Political matter and ‘required particulars’ | ACMA

Political matter and ‘required particulars’

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The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA) requires licensees to cause the ‘required particulars’ to be broadcast immediately after ‘political matter’ (including election and other political advertising) that is broadcast at the request of another person. The objective of this requirement is to promote transparency in political communication for the benefit of the Australian community by identifying who authorised the broadcast. The required particulars must be in the form approved by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA). Compliance with this rule is a condition of all television and radio broadcasting licences.

What is political matter?

‘Political matter’ means any political matter, including election advertising and the policy launch of a political party, but is not confined to material broadcast in the context of an election campaign.

When investigating a complaint, the ACMA considers the question of whether the material broadcast is political matter by referring to a number of matters, including:

  • the context surrounding the broadcast
  • the content of the advertisement
  • the nature and style of any accompanying audio or visual elements and;
  • the overall presentation of the material including the tone, style and emphasis.

When determining whether content is political matter, the ACMA asks what the ordinary reasonable viewer or listener would understand the material to mean – that is, whether the content broadcast engages with a political question in a way that promotes or seeks to influence its audience with respect to that question. The distinction may be a fine one and material that is not political in one context may be considered political in another. All matters are determined on a case-by-case basis.

If the broadcast of the political matter was authorised by a person other than a political party, the ‘required particulars’ include:

  • the name of the person who authorised the broadcast of the political matter; and
  • the town, city or suburb in which the person lives or, if the person is a corporation or association, in which the principal office of the person is situated; and
  • the name of every speaker who, either in person or by means of a sound recording device, delivers an address or makes a statement that forms part of that matter1.

The broadcast of required particulars ensures that, whenever political matter is broadcast at the request of another person:

  • listeners and viewers are informed about who is trying to persuade them to think or to act in response to political matters; and
  • people authorising this type of material are accountable for it.

The broadcast of political matter that is authorised by a political party, must identify the name of the political party as well as the name of the natural person giving effect to the authorisation.

Political matter that is not broadcast at the request of another person – for example, material that is broadcast at a licensee’s own initiative – is not required to broadcast the ‘required particulars’.

The Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey

Material that:

  • is broadcast at the request of another person; and
  • would be understood by a reasonable audience member as seeking directly or indirectly to influence their views about same sex marriage or the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey;

will be political matter that needs to be ’tagged’ with the required particulars in the usual way.

Accordingly, it is critical that advertisers, content producers and licensees consider how a reasonable audience member might understand the material proposed for broadcast.

Relevant matters to take into account are set out above. Some real life ACMA investigations, considering whether particular material is ‘political matter’, are summarised below.

Additional Marriage Law Survey Matter guidelines.

Investigations about political matter

The ACMA has recently competed a number of investigations concerning the broadcast of ‘political matter’: BI-302, BI-301, and BI-231.

The investigation summaries provided below demonstrate how the ACMA has recently assessed compliance with the ‘required particulars’ licence condition. Follow the links provided to access the full investigation reports.

BI-302: Advertisement for The Equality Campaign and promotions from the ‘Love is Love’ campaign

Earlier this year, the ACMA finalised an investigation in relation to an advertisement for The Equality Campaign and promotions from the ‘Love is Love’ campaign broadcast on the Lifestyle Channels by Foxtel Cable Television Pty Limited (the licensee) on 13 and 14 February 2017.

The advertisement for The Equality Campaign is the same as the one investigated in ACMA investigation BI-301 (see details below).

When considering the question of whether the material broadcast was ‘political matter the ACMA noted the context surrounding the broadcast, stating:

The subject of marriage equality is a contentious and current political issue. Marriage equality, and the means to achieve it, has been the subject of ongoing, high-profile community and political debate.

When considering the content, nature and presentation of the matter, the ACMA noted:

  • The advertisement depicts a range of professionals at work explaining their roles before raising the question: ‘So why can’t we get married?’ The advertisement culminates in a direct address to the viewer to become engaged with The Equality Campaign.
  • The ‘Love is Love’ campaign comprised various long and short form promotions that depict different types of love and relationships and feature the Lifestyle channel logos rebranded in rainbow colours, the tagline ‘Love is Love’ and in some cases, The Equality Campaign hashtag.

The ACMA found that the advertisement and the promotions from the ‘Love is Love’ campaign sought to influence public opinion about the issue of marriage equality and therefore, constituted political matter.

While the material is considered to be political matter, subclause 4(2) confines the requirement for ‘tagging’ to material that has been broadcast ‘at the request of another person’. 

As the advertisement and the promotions from the ‘Love is Love’ campaign were broadcast on the Lifestyle channels by the licensee, on its own initiative and not at the request of another person, they did not need to be tagged with the required particulars.

Therefore, the ACMA found that the licensee did not breach the licence condition in the BSA.

BI-301: Promotions for The Equality Campaign

In this investigation, the ACMA found that Foxtel Cable Television Pty Limited (the licensee) breached the rules for the broadcasting of political matter in its promotions for The Equality Campaign, broadcast on Sky News Live on 13 February 2017.

The promotions consisted of a standalone advertisement and an information ‘ticker’, which looped at the bottom of the screen alongside news of the day. Both promoted The Equality Campaign, a pro-marriage equality movement, and contained a direct call to action for viewers to get involved in the campaign.

The ACMA found that the promotions were clearly aimed at influencing public opinion in favour of legislating for marriage equality and encouraging viewers to help with the process of political change. The ACMA agreed with the licensee that the material was ‘political matter’.

The promotions were broadcast at the request of Australian Marriage Equality Limited, and the required particulars had, inadvertently, not been broadcast following the promotions. Accordingly, the ACMA found the licensee had breached the licence condition in the BSA by failing to include the required particulars immediately after the promotions.

BI-231: ‘notbornyet’ by Emily’s Voice

The ACMA recently completed an investigation into the broadcast of an advertisement for ‘notbornyet’, a campaign by the organisation Emily’s Voice, by the Network Ten licensee in Perth on 7 September 2016.

The advertisement consisted of a testimonial from a man about his experiences as a young, first-time father. He recommends that viewers worried about how they will cope in similar circumstances can visit notbornyet.com, a website run by Emily’s Voice.

The ‘notbornyet’ website features ‘real stories’ about people who have continued with pregnancies, information about risks associated with abortion and rebuttal to arguments in favour of abortion.

The Emily’s Voice website emphasises its goal of changing community views on abortion.

When considering the question of whether the material broadcast was ‘political matter the ACMA noted the context surrounding the broadcast, stating:

The regulation of abortion is an ongoing issue of public debate, and was a topic of law reform discussion in Australia at the time of broadcast.

When considering the content, nature and presentation of the advertisement, the ACMA noted that although the political message of the advertisement was subtle, and did not mention the term abortion, the ordinary reasonable viewer would perceive the advertisement to have an anti-abortion message. Because it attempted to influence public opinion about the issue of abortion, it was considered by the ACMA to be ‘political matter’.

The ACMA found the licensee had breached the licence condition in the BSA by failing to include the required particulars immediately after the advertisement.

[1] If the broadcast of the political matter is authorised by a political party, the required particulars are slightly different from the form required in the case outlined above.

Last updated: 25 September 2017