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Broadcasters in legal bind over reporting on Tory crisis during election | Politics

Attempts by Conservative MPs to remove Theresa May from office during the European elections are causing problems for British broadcasters, which are struggling to work out what developments they are legally allowed to report about the prime minister’s seemingly doomed premiership. The UK’s strict broadcasting laws place tight restrictions on coverage of politics by TV

Attempts by Conservative MPs to remove Theresa May from office during the European elections are causing problems for British broadcasters, which are struggling to work out what developments they are legally allowed to report about the prime minister’s seemingly doomed premiership.

The UK’s strict broadcasting laws place tight restrictions on coverage of politics by TV and radio stations during election periods, with the rules becoming tighter once polls open.

Traditionally, this means broadcasters such as the BBC and ITV provide bland news coverage on election days, reporting little more than statements about people turning out to vote in order to avoid inadvertently swaying voters.

However, the unusual situation of a cabinet minister resigning on the eve of a national vote and an apparent attempt to remove May has challenged the implementation of these rules, with broadcasters trying to work out how to legally report on a story of major national importance.

The current thinking within the BBC is it would be able to report major factual developments on Thursday – such as if the prime minister confirmed she intended to step down while polls are open – but would be have be careful about putting such a decision in the political context of an election.

To complicate matters further, the outcome of the European election result in the UK is not declared until the rest of the EU finishes voting at 10pm on Sunday, putting more restrictions on broadcasters.

BBC guidelines state: “While the polls are open throughout Europe, it is a criminal offence to broadcast anything about the way in which people have voted in that election or to forecast the election result, which includes how a particular party or candidate may have fared, based on how people have voted.”

Concerned broadcasters are wondering how to comply with this rule, with the potential result that politicians who take to the airwaves on Friday, Saturday or Sunday could be asked to avoid mentioning formal predictions or polling about the Conservative party’s expected drubbing – or the Brexit party’s anticipated success – in the elections.

As a result, politicians who are attempting to displace May could also have their interviews ended if they cite previous opinion polls predicting a poor performance in the elections, with the BBC considering how to minimise the potential for compliance issues.

One journalist at the corporation said: “If the Tories get no votes and the prime minister is forced out, and Tories complain that they got no votes, we might not be able to say the bit about the votes.”

Although news outlets such as the BBC tend to apply the same broadcast standards to their websites and social media accounts, reporting by print and online publications such as the Guardian is not subject to the broadcasting code.

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