Following the broadcasting code workshop, some attendees asked for clarification about the above point which can be found on the slides uploaded to the ‘acts, codes and rules’ page.
One attendee came away with the impression that ‘a candidate can’t talk about what they’d do in the constituency when on the air’.
John Glover at Ofcom responds: Briefly, there are special rules governing constituency reports during election times. If a candidate takes part in coverage about their own constituency, then each of the other candidates from the major parties must be given a chance to take part.
The warning to which you refer relates to a specific sort of circumstance, as outlined below: A government minister or opposition spokesman is perfectly entitled to make a general point about policy (e.g. health/education/immigration etc) in an election report on the national issues. But you need to remember that these people are also candidates standing for election in a specific constituency. If they illustrate a general policy point by making reference to something specifically related to their constituency, you could have a problem (e.g. I think the national policy on hospital closures is terrible – and in my own constituency I’m fighting to save the A and E at the local infirmary where jobs are on the line and the local voters are up in arms). That’s clearly turning a national point into a constituency matter – and the candidate’s major party opponents will need to be invited to respond if a broadcaster chose to run that clip.
If the candidate stuck to general policy, no problem. I’m sure you get the principle.
Another thing you should be careful about is candidates ringing into phone-in programmes to make constituency points. The same issues could apply, so there’s an obvious danger of putting them to air.
A response from a station was: I imagine we will mostly be approached by local prospective councillors. As they are aiming to be elected locally, how can a station avoid this sort of situation aside from ensuring each candidate is invited on?
John responded: The whole purpose of the Code in this area is to ensure fair treatment for all candidates in any electoral area. So, if a candidate is appearing in an item about their local ward in a council election, it is the case that other candidates from (at least) the major parties should be offered a similar opportunity to take part.
The council leader or the leader of another party is perfectly free to make general points about the local council – as are spokesmen/women on particular matters – but as soon as they refer to specific issues affecting their own electoral ward then the rules kick in, I’m afraid. It’s about being fair and impartial.