Election and political matter guidelines | ACMA

Election and political matter guidelines

When a Federal, State, Territory or local council election has been called, or if the Government holds a Constitutional referendum or plebiscite, you will see and hear political advertising and content broadcast on radio and television.

This page has background information for broadcasters, political parties and election candidates, advertisers and the general public about the different media and the rules administered by the ACMA that apply to the communication of political and election matters, including specific conditions that apply during election periods.

Information about the rules that apply to calls, emails and SMS can be found here

Television and radio

Parts 1 and 2 of Schedule 2 to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 contain provisions that deal with access, timing and identification in relation to the broadcast of political, including and election matter. Election matter, political matter and election period are all defined in clause 1 of Schedule 2 to the Broadcasting Services Act.

The rules set out at Parts 1 and 2 of Schedule 2 to the Broadcasting Services Act are licence conditions that apply to commercial television broadcasting licensees, commercial radio broadcasting licensees, community broadcasting licensees, subscription television broadcasting licensees and persons providing broadcasting services under class licences (these include subscription and open narrowcasting services).

Access for all parties

Clause 3 of Schedule 2 to the Broadcasting Services Act requires that if any election matter is broadcast during an election period by a broadcaster, then that broadcaster must give all political parties contesting the election a reasonable opportunity to have election matter broadcast during the election period provided that they were represented in the relevant Parliament at the time it last met before the election period.    

Blackout period for election advertising

Clause 3A of Schedule 2 to the Broadcasting Services Act requires that a broadcaster must not broadcast an election advertisement from the end of the Wednesday before polling day until the close of the poll on polling day, where an election is to be held in an area which relates to a licence area, or an area where a broadcast can normally be received. This only applies for elections to a Parliament.

The election advertising blackout applies to broadcasters, including:

  • commercial television broadcasting licensees

  • commercial radio broadcasting licensees

  • community broadcasting licensees

  • subscription television broadcasting licensees

  • providers of broadcasting services under class licences.

The election advertising blackout only applies to broadcasters. It does not include online services and print media.

Information about current blackout periods is here.

Identifying certain political matter

Broadcasters must cause the announcement of ‘required particulars’ in accordance with the Commonwealth Electoral (Authorisation of Voter Communication) Determination 2018:

  • if the communication of the political matter is a broadcast by radio, the broadcaster shall cause the required particulars to be broadcast in the form of a spoken announcement at the end of the political matter
  • if the communication of the political matter is a broadcast by television, the broadcaster shall cause the required particulars to be broadcast in the form of a spoken announcement, and cause all the required particulars to be broadcast in the form of images or words, at the end of the political matter
  • in all cases, the required particulars must be broadcast in the same language as the political matter.

The content of the required particulars varies, depending on who authorised the broadcast:

  • if the broadcast was authorised by an entity that is a disclosure entity and not a natural person:
    • the name of the entity (as included in the most recent return given in relation to the entity under Part XX of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, if a return has been given in relation to the entity under that Part)
    • the relevant town or city of the entity
    • the name of the natural person responsible for giving effect to the authorisation.
  • if the broadcast was authorised by an entity that is not a disclosure entity and not a natural person:
    • the name of the entity
    • the relevant town or city of the entity; and
  • if the broadcasting was authorised by a natural person (regardless of whether that person is, or is not, a disclosure entity):
    • the name of the person who authorised the broadcasting of the political matter; and
    • the town or city in which the person lives.

‘Disclosure entity’ is defined in section 321B of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

Enquiries about the operation of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 or the Commonwealth Electoral (Authorisation of Voter Communication) Determination 2018 should be directed to the AEC. For more information visit www.aec.gov.au.

Required particulars taken to be announced

Broadcasters are responsible for the compliance with the ‘required particulars’ licence condition, as set out in subclause 4(2) of Schedule 2 to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. In practice, this will mean taking steps to determine if the person who authorises the broadcast of the political matter is, or is not, a ‘disclosure entity’ (as defined in section 321B of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918).

