Ofcom statement on party election broadcasts

16 March 2015

Ofcom has today published a statement on broadcasting rules ahead of the General Election, English local and mayoral elections on 7 May 2015.

Ofcom's role, under duties set by Parliament, is to set rules for a minimum allocation of short party election broadcasts. There is a long-standing ban on political advertising on TV or radio in the UK. Instead, free airtime is provided in the form of short party election broadcasts, which allow qualifying parties an opportunity to communicate directly with the electorate.

Ofcom's rules cover party election broadcasts appearing on ITV, STV, UTV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Classic FM, Talksport and Absolute Radio.

Ofcom has assessed evidence of public support in previous elections and trends in opinion polling data up to and including February 2015. On the basis of significant levels of support, Ofcom has decided which parties are entitled to a minimum of two party election broadcasts on each of the relevant channels. Parties standing candidates in at least one sixth of seats at the General Election must also be offered a minimum of one party election broadcast on each of these channels.

Beyond these minimum requirements, the broadcasters are free to make their own judgements as to the number of party election broadcasts offered to political parties. During the last General Election, broadcasters allocated more than the required minimum of party election broadcasts, details of which can be found here.

Ofcom does not determine the structure, format or timing of any possible TV leaders’ election debates. The decisions on which leaders are represented in any broadcast debates are editorial matters for broadcasters in agreement with the political parties taking part.

Ofcom also sets rules ensuring due weight and impartiality is given to parties in broadcast coverage of the elections. Ofcom assesses compliance with these rules once those programmes have been broadcast.

Party election broadcasts on the BBC are regulated by the BBC Trust. The BBC Election Guidelines are published here.

Following a public consultation launched in January 2015, Ofcom has today published a statement confirming its proposals.

Party election broadcasts for the 'major parties'

In its consultation, Ofcom considered whether the existing ‘major parties’ should remain on the list and whether the Green Party (including the Scottish Green Party), Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) and UKIP should be added to the list of parties entitled to a minimum allocation of two party election broadcasts.

After carefully assessing consultation responses, evidence of electoral performance and trends in opinion polling data up to and including February 2015, Ofcom has added UKIP to the list in England and Wales for the May 2015 elections.

Based on the evidence, the Green Party (including the Scottish Green Party) and TUV have not been added to the list on this occasion.

 As a result, those parties entitled to a minimum of two party election broadcasts are:

  • In Great Britain, the Conservative Party; the Labour Party; and the Liberal Democrats.
  • In Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP).
  • In Wales, Plaid Cymru.
  • In Northern Ireland, the Alliance Party; the Democratic Unionist Party; Sinn Fein; the Social Democratic and Labour Party; and the Ulster Unionist Party.
  • In England and Wales, UKIP.

Broadcasters must also offer a minimum of one party election broadcast to other parties standing candidates in at least one sixth of seats at the General Election. Beyond these minimum requirements, broadcasters are required to consider offering further party election broadcasts if evidence of past electoral support or opinion polling data means it would be appropriate to do so.

It is also important to note that ‘major parties’ do not automatically receive the same amount of coverage.

Evidence assessed

Ofcom is an evidence-based regulator and has carefully assessed all relevant evidence of support, including:

  • previous electoral performance, including an analysis of share of vote alongside seats won; and
  • trends in opinion polling data up to and including February 2015.

Ofcom has taken responses to its consultation into account, including calls for political party membership and the reported growth in membership of the Green Party, the Scottish Green Party and the SNP, to be considered as part of Ofcom’s evidence base.

As party membership remains a very small proportion of the total electorate, Ofcom concluded it was not as robust an indicator of wider support for the various parties as previous electoral performance and opinion polling data.

Ofcom's assessment also recognises that certain political parties field candidates across Great Britain, while other parties field candidates principally in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

A summary of the evidence in relation to the Green Party (including the Scottish Green Party), TUV and UKIP is available below.

Next steps

The relevant broadcasters must ensure that those listed as ‘major parties’ should be offered at least two party election broadcasts in the run up to the General Election and English local and mayoral elections on 7 May 2015.

Parties standing candidates in at least one sixth of seats at the General Election must also be offered a minimum of one party election broadcast on each of these channels.

Broadcasters must also ensure that appropriate weight and impartiality is afforded to all parties in broadcast coverage. 

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

In relation to the Green Party (including the Scottish Green Party), the TUV and UKIP the evidence is by way of summary:

  • 1. The Green Party (including the Scottish Green Party) 

The Green Party did not demonstrate significant electoral support in the 2010 General Election, achieving 1% of the vote in England and one Westminster seat. The party has performed more strongly in some other forms of election, such as the 2014 European Parliamentary elections, obtaining 8.0% and 8.1% of the vote in England and Scotland respectively.

