and impartiality. These Election Guidelines supplement the Editorial Guidelines (Chapter 4, “Impartiality and Diversity of Opinion” and Chapter 10, “Politics and Public Policy”). They should, in particular, be read in conjunction with the sections in Chapter 10 on “Reporting UK Election and Referendum Campaigns” and “Broadcasting During Elections”, which say we must ensure that:
- news judgements continue to drive editorial decision making in news based programmes.
- news judgements at election time are made within a framework of democratic debate which ensures that due weight is given to hearing the views and examining and challenging the policies of all parties. Significant smaller parties should also receive some network coverage during the campaign.
- when producing UK-wide output, we are aware of the different political structures in the four nations of the United Kingdom and that they are reflected in the election coverage of each nation.
The Guidelines (and the appendices for these particular elections) are publicly available and the BBC can expect to be held accountable for their implementation during the campaign.
1.4 Who the Guidelines Apply To
It is the responsibility of each editor to ensure that their content producers are aware of how the Guidelines and Appendices (“the Guidelines”) apply to their output.
These Guidelines apply to any programme or material intended for UK audiences, covering any aspect of the elections and to output areas within which elections are taking place.
Any programme which does not usually cover political subjects or normally invite politicians to participate must consult the Chief Adviser Politics before finalising any plans to do so.
The Appendices, at the end of the Guidelines, set out information specific to the different elections and different parts of the UK.
Each programme, strand, website or channel must bear in mind the intended location of its audience in applying these Guidelines. However, each election does not take place in isolation – for instance, broadcasters in Wales who report what is happening in the Scottish local elections (and vice-versa) need to bear in mind similarities or contrasts which may have a bearing on their own election. UK-wide output should consider that relative levels of coverage for each of the elections may have a bearing on due impartiality relating to some political parties.
Mandatory Issues and Referrals
2.1 During the Elections
- Any programme which does not usually cover political subjects or normally invite politicians to participate must consult the Chief Adviser Politics before finalising any plans to do so.
- All bids for interviews with party leaders must be referred to the Chief Adviser Politics before parties are approached. Offers of such interviews should also be referred before being accepted
- Any proposal to use a contribution from a politician without an opportunity for comment or response from other parties must be referred to a senior editorial figure and the Chief Adviser Politics. (see 3.5)
- Any proposal to achieve due impartiality over a series of different programmes across a station or channel must be referred to the Chief Adviser, Politics.
- The BBC will not commission voting intention polls
- Any proposal to commission an opinion poll on politics or any other matter of public policy for any BBC service must be referred to the Chief Adviser Politics for approval.
- There will be no online votes or SMS/text votes attempting to quantify support for a party, a politician or a party political policy issue.
- Any proposal to conduct text voting on any political issue that could have a bearing on any of the elections must be discussed with the Chief Adviser, Politics, as well as being referred to the relevant departmental senior editorial figure and ITACU.
- The BBC will not broadcast or publish numbers of e-mails, texts or other communications received on either side of any issue connected to the campaign.
2.2 Polling Day
opinion poll on any issue relating to the election may be published.
will be no coverage of any of the election campaigns on any BBC outlet.
- It is a criminal offence to broadcast anything about the way in which people have voted in the election.
Due Impartiality in Coverage of Parties and Issues
3.1 Coverage of the Parties
To achieve due impartiality, each bulletin, programme or programme strand, as well as online and interactive services, for each election, must ensure that the parties are covered proportionately over an appropriate period, normally across a week. This means taking into account levels of past and current electoral support (see guidance in Appendices).
Due impartiality should normally be achieved within these categories:
- interviews/discussions of up to 10 minutes
- longer form programmes
This does not preclude due impartiality from being otherwise achieved within a series of programmes across the station or channel. But such an arrangement needs clear sign-posting and must be referred to the Chief Adviser Politics.
Previous electoral support in equivalent elections must be taken into account when making judgements about the proportionate levels of coverage between parties.
