Election Reporting and the Counseling Need Afterwards…

So maybe you won’t need counseling after, or well I hope you won’t! But you might be reporting on councils afterwards (get the really poor play on words there… Sorry I couldn’t resist!).

Elections are the most important times in a democratic society. In the UK, they decided the political and legal landscape for the next five years. Reporting on this is an extremely crucial part, especially in today’s life, of informing the public about the parties and candidates that are in the running.

During election periods all offences concerning libel etc. remain the same. However, there is an offence that rears it’s head… It becomes an offence to make or publish a false statement of fact about the personal character or conduct of a candidate with the purpose of affecting the voting, under s.106 Representation of the People Act 1983. Therefore, no matter how much you dislike a politician or candidate you can’t go making things up about them. But there is no qualified privilege in relation to candidates’ addresses (cue evil laugh). I may point out here that this offence only covers that which was specifically portrayed as a statement of fact. Consequently, if you are just stating your opinion you should be fine. This section also covers statements which are not classed as defamatory but are damaging to the individual it is aimed at. A good example, taken from this site, is where it is stated that a candidate is homosexual. Whilst this is not defamatory, it could lose the individual votes as personal and moral conduct is heavily criticised during elections. Some of the voters who were considering voting for that candidate may no longer vote for them because, perhaps for religious reasons, they are anti-gay or homophobic. Qualified privilege continues during this period, thus things said in Parliament continue to be covered and will not lead to anyone being sued for defamation.

Interestingly, and something that had never occurred to me before i started looking into this, there is a legal ban on publishing exit polls whilst people are voting. This is covered, again, by the Representation of the People Act 1983, amended by the 2002 Act, s.66A. This is all and well for the reasons of not swaying people’s votes, but what about those people who do postal voting? It begs the question whether it would actually change peoples opinions. I mean, does it change the opinions of those who use postal voting? This I do not know the answer to, but it does bring up an interesting point.

During election periods broadcasters, such as the BBC and ITV etc. cannot be biased. You have probably heard the BBC go on about impartiality at some point or other. Here is the most important reason for impartiality: they cannot be biased about political parties and/or candidates. The BBC have and, as far as I am aware, always do publish guidelines for reporting on elections. Another interesting point (I seem to be finding this whole topic quite interesting, but then again I do like politics) is that all parties should have an opportunity to participate in debates and programmes. This point is interesting because, if some of you have been paying attention to the news lately, there has been some backlash aimed at the BBC due to the fact that the Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru were not allowed in their election debate programmes in the run up to the elections. Amusingly, UKIP have been allowed air time even though they have only recently gained MPs, unlike all three other parties who have had MPs since the last election and much longer for the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Not that I am suggesting that the BBC have broken the law here, but it is another interesting point to ponder on.

Moving on the other topic for the day… Council meetings. We shall start with a little bit of history for you. On the 5th February 1960 a young politician made her maiden speech in the House of Commons. This maiden speech was not only important because the politician who gave it would go on to be our first female Prime Minister, as well as the longest serving PM of the century, but it was also important (and impressive as maiden speeches aren’t often used like this) because she introduced a bill which later became the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960. This Act allowed media and the public into the meetings and more importantly allowed then to make written reports of these meetings. Whilst being legally significant it was also a political blow to the Labour Party who had been holding council meetings in private throughout industrial disputes taking place in the printing industry in the late 1950’s. Now specific reasons must be given if a meeting is to be held in private and a resolution must be made in regard to the exclusion of the public and the press. Within these meetings, defamatory statements are to be covered under qualified privilege unless it can be proved that these statements were made with malice, as per s.1(5) of the Act. The Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 has recently been updated and now allows filming, blogging and tweeting within public meetings, such as town and parish councils.

Whilst this is all an well, here is a rather amusing article which describes the experiences of trying to report on council meetings. It doesn’t appear to be as easy as one would hope, but well, isn’t that life?

And the picture is from a concert I recently took my mother too =D Because I’m cool like that. It was to Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, formerly The Beautiful South. I feared I would be the youngest person in the room when we went there, but I wasn’t which is all good. I grew up listening to these two and some of the Housemartins stuff… I’m sure some of the older readers know who I’m talking about!

Until next time,

R

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