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Wednesday, 28 February, 2001, 17:36 GMT
Media coverage

Election coverage in the UK has traditionally been split down the middle.

While the printed press has had more or less a free hand to take a line in favour of one political party, broadcast journalists are subject to all kinds of rules to ensure unbiased reporting.

This is possibly reflected in how members of the public perceive election news.

A poll conducted in 1997 found that 62-63% thought that BBC and ITN could be trusted to tell the truth about the election a great deal or fair amount of the time. Some 32% said a little or not at all.

On the other hand, only 37% of people thought that their own daily paper was trustworthy a great deal or fair amount of time, and 52% said a little or not at all.

Tory-leaning press?

In recent years, the bulk of the printed media has been pro-Conservative.

In particular, all the tabloid papers, save The Mirror, were usually very supportive of the sitting Conservative administrations - particularly up until September 1992.

But by 1997, many traditionally Tory papers, like The Sun, decided to back New Labour.

Some papers have traditional links with a particular strain of political thought such as conservatism.

The Daily Telegraph is widely regarded a Tory paper, as is the Daily Mail.

UK Newspapers
UK Newspapers
The Express, which was probably most supportive of any daily of the Major administration, has since switched to a largely pro-Labour stance.

The Mirror and The Guardian have traditionally supported the left of the political spectrum - usually Labour.

Broadcasters on the other hand are obliged to ensure that all the main political parties have a fair hearing.

The BBC has its own very rigorous guidelines to which its journalists must adhere.

Fair broadcasts

During an election campaign candidates can be filmed electioneering, but journalists have to be sure any event they report is not staged purely for media coverage.

BBC Live news satellite van
BBC Live news satellite van
In other words it is acceptable to report on the way local parties are conducting their campaigns, but not be a vehicle for their publicity stunts.

Similarly, any reporting of one party must be matched by proportional coverage of another over the campaign period.

The BBC aims to be impartial in its reporting at all times but there is never more need than during an election.

Election rules

On the day of the actual election the BBC and other broadcasters will cease to report the campaign from 0600 until close of poll.

But they can report facts like voter turnout, the weather and politicians appearing at polling stations.

There is also a raft of legislation to which broadcasters are subject.

Election rules cut in during what is termed the pending period.

The pending period varies depending on the type of election but in a general election it is from when the Queen announces the intention to dissolve parliament or, if an announcement is not made, then from when parliament is actually dissolved.

General discussion

Candidates can participate in general discussion programmes so long as these do not relate specifically to issues that have a particular bearing on their constituencies.

Non-BBC broadcasters such as ITV and Channel 4 are also subject to legislation such as the Representation of the People Act.

In addition they have the Independent Television Commission (ITC) codes to abide by.

Under the Broadcasting Act 1990 the ITC has a statutory obligation to draw up a code to give guidance over issues of impartiality - these apply to general coverage and there are also guidelines for elections.