Other factors should be taken into account where appropriate, including evidence of variation in levels of support in more recent elections, changed political circumstances (e.g. new parties or party splits) as well as other evidence of current support. The number of candidates a party is standing may also be a factor.
3.2 Impartiality in Programmes
Daily news magazine programmes (in the nations, regions and UK-wide) should normally achieve proportional and appropriate coverage within the course of each week of the campaign.
This means that each strand (e.g. a drive time show on radio) is responsible for achieving impartiality itself within the week and cannot rely on other outlets at different times of day (e.g. the breakfast show) to do so for it. This does not preclude programmes, in specific circumstances, from co-operating to organise joint coverage, thereby achieving due impartiality across the station or channel. But such an arrangement needs clear sign-posting and must be referred to the Chief Adviser, Politics.
Programme strands should avoid individual editions getting badly out of kilter. There may be days when inevitably one party dominates the news agenda, e.g. when party manifestos are launched, but in that case care must be taken to ensure that appropriate coverage is given to other manifesto launches on the relevant days.
The News Channel and television and radio summaries will divide the 24 hour day into blocks and aim to achieve due impartiality across a week’s output in each one.
Weekly programmes, or running series within daily sequence programmes, which focus on one party or another, should trail both forward and backwards so that it is clear to the audience that due impartiality is built in over time. In these instances, due impartiality should be achieved over the course of the campaign.
Any programme or content giving coverage to any of the elections must achieve due impartiality overall among parties during the course of the whole campaign.
In all elections, the BBC must take care to prevent candidates being given an unfair advantage, for instance, where a candidate’s name is featured through depicting posters or rosettes etc.
Anyone who is in doubt as to how this applies to their own content should contact the Chief Adviser, Politics, for advice.
3.3 Coverage of Other Political Issues, Parliaments and Councils in the UK During the Election Period.
The elections do not happen in isolation and other elected bodies may well continue their normal activity during the campaign. Content producers need to comply with the general requirement of due accuracy and due impartiality, aware of the possible influence of any other political coverage on the election campaigns.
This applies to all Westminster reporting during the campaign, as well as the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the European Parliament. Some council business will also continue during the election period. These should continue to be covered in the normal way, though any issues relating to local government in England, Scotland, or Wales or the GLA which are discussed must be reported with care to maintain due impartiality.
All content producers need to bear in mind which issues are within the remit of the different bodies and ensure it is clear to the audience when stories have a bearing on an election. They also should be alert to other party politicians who are not involved directly in the elections, including ministers and shadow ministers at Westminster, intervening in issues relevant to any of the elections and ensure that due impartiality is maintained. Some members of Parliaments or councils may also be candidates in the elections; care should be taken to ensure that unfair advantage is not derived from their other political roles.
Where there are other major news stories, special care is needed to ensure that any political element is covered comprehensively, but also reflects the fact that we are in an election period. How this is achieved will depend on the particular circumstances of each case. For example, where there are major stories which fall outside inter-party rivalry, due impartiality may be achieved by allocating more time than would otherwise be given to those politicians most closely involved, to report fully statements that tell the audience what is happening, and, on occasion, to reflect vigorous internal debates within parties on such issues.
3.4 Order of Parties
The order in which parties appear in packages or are introduced in discussions should normally be editorially driven. However, programme makers should take care to ensure they vary this order, where appropriate, so that no fixed pattern emerges in the course of the campaign.
3.5 Items Which May Not Require Contributions from Other Parties or Candidates
In exceptional circumstances, comments from politicians can stand alone, without any other political contribution, where to use one might appear insensitive or risk the appearance of a media circus. This might include interviews about a personal tragedy, a public disaster, or where the politician concerned is an eye witness to a news incident. Any proposal to use a comment in this way must be referred to a senior editorial figure and the Chief Adviser, Politics.
Fairness to Candidates - Code of Practice
4.1 Reports on Specific Electoral Areas (Constituencies or Wards)
Candidates or parties declining to take part in constituency/ward reports or debates cannot, by doing so, effectively exercise a veto over such coverage.
