Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Election Timing and ABC

Other commentators have drawn attention to an editorial comment posted under an opinion piece at The Drum by former politician Peter Reith.

The comment reads: "*Editor's Note: While the ABC maintains due impartiality and balance in its coverage of politics throughout the year, the formal campaign begins in August when the writs are issued. That is when we will begin monitoring and recording "share of voice" and determining free time for the relevant parties."

Firstly the notion that ABC "maintains due impartiality and balance in its coverage of politics throughout the year," is highly contested. Given it does not have a single conservative commentator maintaining "due impartiality and balance" appears an impossibility.

Secondly it seems the editor's reading of the relevant legislation is open to question and if so we may see ABC forced into providing equal time for the major parties.

From the act, the red highlighted text along with the PM's public announcement of the election date, makes it pretty clear ABC's Drum editor is simply wrong. 


  Broadcasting of political or controversial matter
             (1)  Subject to this Act, the Corporation may determine to what extent and in what manner political matter or controversial matter will be broadcast by the Corporation.
             (2)  If the Corporation broadcasts political matter at the request of another person, the Corporation must, immediately afterwards:
                     (a)  if the matter was broadcast by radio--cause the required particulars in relation to the matter to be announced; or
                     (b)  if the matter was televised:
                              (i)  cause the required particulars in relation to the matter (other than the particulars referred to in paragraph (c) of the definition of required particulars in subsection (5)) to be announced; and
                             (ii)  cause all the required particulars in relation to the matter to be transmitted in the form of images of words.
             (3)  The Corporation must, in relation to political matter broadcast at the request of another person, keep a record of the name, address and occupation of the person or, if the person is a company, the name and the address of the principal office of the person, for the required period and must give to the ACMA any particulars of the record that the ACMA, by written notice, requires.
             (4)  For the purposes of this section, a person authorises the broadcasting of political matter only if the person is responsible for approval of the content of the political matter and the decision to present it for broadcasting.
             (5)  In this section:
"election" means an election to a Parliament or a local government authority of a State or Territory.
"election period" means:
                     (a)  in relation to an election to the Legislative Council of Tasmania, or an ordinary election to the Legislative Assembly for the Australian Capital Territory--the period that starts 33 days before the polling day for the election and ends at the close of the poll on that day; and
                     (b)  in relation to any other election to a Parliament--the period that starts on:
                              (i)  the day on which the proposed polling day for the election is publicly announced; or
                             (ii)  the day on which the writs for the election are issued;
                            whichever happens first, and ends at the close of the poll on the polling day for the election; and
                     (c)  in relation to an election to a local government authority--the period that starts 33 days before the polling day for the election and ends at the close of the poll on that day; and
                     (d)  in relation to a referendum whose voting day is the same as the polling day for an election to the Parliament of the Commonwealth--the election period in relation to that election; and
                     (e)  in relation to any other referendum--the period that starts 33 days before the voting day for the referendum and ends at the close of voting on that day.
"Parliament" means:
                     (a)  the Parliament of the Commonwealth; or
                     (b)  a State Parliament; or
                     (c)  the legislature of a Territory.
"person" includes a political party, a corporation and any other association (whether incorporated or unincorporated).
"political matter" means any political matter, including the policy launch of a political party.
"referendum" means the submission to the electors of a proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution, whether or not the proposal to make the submission has been announced.
"required particulars" , in relation to a political matter that is broadcast, means:
                     (a)  if the broadcasting was authorised by a political party:
                              (i)  the name of the political party; and
                             (ii)  the town, city or suburb in which the principal office of the political party is situated; and
                            (iii)  the name of the natural person responsible for giving effect to the authorisation; and
                     (b)  if the broadcasting of the political matter was authorised by a person other than a political party:
                              (i)  the name of the person who authorised the broadcasting of the political matter; and
                             (ii)  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
                     (c)  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.
"required period" , in relation to the keeping of a record in relation to political matter, means the period of 2 years commencing on the day on which the matter was broadcast.


  1. Where in this section of the legislation does it say anything about 'equal time'?

    1. You are right apparently not in this part of the legislation, however ABC's "Allocation of free broadcast time to political parties during election campaigns – fact sheet" states the following:

      The Government and the official Opposition in an outgoing Federal, State or Territory Parliament or Assembly are granted equal time by the ABC for election broadcasts within the relevant jurisdiction during election campaigns. When political parties are in coalition, either as a Government or as the official Opposition, the ABC will provide an equal allocation of time to the Government and to the official Opposition, leaving it to the parties which are in coalition to divide the time between them as they see fit.

  2. Actually that fact sheet is about the free broadcast time given to parties in the form of 'party announcements', like the ones you can see here: It's nothing to do with actual news coverage and it doesn't impose any equal time requirement on anything other than those announcements.

  3. I guess the ABC group thinker's interpretation of "publicly announced" relies on the redefined Macquarie interpretation?


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