Insights Election Programming: Ofcom publishes note to broadcasters


Ofcom has published a note to broadcasters in advance of the UK General Election on 4 July 2024, reminding them that their content must comply with the “due impartiality, due accuracy and special election rules in the Broadcasting Code”.

The note makes clear that all broadcasters are expected to comply with the rules for election-related programming, and particular attention is drawn to Sections Five and Six of the Broadcasting Code which relate to ‘due impartiality’ and ‘elections and referendums’ respectively. It explains that “the highest level of due impartiality applies during election periods and we are likely to consider breaches of Sections Five and Six in election programming as serious. In any such cases we have a wide range of statutory sanctions available from imposing a financial penalty, directing a licensee to broadcast a correction or statement of Ofcom’s findings through to revocation of a licence in the most serious cases.”

Ofcom will have a dedicated Election Committee which will consider any complaints relating to due impartiality on both news and non-news programming and, in an effort to expedite the assessment and investigation of election programming, it warns broadcasters to be prepared to engage with it on short timetables. It also refers broadcasters to recent notes about the heightened Code requirements that apply to election programming (which can be found here and here).

The note also makes specific reference to Rule 6.6. of the Code which states that “Candidates in UK elections, and representatives of permitted participants in UK referendums, must not act as news presenters, interviewers or presenters of any type of programme during the election period”. In addition, Rule 5.3 states that “No politician may be used as a newsreader, interviewer or reporter in any news programmes unless, exceptionally, it is editorially justified. In that case, the political allegiance of that person must be made clear to the audience”.

Ofcom advises that programmes can contain both news and current affairs content, and where the line is drawn in relation to any programme will depend on a number of factors, including its content and format. It refers to recent guidance published by Ofcom on this subject in the light of a number of high-profile complaints (discussed here) and warns that Ofcom is likely to view breaches of the due impartiality rules in election programming presented by non-standing politicians as serious.