IPSO Blog: Election reporting

The forthcoming general election will be a key focus for many of the UK’s newspapers and magazines in the coming weeks.

While the outcome is anything but certain, the one thing we can be sure of is that the election is guaranteed to generate headlines as well as scores of analysis, opinion and speculation from columnists and commentators.

Around election times we often get ask lots of questions about how reporting works so this blog deals with some FAQs.

What are the rules newspapers and magazines must follow?

All newspapers and magazines regulated by IPSO must follow the Editors’ Code of Practice. The Code is designed to address the potentially competing rights of freedom of expression with rights of individuals. Newspapers and magazines have editorial freedom to publish what they consider to be appropriate, but they must make sure the follow the rules set out in Code.

Is there a “purdah” for newspapers and magazines?

Purdah is a term used across central and local government to describe the period of time immediately before elections or referendums when specific restrictions on the activity of civil servants are in place.

It covers things like taking care when making announcements, handling information requests and arranging ministerial visits. It also stresses the importance of taking extra care with official websites and social media during the campaign period.

No such period exists for newspapers and magazines who are free to report on all aspects of the election. Newspaper coverage is one of the main ways that candidates and parties communicate with potential voters so it is of course in the public interest that they report on the election.

Are newspapers allowed to campaign?

The Editors’ Code has no stipulations about campaigning. In fact, Clause 1 specifically states that newspapers are free to ‘editorialise and campaign’, but that they must clearly distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact.

It’s well-known that some newspapers align themselves with certain political parties and ‘endorsement’ for candidates from newspapers is common both in the UK and elsewhere.

Newspapers and magazines can be a supporter or a critic of any party, cause, or person, and this includes their coverage of election-related material – but they must make sure they report accurately under the Code.

Does coverage need to be “balanced”?

The selection and presentation of material for publication is a matter for individual editors – they decide what to include as part of their coverage, and the prominence of that coverage, but must take care that the Code is not breached.

What about “bias”?

Similarly to campaigning, the Editors’ Code does not cover bias. The position a publication takes is a matter for individual editors, so long as they do not breach the requirement in Clause 1 to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted material.

What can IPSO do to ensure that media coverage is accurate?

Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code deals specifically with the issue of accurate of reporting. It says that the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text. It also makes clear that comment, conjecture and fact must be clearly distinguished.

IPSO will deal with all complaints made under the Editors’ Code during the period. If the Complaints Committee determines that the Editors' Code has been breached, it can require the publication of its upheld adjudication and/or a correction. The nature, extent and placement of corrections and adjudications will be determined by the Committee.

We also monitor the complaints we receive to identify wider concerns about press coverage of particular issues to identify themes in editorial standards. We use this to monitor trends and, where necessary, to take targeted action to address issues of concern.

If you have further questions about election reporting, you can contact us an inquires@ipso.co.uk