On 21 March 2013, Ofcom published updated rules on party political and referendum broadcasts (PPRB Rules). The revision of the rules was preceded by a consultation carried out by Ofcom between November 2012 and January 2013.
The review of the PPRB Rules was related to recent amendments of the Communications Act, requiring the new local television licences to contain an obligation to offer political broadcasts for local elections. Local digital television programme service licensees will from now on be required to carry the same party election broadcasts for local elections (and in London, for the elections for the London Assembly and Mayor of London), as the relevant Channel 3 licensee.
A majority of respondents agreed with Ofcom proposal that independent candidates should be eligible for the election broadcasts under certain conditions. However, given the ambiguity in the law in this area (and the view of the Electoral Commission), Ofcom will not be amending the PPRB Rules to include independent candidates at this time. Nevertheless, Ofcom will support the Electoral Commission to raise this issue with Government, so that a change in the law may be made at the appropriate opportunity.
With regard to the allocation requirements for the party election broadcasts, Ofcom invited stakeholders in the consultation to share their views on the current “one-sixth” threshold, according to which party election broadcasts are allocated to non-major parties if a party stands candidates in at least one sixth of seats in “first-past-the-post” elections. The vast majority of respondents considered the ‘one sixth’ rule remains generally fit for purpose and Ofcom agreed with this view.
In addition, Ofcom has published Guidance to help broadcasters comply with the Broadcasting Code when covering elections and referendums, encompassing issues such as leadership debates and the coverage of candidates. The revised Guidance also seeks to help broadcasters maintain due impartiality in their output, including suggesting various editorial techniques for broadcasters to use when complying news and current affairs programming both during and outside of election and referendum periods.