Under subclause 4(5) of Schedule 2 to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, a broadcaster will be taken to have ensured that the required particulars are announced in relation to broadcasts of political matter purportedly authorised by a person who is not a disclosure entity, if it was reasonable, as a result of steps taken by the broadcaster, for the broadcaster to rely on the particulars provided by that person. That is, broadcasters should take steps to verify a claim, made by a person seeking to broadcast political matter, that the person is not a disclosure entity.
An example of steps that may be taken by the broadcaster include:

  • notifying a person wanting to broadcast political matter that the name of the person required to be announced as having authorised the broadcast depends on whether the person is a disclosure entity
  • seeking a verification from that person that the person is or is not a disclosure entity.

Persons who authorise the broadcasting of political matter may be disclosure entities under the financial disclosure regime. Annual financial disclosure returns available for public inspection can be accessed at www.aec.gov.au. The returns include expenditure on political matter broadcasting.

Enquiries about the operation of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 or the Commonwealth Electoral (Authorisation of Voter Communication) Determination 2018 should be directed to the Australian Electoral Commission. For more information visit www.aec.gov.au.

Keeping records of political matter broadcast at the request of another person

Subclause 4(3) of Schedule 2 to the Broadcasting Services Act requires that a broadcaster must keep, for the required period, a record of the name, address and occupation of the person (or the name and address of the principal office, if the person is a company) that requests the broadcast of political matter. The required period is the longer of six weeks from the date of the broadcast or until the day on which the election ends (if the matter relates to an election or referendum and was broadcast during the relevant election period). The ACMA can direct a broadcaster (in writing) to keep records for a longer period.

These records must be given to the ACMA if requested by written notice.

Records relating to broadcast of a political subject or current affairs

Subclauses 5(2), (3), (6) and (8) of Schedule 2 to the Broadcasting Services Act requires that, if a broadcaster broadcasts matter that is in the form of news, an address, a statement, a commentary or discussion, and that matter relates to a political subject or current affairs, then the broadcaster must make a record of the matter in a form approved by the ACMA. The record must be kept for six weeks, or 60 days if a complaint has been made about the matter. The ACMA can direct a broadcaster in writing to retain a record for a longer period in particular circumstances. A broadcaster must make the record available to the ACMA at no charge.

This condition applies at all times.    

Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2015

Under clause 5.5.1 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2015, where a licensee, for no charge, broadcasts a political debate between leaders of political parties at any time or a policy speech during an election period, then the non-program matter that has been displaced may be transferred to another time within 14 days of the shortfall (to a maximum of one minute in any one hour).

Extra advertisements are allowed on free-to-air commercial television during an election period. Clause 5.3.3 (b) of the code provides that, between 6.00 pm and midnight during an election period, commercial free-to-air networks are allowed to broadcast an additional minute of non-program matter but the additional minute must comprise political matter and the network must provide a summary of all relevant non-program matter to Free TV Australia for public release.

Complaints

Complaints about compliance with licence conditions or the provisions of the Broadcasting Services Act can be made directly to the ACMA.

Complaints about compliance with Codes (such as the Commercial Television Code of Practice) should be directed to the broadcaster in the first instance. Before directing a code complaint to the ACMA, the complainant should wait for the broadcaster's response. If the broadcaster does not respond within 60 days or if the complainant is not satisfied with the response from the broadcaster, the complainant can then complain in writing to the ACMA.

Enforcement

If a licence condition in relation to political or election matter is breached, the ACMA may take enforcement action, including the issue of remedial directions, or the acceptance of enforceable undertakings.

If a provision of the Commercial Television Code of Practice is breached, the ACMA may take enforcement action including the acceptance of enforceable undertakings, or the imposition of an additional licence condition.

ACMA responsibilities

While the ACMA has various responsibilities as highlighted on this web page, it is not responsible for:

  • making or administering rules about the authorisation of electoral advertisements—this is regulated by the Australian Electoral Commission and relevant state legislation

  • election or political matter appearing on the internet (unless that material is prohibited content, potential prohibited content or unsolicited commercial electronic messaging)

  • determining whether an election or political advertisement is misleading or untrue

  • dealing with complaints about false or defamatory statements about the personal character or conduct of a candidate.

Last updated: 11 April 2019