Page last updated at 09:08 GMT, Tuesday, 26 October 2010 10:08 UK

Ministers clarify law over reporting of AV referendum

Newspapers and broadcasters will be able to report on the referendum to change the Westminster parliamentary voting system without being caught out by laws governing campaign spending, ministers have said.

Cabinet Office minister Mark Harper said there was a "possible ambiguity" in the law which needed clearing up ahead of the 5 May 2011 plebiscite on whether to replace the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system with the alternative vote (AV).

Mr Harper said it was important the campaign was covered by the media which played a "vital role" in building public awareness.

Speaking on 25 October 2010, as the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill went through its Commons committee stage, Mr Harper said the government wanted to amend the legislation so that "it clearly states that the cost of covering and reporting on the referendum in the media are not referendum expenses" under the 2000 Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA).

"This means that those costs will fall outside the regulatory regime which PPERA puts in place.

"I want to be absolutely clear, the referendum does not change the position in relation to the regulation of advertising in the media by campaigning individuals or organisations, that sort of media cost continues to be subject to the usual spending restrictions in the Act.

"But we believe it is important to ensure that media outlets are not caught by the spending restrictions in place for the referendum in terms of publishing information about the referendum since they will play a vital role in building public awareness."

Shadow justice minister Chris Bryant called for greater clarity in defining which publications and broadcasts were covered.

But he said: "I'm sure it was never anybody's intentions that ordinary newspapers and magazines and television broadcasters and all the rest should be included in the expenses regime in relation to the referendum."

The government's amendment clarifying the legal position was passed without a vote.

Watch part two of the debate here.

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