However, this does not weaken in any way the BBC’s obligations of fairness in ensuring the audience is informed of all main strands of argument.
Reports or debates about a specific electoral area, such as a council ward or the GLA area, should give due weight to candidates of parties which have demonstrated substantial electoral support in that area. This means that if any candidate takes part in an item about a specific electoral area, then a candidate from each of those parties should also be offered the opportunity to take part.
Constituency/ward reports or debates should also include some participation from candidates representing any other parties or independents with either previous substantial electoral support, or with evidence of substantial current support in that constituency/ward.
Programmes may decide to use either candidates or party representatives. But if a candidate from one of the parties is invited to take part, the other participants should, where at all possible, also be candidates (see below 4.3 Welsh and Gaelic Language Services). In exceptional circumstances, if a candidate is genuinely unavailable, the opportunity may be offered instead to a suitable party representative from within the electoral area (e.g. party official or agent) but it should normally be made clear to the audience that the missing candidate was invited and why they were unable to take part. If a party declines to put forward any representative the item/programme will go ahead without them.
Fuller-length reports (e.g. 3 or 4 minute packages) about specific electoral areas should refer – as a minimum - to an online list of all candidates and parties standing (especially in local elections, it is important to ensure an appropriate list exists). If such a report is being broadcast several times on the same channel in a day, the online list of candidates should be referred to on each occasion and at least once the list should feature visually or verbally. For longer items, especially where only major candidates are receiving significant coverage, such as debates – or, where there is no online list available for the relevant electoral area - then the candidates should be listed, visually or verbally.
Content producers must ensure generally that candidates are not given an unfair advantage; for instance, camera operators should take care where a candidate’s name is featured prominently through depicting posters or rosettes etc.
Where candidates have other roles – political or non-political - care should be taken to ensure that they do not gain an unfair advantage in the election campaign over other candidates.
Before the close of nominations, content producers need to ensure due impartiality in regard to contributors who may have expressed an intention or who are expected to stand as a candidate.
Reports referring to the list of candidates before the close of nominations should make it clear that these are “known candidates so far.”
4.2 Use of Candidates in Issue Based Packages and Phone Ins
As well as debates or other items using candidates within constituencies or wards, all types of content may use candidates from different regions, constituencies or wards to discuss together election issues.
When programmes or other items decide to use a candidate in a package or debate, the other participants should, where at all possible, also be candidates in the same election. (see 4.3 Welsh and Gaelic Language Services,). In local issue round-table debates – including where all the participants are candidates – reasonable references, for instance, to local hospitals, schools, etc, are allowed.
In order to maintain due impartiality, the choice of parties represented should be appropriate to the item. The choice of candidate to represent a party will be made on editorial grounds, but care must be taken over the course of the campaign to ensure that one candidate is not unduly favoured at the expense of others or that a party spokesperson does not gain disproportionate coverage at the expense of candidates from other parties.
If a candidate is being interviewed as a national spokesperson, they should not be allowed to gain an unfair advantage over their local opponents by making repeated references to their own area.
This can best be achieved by advising them in advance of the BBC’s due impartiality obligations. If this fails, swift intervention by the presenter of a live programme, or editing before broadcast, will be necessary.
Callers to phone-ins must be checked to see if they are candidates. They can be encouraged to contribute, though it must be clear to the audience that they are speaking not as ordinary members of the public but as contributors with a political agenda. Care must be taken that over time programmes are not giving undue prominence to one party or undue preference to one candidate over another.
The intention of these guidelines is to encourage vigorous debate and to give a higher profile to candidates of all parties in general without giving unfair advantage to one candidate or party over another.
Further advice on use of candidates can be sought from the Chief Adviser, Politics.
4.3 Welsh and Gaelic Language Services
Some politicians in Wales are not Welsh language speakers. In the event that a party is unable to find a Welsh speaker, Radio Cymru and BBC Wales programmes for S4C may draw on both candidates and other party representatives.
