Election and referendum guidelines

Key points

  • These obligations cover all content across all genres including non-political content.
  • If your content (including non-political content) includes candidates, potential candidates, contributors connected to interested parties, matters relating to public policy, political or industrial issues or controversy, and is due to be broadcast/published, or any press and publicity is due to be sent out during an election or referendum period, you should contact your content lawyer/compliance advisor for further advice as soon as possible.
  • The reporting of elections and referendums must be duly impartial and facts must not be misrepresented.
  • During the election or referendum period, due weight must be given to coverage of parties and candidates based on evidence of past and/or current support, and those with significant views or opinions.
  • On polling day, discussion and analysis of election issues must finish when polling stations open.
  • After an election has been called, politicians must not be allowed to make constituency points in any type of content where no other candidate will have a similar opportunity.


(See Section Six of the Ofcom Code)

Special impartiality rules apply to potentially all content, whether political or non-political, during an election or referendum period. They exist in addition to the general rules concerning impartiality. In addition, around the time of elections, separate guidance may be issued by Channel 4's Legal & Compliance department.

For detailed advice on this subject, please contact your allocated content lawyer/compliance advisor.

There are also separate Ofcom rules governing party political, referendum and party election broadcasts.

During the election or referendum period, any coverage of the election and our heightened obligations regarding due impartiality will be closely scrutinised. The scheduling and content of programmes/content may be affected. It is therefore essential that all content creators and Channel 4 editorial staff read Section 6 of the Ofcom Code and ensure that you are aware of the rules which may impact on your content (including repeats on Channel 4 and broadcasts on E4, More4 and the +1 channels).

If you need advice or guidance on the rules, please contact the Legal & Compliance department.

Which elections?

For the purpose of these rules, elections include a parliamentary general election, parliamentary by-election, local government election, mayoral election, Police and Crime Commissioner election, Scottish and Welsh Parliament elections and Northern Ireland and London Assembly elections.

Definition of election and referendum periods

The timing for when the election and referendum periods start and finish are set out in the Ofcom Code. Specific dates and any specific rules for each election or referendum period may also be notified by the Legal & Compliance department. For any queries, please refer to the Legal & Compliance department.

Guidelines for content broadcast/published in the run up to and during the election period

Appearances by candidates in content

There are strict rules governing the appearance of candidates in any content during the election or referendum period. The names of those candidates and parties standing will not be formally confirmed until after the close of nominations.

Before that time, you must ensure that you check individuals appearing in content, whether as contributors, presenters or interviewers, are not planning to run as prospective candidates.

Appearances by candidates in any type of content as news presenters, interviewers or presenters of any type of content should cease from the start of the election period until close of polls.

Appearances by candidates in non-political content, which were planned or scheduled before the election period begins may, in certain circumstances, continue but this should be discussed with the content lawyer/compliance advisor. No new appearances should be arranged and broadcast/published from the start of the election period until after the polls close.

Due impartiality

Due impartiality must be maintained across all content.

The normal due impartiality rules set out in Section 5 of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code apply as always. In particular, the rules relating to matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy apply to the coverage of the elections and policies under discussion or already agreed by a local, regional or national government or public body.

Elections and referendums fall within the definition of "Major Matters", which means that the due impartiality rules apply: reporting must be duly impartial; content or clearly-linked content must include and give due weight to an appropriately wide range of significant views; and views and facts must not be misrepresented.

See: Due impartiality

Due weight to parties

While the time devoted to all parties and candidates during the election or referendum period need not be equal, election content during the election period must give due weight to the coverage of the parties and independent candidates.

In determining the appropriate level of coverage to be given to parties and independent candidates, Channel 4 must take into account evidence of past electoral support and/or current support. Channel 4 must also consider giving appropriate coverage during the election or referendum period to other parties and independent candidates with significant views and opinions.

Please contact the Legal & Compliance department for advice.

Party election broadcasts

Channel 4 is required to carry Party Election Broadcasts at General Election times only.  Outside General Election times, Channel 4 broadcast the Political Slots.  The Political Slots series will not be scheduled during the Election Period. 

Any enquiries from political parties or candidates should be directed to the Legal & Compliance and News & Current Affairs departments.

On polling day

Discussion and analysis of election issues must finish when polling stations open.

In addition, the results of any opinion poll (including exit polls) must not be published on polling day until the poll has closed.

Video on demand and web content

The above rules and guidance do not apply to our video on demand service.

Although the Code provisions do not extend to our video on demand and online coverage, the Channel will ensure that its video on demand and online coverage of the elections is consistent in terms of fairness and balance.


This is the period during which the special due impartiality rules (Section 6 of the Code) governing election and referendum reporting apply. In the case of a general election, the period commences with the announcement of the dissolution of parliament and ends with the close of the poll on polling day.

This is where an electoral candidate takes part in a report or discussion about his/her particular constituency or electoral area.

No, but candidates from each party or independent candidates who have previous or current significant electoral support must be invited to take part. If they refuse or are unable to take part, the report or discussion can still go ahead, provided a list of all the candidates standing in that constituency or electoral area - full name of the candidate and party - is conveyed in sound and/or vision at the end of the report or discussion.

Appearances (except as a presenter or interviewer) by candidates in non-political content planned or scheduled before the election period may continue but should be discussed with the Legal & Compliance department and new appearances should not be arranged and broadcast during this period.

Yes. Party Election and Party Political Broadcasts are covered under separate rules - the Ofcom 'Rules on Party Political and Referendum Broadcasts'. These rules cover the allocation, duration and scheduling of such broadcasts. Whilst editorial control of such broadcasts rests with the political parties, broadcasters remain responsible for ensuring they comply with the Code. The political parties are also required to comply with the 'Guidelines for the Production of Party Election Broadcasts' drawn up by the broadcasters and designed to assist the parties in complying with the Code.

See also

Ofcom Code - 'Elections and Referendums'

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