Political matter and election advertisements | ACMA

Political matter and election advertisements

The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA) requires licensees to cause the ‘required particulars’ to be broadcast immediately after ‘political matter’ that is broadcast at the request of another person. The required particulars must be in the form approved by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA).1  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 the policy launch of a political party, but is not confined to material broadcast in the context of an election campaign.

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 matter.2

The broadcast of required particulars in the approved form 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 ACMA has recently competed a number of investigations concerning the broadcast of ‘political matter’: BI-302, BI-301, BI-231 and BI-266

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

The ACMA recently 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). 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.

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. Although the political message of the advertisement was subtle, and did not mention the term abortion, the ACMA considered that 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.

BI-266: Country Labor Party election material during blackout period

In this investigation,  the ACMA found that Radio 2GZ Pty Ltd (the licensee) did not breach election advertising rules when it broadcast material that encouraged voters to cast their preferences in a particular way, during an election blackout period.

The BSA prohibits television and radio broadcasters from broadcasting election advertisements during what is known as the election blackout period. An advertisement is an ‘election advertisement’ if it:

  • it contains ‘election matter’ that relates to that election, and
  • the broadcaster has received, or is to receive, payment or other consideration for that particular broadcast.

The material broadcast was a pre-recorded promotion, spoken by Mr Ray Hadley and authorised by the Country Labor Party. It had previously been broadcast by the licensee between 3 and 9 November 2016, as a paid election advertisement, prior to the election blackout period.

On 11 November 2016, during the election blackout period for the NSW State By-election for Orange, the material was re-broadcast in a discussion about the NSW State By-elections on The Ray Hadley Morning Show, which was syndicated in Orange.

The ACMA found that the material was not an ‘election advertisement’ because the licensee did not receive any payment or consideration for its broadcast on 11 November 2016.  Accordingly the ‘blackout period’ rule was not breached.

[1] The approved form for broadcasting the required particulars immediately following the television broadcast of political matter, is a spoken announcement accompanied by images or words.
[2] 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: 18 April 2017