Marriage Postal Vote

What you need to know about broadcasting political matter concerning the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey

Holly Friedlander Liddicoat, 14th September 2017
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There has been some confusion recently as to the broadcast rules in regards to the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, and whether it is covered by the election coverage regulations.

The ACMA has released updated information clarifying its position. It is a condition of all broadcast licences, including community licensed broadcasters, that political matter is immediately followed by the broadcast of the ‘required particulars’, if it is broadcast at the request of another person. These particulars identify the person who has authorised the political broadcast and promotes transparency in political communication for the benefit of the Australian community.

This does not prohibit the broadcast of political matter, but requires that the person who authorises the broadcast is identified. This is a long-standing requirement.

Political matter and 'required particulars'

‘Political matter’ means any political matter, including election advertising and the policy launch of a political party, but is not confined to material broadcast in the context of an election campaign.

When investigating a complaint, the ACMA considers the question of whether the material broadcast is political matter by referring to a number of matters, including:

  • the context surrounding the broadcast
  • the content of the advertisement
  • the nature and style of any accompanying audio or visual elements and;
  • the overall presentation of the material including the tone, style and emphasis.

When determining whether content is political matter, the ACMA asks what the ordinary reasonable viewer or listener would understand the material to mean – that is, whether the content broadcast engages with a political question in a way that promotes or seeks to influence its audience with respect to that question. The distinction may be a fine one and material that is not political in one context may be considered political in another. All matters are determined on a case-by-case basis.

If the broadcast of the political matter was authorised by a person other than a political party, the ‘required particulars’ include:

  • the name of the person who authorised the broadcast of the political matter; and
  • the town, city or suburb in which the person lives or, if the person is a corporation or association, in which the principal office of the person is situated; and
  • the name of every speaker who, either in person or by means of a sound recording device, delivers an address or makes a statement that forms part of that matter.

The broadcast of required particulars ensures that, whenever political matter is broadcast at the request of another person:

  • listeners and viewers are informed about who is trying to persuade them to think or to act in response to political matters; and
  • people authorising this type of material are accountable for it.

The broadcast of political matter that is authorised by a political party, must identify the name of the political party as well as the name of the natural person giving effect to the authorisation.

Political matter that is not broadcast at the request of another person – for example, material that is broadcast at a licensee’s own initiative – is not required to broadcast the ‘required particulars’.

The Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey

Material that:

  • is broadcast at the request of another person; and
  • would be understood by a reasonable audience member as seeking directly or indirectly to influence their views about same sex marriage or the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey;

will be political matter that needs to be ’tagged’ with the required particulars in the usual way.

Accordingly, it is critical that advertisers, content producers and licensees consider how a reasonable audience member might understand the material proposed for broadcast.

Relevant matters to take into account are set out above. Some real life ACMA investigations, considering whether particular material is ‘political matter’, are summarised on the ACMA's website.

This information has been adapted from the ACMA's website.

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Comes into effect 14 March 2018.