Few politicians are Gaelic speakers. In the event that a party is unable to find a Gaelic speaking candidate, Radio nan Gaidheal and BBC Alba programmes may draw on both candidates and other party representatives.
The same guidelines as those for programmes will apply to BBC Editorial content on all bbc.co.uk sites. These will apply to audio and video content as well as text content, e.g. blogs, podcasts and downloads, as well as any social networking which is associated with the BBC, including third party sites.
With user generated content, we must not seek to achieve what might be considered “artificial” impartiality by giving a misleading account of the weight of opinion. All sites prompting debate on the election will be actively hosted and properly moderated to encourage a wide range of views. Sites which do not usually engage in political issues should seek advice from the Chief Adviser, Politics, before doing so.
There is no certain solution to the problem of organised lobbying. However, all sites must be alert to the danger of distortion caused by organised campaigning and the bbc.co.uk escalation strategy will be activated immediately if necessary. For example, it may be necessary to put a board into premoderation or read-only mode.
There will be no online votes attempting to quantify support for a party, politician or policy issue during the election period.
Non news websites will direct users who want to discuss the election in forums, message boards and blog comments, to a handful of specific sites which will be premoderated or postmoderated within an hour of being published.
Journalists and moderators will have to make fine judgements between remarks that constitute robust debate and personal abuse. The general rule of thumb should be if we would not broadcast it on radio or TV, it should not be online. Filters for harm and offence and personal abuse will operate as usual, but they should not be relied on as a substitute for effective moderation.
BBC News Online and Regional sites will list links to all available party sites, provided that it does not give strong grounds for concern that this breaches the BBC harm and offence guidelines http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/page/guidelines-harm-introduction/ or the law e.g. defamation or incitement to racial hatred.
News Online will not link to the sites of individual candidates, unless there is a strong editorial justification on news grounds and then only for a limited period (e.g. a row caused by a prominent figure publishing policy on his/her website contradicting the manifesto on the party’s website).
Any speeches which are carried in full will be selected on news value, while bearing in mind that due impartiality requires that an appropriate range of speeches are carried.
Polls and Other Tests of Opinion
Section 6 of the Election Guidelines should, where appropriate, be read in conjunction with Chapter 10 of Editorial Guidelines and the Editorial Policy Guidance “Opinion Polls, Surveys, Questionnaires, Votes, Straw Polls”, available on the Editorial Policy website. http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/page/guidelines-politics-practices-opinion/
6.1 Reporting Polls
During the campaign our reporting of opinion polls should take into account three key factors:
- they are part of the story of
the campaign and audiences should, where appropriate, be informed about
- context is essential, and we must ensure the accuracy and appropriateness of the language used in reporting them;
- polls can be wrong - there are real dangers in only reporting the most “newsworthy” polls – i.e. those which, on a one-off basis, show dramatic movement.
So, the general rules and guidance about reporting polls need to be scrupulously followed. They are:
- not to lead a news bulletin or programme simply with the results of a voting intention poll;
- not to headline the results of a voting intention poll unless it has prompted a story which itself deserves a headline and reference to the poll’s findings is necessary to make sense of it;
- not to rely on the interpretation given to a poll’s results by the organisation or publication which commissioned it, but to come to our own view by looking at the questions, the results and the trend;
- to report the findings of voting intentions polls in the context of trend. The trend may consist of the results of all major polls over a period or may be limited to the change in a single pollster’s findings. Poll results which defy trends without convincing explanation should be treated with particular scepticism and caution;
- not to use language which gives greater credibility to the polls than they deserve: polls “suggest” but never “prove” or even “show”;
- to report the expected margin of error if the gap between the contenders is within the margin. On television and online, graphics should always show the margin of error;
- to report the organisation which carried out the poll and the organisation or publication which commissioned it;
Take particular care with newspaper reviews. Polls should not be the lead item in a newspaper review and should always be reported with a sentence of context (e.g: “that’s rather out of line with other polls this week”).
