Section 10: Politics, Public Policy and Polls
Broadcasting During Elections
The BBC's commitment to impartiality and fairness is under intense scrutiny when reporting election campaigns. Political parties are likely to seek to influence editorial decisions.
Programme makers and other content producers should take all complaints seriously and be aware that anything they say may be construed as "BBC policy". It should be explained to complainants that general complaints or allegations of bias must always be dealt with at a higher level, and the complaint should then be referred accordingly.
We should make, and be able to defend, our editorial decisions on the basis that they are reasonable and carefully reached, with due impartiality. To achieve this 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 way in which due impartiality is achieved between parties will vary, depending on the format, output and platform. It may be done in a single item, a single programme, a series of programmes or items, or over the course of the campaign as a whole. But programme makers and content producers must take responsibility for achieving due impartiality in their own output and not rely on other BBC content or services to redress any imbalance for them.
Reporting UK Election and Referendum Campaigns
The BBC is required by law to adopt a code of practice at each election to govern the participation of candidates in each constituency or electoral area. In doing so, the BBC is required to "have regard to any views expressed by the Electoral Commission".
Election and referendum guidelines for TV, radio and online coverage, including message boards, will be drawn up by Chief Adviser Politics, agreed by the BBC Trust and published before each campaign.
On polling day the BBC, in common with other broadcasters, will cease to report campaigns from 06.00 until the polls close. Coverage will be restricted to uncontroversial factual accounts, such as the appearance of politicians at polling stations or the weather. Subjects which have been at issue or part of the campaign, or other controversial matters relating to the election, must not receive coverage on polling day, to ensure that nothing in the BBC's output can be construed as influencing the ballot while the polls are open.
Reporting Overseas Elections
The principles of fairness and due impartiality that underlie our coverage of UK elections should also inform our election reporting in other countries. When we report elections overseas we may need to take into account the circumstances under which the particular election is being held, especially where serious questions are raised about the openness or fairness of the electoral process.
Additional issues may arise when BBC content is aimed at an audience within the country where an election is taking place. We owe a special responsibility to audiences who are about to vote. We may need to consider the timing of the re-transmission on international services of programmes originally made for the UK audience. The closer to the election date, the greater the need for care. If it is considered that a programme could have an undue and unfair influence on the election, then we should delay transmission until after polling.
Legal Issues and Overseas Elections
UK electoral law does not apply to elections outside the UK, but other countries may have specific laws applying to broadcasting during their elections. Where BBC content is broadcast specifically to that country there may be legal issues to consider.
In some countries, legal election requirements may come into conflict with the BBC's fundamental editorial principles, especially those of fairness and impartiality. In such cases, the BBC will maintain the editorial principles in its output even if that means the local broadcaster refuses to transmit the BBC content or service. This is particularly important for BBC World Service, BBC World and BBC Online, which all reach overseas audiences.