The BBC pulled Friday night’s episode of Have I Got News For You (HIGNFY) half an hour before it was due to be broadcast. They replaced it with an episode of Would I Lie to You. As much as I admire Rob Brydon and the team, I was looking forward to seeing Heidi Allen MP, the acting leader of the new political party Change UK, deal with Ian Hislop, Paul Merton et al.
Hat Trick Productions, which makes HIGNFY, said it “tried everything” to get the BBC to broadcast the show, but the BBC said it was “inappropriate to feature political party leaders” in an election period as it did not allow for “equal representation of views”.
This is a matter of Election Law for broadcasters. Hat Trick are a multi-million pound independent production company who you would expect to implement the fundamentals of Media Law.
Basic training for journalists should incorporate media law – an important element are the requirements around broadcasts at election time.
The Euro elections will take place in the UK on 23 May and Ofcom’s election rules state that neither candidates in elections, nor representatives of those candidates are allowed to “act as news presenters, interviewees or presenters of any type of programme during the election period”.
In Local Government this period, usually six weeks prior to an election, is known as purdah and external political communications are kept to a minimum.
When I started as a journalist the legal requirement was known as the RPA (Representation of the People Act) which meant that if you wanted to carry out an interview with a politician during the pre-election period, you had to interview all the other politicians who were standing in the interests of balance, including the minority parties, or get their permission not to take part. This slightly draconian requirement was later eased and has now been incorporated into Section 6 of the Ofcom code in the interests of fair and balanced reporting (for broadcasters, not newspapers or online publishers).
Hat Trick Productions, who make HIGNFY, appear to take a slightly more relaxed approach to media law and the Ofcom code, tweeting “Sorry everyone. The BBC pulled tonight’s edition of #HIGNF – no, we didn’t book Danny Baker. We booked Heidi Allen, a member of a party no one knows the name of (not even the people in it), because the Euro elections, which nobody wants, may or may not be happening. Sorry.”
Media Friendly offers one day courses in Media Law for Communications Teams and other interested parties, mainly in the public sector, which covers the basics and helps organisations around issues such as defamation (libel), Contempt of Court, Freedom of Information requests, Social Media, as well as Purdah and Election Law.
Andrew Carapiet is a former BBC broadcast journalist and director of Media Friendly, one of the UK’s most trusted communications training providers