Thursday, 22 November 2012

Media Law, Lecture 8, Year Three - Electoral law, TV and Radio

Our eight lecture in Media Law looked at electoral law, including topics on how to cover events and proceedings during such times and the importance of producing fair and accurate reports.

Why does reporting the elections matter? It matters because we, as journalists, have a duty to deliver news to the public on national and local issues. It's a powerful position to be in, because the content journalists produce during the election process can sway voters. A local political story certainly may not always prove to be the most exciting package to put together, but for potential local voters accurate coverage is vital. 

Image: Courtesy of
Naturally, when reporting on local politics and electoral proceedings, it's essential to maintain balance and accuracy. Fairness and impartiality are also key. For more on guidelines and codes of conduct, visit my blog post here: 

There are a number of notable differences between print journalism and broadcast journalism when it comes to publishing content related to elections.

In broadcast, there are strict regulations ensuring that if a story on the subject is aired, each major candidate gets an equal amount of time on screen. As was said during the lecture, "Keep your eye on the clock". If, for example, a reporter had interviewed two of the three major political party candidates for a package, the package couldn't air if a third interview with the final candidate wasn't included. To broadcast such a package without balance is very dangerous. 

A recent package put together by the BBC on the Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner debate, for example, featured interview grabs from every candidate. 

OFCOM defines the UK's 'major parties' on its website, stating:

At present, "major parties" in Great Britain are defined as: the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, and the Liberal Democrats and, in Scotland and Wales respectively, the Scottish National Party ("SNP") and Plaid Cymru. The major parties in Northern Ireland are: the Democratic Unionist PartySinn Fein, the Social Democratic & Labour Party, and the Ulster Unionist Party".

It's also worth noting that minor major party candidates who may end up being influential should be included in the VT.

Image: Public Domain
Print journalism is a little different to broadcast when it comes to electoral rules and regulations. As you can see from the image above, newspapers are able to have clear political allegiances, which is something that broadcast strictly forbids. 

Case Example: Phil Woolas, former Immigration Minister - 2010

During the lecture, we discussed the case of Phil Woolas. Mr Woolas, the former Immigration Minister, was removed from his parliamentary role after being found knowingly producing false information about his Lib Dem opponent at the time.

Originally, Woolas won the election by 103 votes. Liberal Democrat Elwyn Watkins said that Woolas had intentionally misled Oldham East voters in order to win the election.

One of the leaflets backing Woolas stated: "Extremists are trying to hijack this election. They want you to vote Lib Dem to punish Phil for being strong on immigration".

The high court ruled that Mr Woolas had broken election laws by incorrectly claiming that his Lib Dem opponent was receiving support from Muslim extremists. When the 2010 parliamentary poll was overturned in an electoral court, this marked the first time such a move had been made for 99 years.

Woolas lost his seat in the Commons and was barred for three years.


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