Our duty and responsibility is magnified. Voters get most of their information from journalists in the lead up to elections.
Military dictatorship in other countries is tough on the press. ‘You throttle the press if you want to keep the bait down.’ in this country we take full part in reporting the elections.
Hard Truths about reporting elections
Citizens base choices on your reporting
Accuracy and impartiality even more vital
Politicians love to shoot the messenger
Campaign language is often heatedIt is an expected role that we should take. There is a special role for journalism at election times. People are actually making choices about who is in charge of them putting us in an important position ‘we are the messengers.’
Broadcast rules are in place from Ofcom and BBC guidelines. Print regulations are different for reporting the elections.
Impartiality is the one rule that is in place for broadcasting elections. Newspapers are free to write partially.
- Absolute requirement for broadcasters
Keep a log of party coverage. A sense of how many sound bites you have given each major party.
‘Major’ and ‘minor’ parties are different. Ofcom defines what the major political parties are.
The danger areas:- Maintaining our impartiality
Your reporting stance needs to be challenging and questioning any facts. Former labour minister Phil Woolas was found to have breached the representation of the People Act 1983 in the course of the 2010 general election.
False statements will be raised. We wouldn’t want to fuel fire of untruth. Candidates from opposing parties will release claims about the other candidates.
When the campaigning takes place opinion polls will start. You will conduct your own opinion poll
- Not all opinion polls are reliable.
In your report you will have to frame it that you were just getting a sense of what people thought.
Polls are subject to error, subject to when it was taken and subject to how big the poll was.
The sample needs to be fair, this includes age range, position etc.
We need to be able to give context.
We don’t want to give a false
An election exit poll is a poll of voters taken immediately after they have exited the polling stations and you ask the voter who they voted for, Unlike an opinion poll which is public opinion.
You can’t broadcast the exit poll until the election voting is finished. It is a criminal offence to publish exit polls before the polls have closed.
When covering the campaigning you can do your overall package report every night reporting what the parties have been doing. The time we devote to each major party would need to be the same, and the minor parties would need to be reported too.
UKIP is a party that seems to be running quite well but UKIP is a party that doesn't have any MPs. Ofcom has ruled that they are going to treat UKIP as a major party (in the UK & not Scotland) despite them having no MPs they are running strongly enough to have that status.
Audiences are selection for election coverage shows. Audiences will need to be demographically varied to get a fair and varied debate.
When reporting elections there will be debates, leaders visiting, campaigning, polls and there would also be profiles of the candidates. If you profile one of the candidates you are obliged to do profiles for all of the major party candidates even if they are not interesting.
You will want to reflect the reality therefore if a party isn’t going to do well you don’t have give the same amount of time of coverage to each party you can just show them. Editorial reasons such as tactical voting may mean you want to broadcast that party.
When planning news coverage during elections there are some things to consider. If a regular news story happens during the election campaigning and say the candidate is connected to the story. You may want to give a sound bite of the candidate that is linked to the news story but you will have to give sound bites from all the major party candidates. You can’t just hear from one of them. You are obliged to hear from all of the major party candidates or not at all.
Reporting on polling day itself
Minimal reporting on polling day.
no exit poll speculation
Plan your coverage so you achieve your balance
Phil Woolas was ejected from parliament over election slurs in the General Election 2010
He put out this leaflet where he was suggesting that the Liberal Democrat candidate had wooed his islamic extremists. This was defamatory and the liberal democrats took this to court for libel and won. We as journalists don’t want to be peddling these sorts of reports.
The Electoral Commission is an important body it is an independent elections watchdog. If someone seems to be unfair reporting of elections you would consult the electoral commission website. The electoral commission would be in charge of dates of elections and complaints.
Ian Anderson’s tips:
“Treat what these people say we bucket loads of salt during election time and be challenging. You are the voice of the people.”