In terms of evidence of current support, the Green Party’s opinion poll rating has increased over the last two to three years from an average of 3% in May 2012 to an average high of 7% in February 2015 in Great-Britain wide opinion polls.

In terms of evidence of current support for the Scottish Green Party, opinion polls in Scotland indicate average support of under 4%.

Taking together all the relevant evidence and the views of respondents to our consultation, Ofcom has decided that it would not be appropriate to add the Green Party or the Scottish Green Party to the list of major parties on this occasion.

  • 2. Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV)

TUV did not demonstrate significant electoral support in the 2010 General Election in Northern Ireland. The party performed better in the 2014 European Parliamentary elections, obtaining 12.1% of the vote in Northern Ireland. However, it has not received significant support in other forms of election and nor does this party have significant current support in opinion polls.

Taking together all the relevant evidence and the views of respondents to our consultation, Ofcom continues to consider that the evidence does not justify the addition of TUV to the list of major parties for Northern Ireland.

  • 3. UKIP

UKIP did not demonstrate significant electoral support in the 2010 General Election, achieving 3.5% of the vote in England.

However, UKIP’s performance in a number of other forms of election has been stronger.

UKIP demonstrated a significant level of support in England and Wales in the European Parliament elections in 2014, securing 29.2% of the vote in England, the largest share of any party in England, and 27.6% Wales. Its share of the vote was lower in Scotland (10.5%). UKIP also demonstrated significant levels of support in the English local elections (15.7% in 2014 and 19.9% in 2013). UKIP has also won two seats in Parliament at recent by-elections in England.

The level of support for UKIP exhibited in the opinion poll data for England and Wales has been growing steadily for a number of years. The BBC Poll of Polls shows an increase from an average of 6.8% in 2012 to an average of 15.5% in 2015. Polling Observatory figures show support rising from an average of 8.1% in 2012 to an average of 15.2% in 2015. In Wales, opinion polling evidence for UKIP has grown from an average of 8.3% in 2013 to an average of 14.5% in Wales-only opinion polls in 2015.

Taking together all the relevant evidence and the views of respondents to our consultation, Ofcom has decided that UKIP should be added to the list of major parties for the purpose of the May 2015 elections in England and Wales (not in Scotland).

  • 4. Ofcom has consulted on aspects of broadcasting regulations ahead of the General Election, English local government elections (in some parts of England) and English mayoral elections (in Bedford; Leicester; Mansfield; Middlesbrough; and Torbay). These elections will be held on 7 May 2015.
  • 5. Ofcom received over 7400 responses to its consultation on party election broadcasts.
  • 6. Ofcom has strict rules in place for broadcasters to ensure fair coverage during the run up to the General Election. Broadcasters must ensure that all coverage, complies with rules concerning due impartiality and elections, as set out in the Ofcom Broadcasting Code (“the Code”).
  • 7. Rule 5.1 of the Code requires broadcasters to ensure due accuracy and due impartiality in news coverage. Rule 6.2 of the Code states that due weight must be given to the broadcast coverage of major parties during the election period. Under Ofcom’s Rules on Party Political and Referendum Broadcasts (“the PPRB Rules”) all major parties must be offered at least two Party Election Broadcasts on Channel 3 services (ITV, STV and UTV), Channel 4, Channel 5, Classic FM, Talksport and Absolute Radio. The Code and PPRB Rules also lay out rules for the treatment of other registered parties.
  • 8. It is the responsibility of broadcasters, and not Ofcom, to determine the structure, format and style of election coverage such as leaders’ debates. The decision on which leaders are represented in any possible election debates is an editorial matter for broadcasters in agreement with the political parties taking part.
  • 9. Under the Memorandum of Understanding between Ofcom and the BBC Trust, BBC licence fee funded services have to comply with the Broadcasting Code: “to the extent that such standards do not concern the accuracy or impartiality of the content of any programme included in the BBC’s UK Public Broadcasting Services. The accuracy and impartiality of programmes within the BBC’s Public Broadcasting Services are the responsibility of the BBC Trust”. In relation to Party Election Broadcasts, under the 2006 BBC Charter and Agreement, the BBC Trust regulates the criteria for Party Election Broadcasts on BBC services.
  • 10 The S4C Authority prepares the policy for party political and referendum broadcasts on S4C. In formulating this policy, the S4C Authority takes note of the decisions made in the Broadcasters Liaison Group (a representative forum for UK public service broadcasters - BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five and S4C), the views of the Electoral Commission and the rules made by Ofcom under s333 of the Communications Act 2003.