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What is the definition of an election programme?

An election programme is defined in section 69(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 as one that is broadcast on television and/or radio which:

  • encourages or persuades, or appears to encourage or persuade voters to vote, or not to vote, for a political party or the election of any person at an election; or
  • advocates support for, or opposes, a candidate or political party; or
  • notifies meetings held or to be held in connection with an election.

Isn’t an election programme effectively an advertisement?

Yes, for the purposes of making a broadcasting standards complaint election programmes typically consist of paid advertisements for political parties or candidates. Opening and closing addresses are also election programmes (see Broadcasting Act 1989, section 70(2)).

What if a news or current affairs programme covers election issues – is that an election programme?

No. News or current affairs programmes relating to elections (or any programmes broadcast to inform, enlighten, or entertain an audience) are not ‘election programmes’ for the purposes of broadcasting standards and are not subject to the Election Programmes Code (see Broadcasting Act 1989, section 70(3) and Electoral Finance Act section 5(2)(c)).

However, news, current affairs and other programmes that cover the election or election issues will still be subject to all the standards of the relevant Code that covers the medium it was broadcast on (ie, radio, free-to-air TV or pay TV). Remember that complaints made under the other Codes will be dealt with by the broadcaster in the first instance, but election programme complaints must come direct to the BSA.

When can an election programme be broadcast?

It is an offence to broadcast a paid election programme for a party or candidate except during the election period (see Broadcasting Act 1989, section 70(2)). There are also restrictions around the times at which and the days on which an election programme can be broadcast (see section 79A).

Broadcasters could choose to broadcast election programmes outside the election period but to do so would open them up to a possible fine of $100,000 (see section 80). The Electoral Commission handles complaints relating to these types of issues.

When is the election period?

The election period begins on Writ Day (the day the Governor-General issues a writ requiring the Chief Electoral Officer to make all necessary arrangements to conduct a general election – see Electoral Act 1993, section 3(1) and section 1250 – and ends at the close of the day before polling day (see Broadcasting Act 1989, section 69(1)).

I can't complain that an election programme didn’t present a range of significant viewpoints on a controversial issue of public importance (balance). Why is that?

The 'balance' standard does not apply to election programmes (see Broadcasting Act, section 79). That is because election programmes by their nature are paid messages designed to promote one particular party or candidate, so they cannot be expected to present a range of viewpoints.

How much time do I have to make an election programme complaint?

You have 60 working days from the date of the broadcast (see Broadcasting Act, section 9(2)). We encourage all complainants to make complaints as soon after the broadcast as possible.

Will you take an election programme off the air while the complaint is being determined?

No, we do not have the power to do that. The BSA will endeavour to process complaints about election programmes that are still playing (ie, advertisements) as quickly as possible.

Where do I make a complaint that an election programme breached broadcasting standards?

Complaints about election programmes must be made direct to the BSA. We have a specific online complaint form for making election programme complaints (this form is active only during the period in which complaints about election programmes can be made).

What should I say in my complaint?

You need to name the time, date and channel on which the election programme was broadcast. You must name the relevant standard in the Election Programmes Code and any other relevant standard from another Code. Tell us why you think the broadcast breached those standards.

What if it is an election advertisement but not on television or radio?

All complaints about election advertisements that are not on television or radio – for instance, those on billboards, on the internet, at the movies, in print etc – need to go to the Advertising Standards Authority.
Go to Advertising Standards Authority

An advertisement didn’t name the person who authorised it – do I complain to you about that?

This is not part of the broadcasting standards regime. To make a complaint about this, you need to contact the Electoral Commission.
Go to Electoral Commission

Is there more information about what the Electoral Commission's jurisdiction covers?

The Electoral Commission usually produces a handbook for each general election. The handbook provides an overview of the election advertising rules, the referendum advertising rules, the rules for broadcasting election programmes on radio and television, and the restrictions that apply on Election Day.

What election programmes have been complained about in the past?

Listed below are election programmes about which the BSA has determined complaints.

All the links to BSA decisions below (HTML) open a new window.
Decisions prior to 1994 are available as PDFs only.








 Disclaimer: Nothing here binds the BSA in determining the outcome of any future complaint. Each complaint is determined on the particular facts surrounding a broadcast.