Political and election matter guidelines | ACMA

Political and election 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).

Political and election matter guidelines

The ACMA has compiled a set of guidelines to explain how the rules operate and provide case studies of relevant investigations. The guidelines can be accessed here.

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.

Information about current blackout periods is here.

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: 22 August 2019