No opinion poll on any subject relating to politics or the election may be published on polling day until after the polls have closed.
6.2 Commissioning Polls
The BBC does not commission voting intention opinion polls during election periods. Editorial Guidelines say “any proposal to commission an opinion poll on politics or any other matter of public policy for any BBC service must be referred to the Chief Adviser Politics for approval”.
Care must be taken to ensure that any poll commissioned by the BBC is not used to suggest a BBC view on a particular policy or issue. A poll may be commissioned to help inform the audience’s understanding of a current controversy, but it should not be used to imply BBC intervention in a current controversy.
6.3 Vox Pops
The value of vox pops to programmes is to allow different sides of an issue in question to be expressed through the voices of the man and woman in the street. But the context should always make it clear that they are an expression of an argument, not an indication of the weight of opinion on either side. It follows that special care must be taken with vox pops during an election campaign, for instance, to give consideration to the location in which they are recorded and to edit them in such a way as to ensure different aspects of the issue are covered.
The same principle applies to all e-mails we broadcast. E-mails offer immediacy and interactivity to many programmes, but they too are an expression of opinion, not an indication of the weight of opinion on one side or the other of a question. The range of emails selected for broadcast must reflect due impartiality, not the weight of those we receive.
Content producers should be particularly alert to organised e-mail campaigns by parties and pressure groups. If mass mailings are suspected during the Election Period, e-mail contributors may be asked to include their address and telephone number so that checks can be run purely for that purpose.
During the Election Period, we will not broadcast or publish numbers of e-mails received on either side of any issue connected to the campaign.
6.5 SMS / Text Messaging
Similarly, programme-makers should be as rigorous about establishing the origins of material derived from text messages as they are about material from other sources. We should carefully scrutinize texts before using them.
Essentially, this is no different from a phone-in programme. Just as with a phone in, producers must take appropriate steps to ensure veracity of the message e.g. if a text message is received that appears to be from a person in the public eye, the programme should check the source before publishing it on air/online. Checks could include calling/texting the user back to ask for further verification.
If the programme decides to edit a text message for length, care should be taken to ensure the sender’s opinion is still fairly and accurately presented.
Producers must ensure that text votes are not translated into anything that could be construed either as a representation of public opinion as a whole, or the BBC’s opinion. Any proposal to conduct text voting on any political issue that could have a bearing on any of the elections must be discussed with the Chief Adviser, Politics, as well as being referred to the relevant departmental senior editorial figure and ITACU. (As with commissioned polls, the BBC will not conduct SMS/text votes on voting intention).
6.6 Audience Programmes
Any programme covering elections and planning to use a live audience should consult the Chief Adviser Politics to discuss the selection of the audience and how to achieve due impartiality. All such procedures must stand up to public scrutiny.
Party Leader Interviews
With the exception of brief newsgathering interviews gathered on news value on the day, all bids for party leader interviews must be referred to the Chief Adviser Politics before parties are approached. Unsolicited offers should not be accepted without consultation with senior managers and a reference to the Chief Adviser Politics.
There will be no coverage of any of the election campaigns on polling day, from 6am until polls close at 10pm on TV, radio or bbc.co.uk. However, online sites will not have to remove archive reports. Coverage will be restricted to factual accounts with nothing which could be construed as influencing the ballots.
No opinion poll on any issue relating to politics or the election may be published until after the polls have closed.
Whilst the polls are open, it is a criminal offence to broadcast anything about the way in which people have voted in that election.
9.1 Complaints Handling
Complaints will be handled at the appropriate level from programme editors upwards. The aim is to ensure that whether a complaint has come via BBC Information, direct to a programme or to a correspondent or individual journalist, from a politician or member of the public (who may or may not be a political activist), from a senior party official or an individual candidate, the BBC’s response is consistent, robust and swift. For that reason, normally, on first receiving a formal complaint, details should be taken and referred to the appropriate person before any initial response – other than a timescale - is given to the complainant.