back to article Think Aussie election rules are draconian? Look at the UK's

Commentards looking forward to venting their spleens during the upcoming UK election could found themselves falling foul of rules designed to ensure fair and balanced coverage of the proceedings. South Australia is to levy fines of $5000 on blog posters and the like who do not disclose their names when commenting on elections …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    impossible to resist..

    "Commentards looking forward to venting their spleens during the upcoming UK election could found themselves falling foul of rules designed to ensure fair and balanced coverage of the proceedings."

    That's Orlowski screwed, then...

    1. Julian Bond
      Troll

      And Ian Dale

      And can we please keep him off our TV screens as well.

    2. Andy 17
      Megaphone

      Or not ^

      "That's Orlowski screwed, then..."

      I dooubt it, I'm fairly sure he would happily put his name to his work!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Except...

      He's in the US, and as we now know (thanks to Gary McKinnon), extradition only works from the UK to the US, not the other way round.

      Personally I won't fall fowl of it on my blog, I'll be slagging all the parties off.

      1. Tim Spence
        Joke

        Fowl

        What's an election got to do with chickens?

        1. Charley 1

          Fowl?

          It's a poultry issue.

  2. Richard Gadsden
    Boffin

    Returning Officers don't enforce these laws

    Returning Officers, in spite of popular belief, don't actually enforce electoral law in the UK, and my experience is that a lot of them get quite a bit of it wrong.

    The laws are on expenditure; any expenditure spent to promote one candidate must be authorised by the candidate or his agent (the agent is the legal head of the campaign team; sometimes they actually run the campaign, other times they're the legal compliance person). The main reason for this is that candidates are only allowed to spend a fairly modest limit on their campaigns - about £30,000 each.

    Any spending to promote or denigrate a candidate, spent by someone who is not authorised by the campaign is called "third party" spending. This is allowed, but there's a limit of £500. If you run a blog that will cost more than £500 to run for 17 days and you use that blog exclusively to campaign in a single-constituency campaign, then you could get into trouble.

    There is also a media exemption; established media outlets can endorse a candidate or a party without that being regarded as a political campaign. I suspect that most blogs that have any content other than party-political will be regarded as falling under the media exemption.

    Imprint rules only apply to candidate-approved campaigning material, not third-party.

    More details from the electoral commission at http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/party-finance/legislation/third-partiespermitted-participants/third-parties

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Flame

      But who is a genuine 3rd party?

      During the last election campaign I happened to listen to the "public opinions" being read out on the BBC - "Mr Smith from London say the government policy is exactly right and we must protect the kiddies" sort of thing. As I switched to the other channel they were reading out a comment from Ms Jones from Somerset who miraculously used exactly the same words. Given the topic they were discussing, the chances of that happening are vanishing small.

      We already know that unscrupulous party campaign teams distribute form letters to party members which are then sent to local papers as if from members of the general public. Whenever a party leader speaks on telly, it's rent-a-mob behind him/her rather than the general public. 'Public opinion' is whatever the politicians or their media friends want to make it.

      The rules are there (like expenses rules prohibiting excessive spending) but our politicians and political parties just call it 'modern politics' and don't understand that what they do is simply wrong. UK culture is now based on the idea that the only crime is getting caught.

      1. GilbertFilbert

        Single party state

        "But who is a genuine 3rd party? " - we need a genuine 2nd party first. One that is not beholden to corporate lobbyists. And remember that the Goatse guy is a politician who deals with the US.

  3. N2

    Fair and balanced coverage...

    "Free speech? - my arse" as Jim Royle would say

  4. breakfast
    Thumb Up

    Difficult

    One thing I'll say for the people involved in our electoral system is that they are always trying hard to keep things above board and keep the system fair and free. Sometimes maybe it doesn't work as well as they would hope, but they work hard at it. The risks pointed out in this article are genuine ones and one way or another there does need to be a way of avoiding them. I'm not sure identifying the commentator really helps though because I'd be willing to bet that a fraudulent group using the web to provide an anonymous front could just make up names and postcodes or take them off the electoral role and almost certainly they would never be noticed.

    A very interesting question, well done for highlighting it.

  5. Fred 1

    Gagged

    I think I am speaking for many of us here when I say...

    <CENSORED>

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Draconian?

    Fair is the word you mean. It's part of a process which stops people like Rupert Murdoch doing what he did in the US. A prolonged, biased and wildly innacurate campaign by Fox to smear Obama and the Democratic party.

    I know which system I think is most democratic.

    1. Cameron Colley

      Yup, can't have the media spoiling people's chances like he did Oba...

      ..wait? What?

      Or are you suggesting that Rupert wanted Obama to get in and it was all reverse psychology?

  7. Pete 2 Silver badge

    None of the above

    So presumably it's still OK to point out that they are ALL lying, cheating, insincere and untrustworthy individuals who would barbeque their own grannies just to sit in "the big chair" . Which makes voting for any of them a bad idea?

    At least that's balanced!

  8. James Loughner
    Big Brother

    USA USA USA

    Thank god that we here in the US of A have a rational method of electing our overseers. We have the freedom to allow all our Corporate entities unlimited expenditure to effect our elections.

    Would you like fries with that?

  9. Scott Broukell
    Megaphone

    Just post what you want to

    ... and claim insanity. Only a true madman (Woman) (peeps) (whatever) is going to have the vision to get us out of this mess.

    And whilst I'm teetering on ranting mood - aside from electoral reform proposals, can we build a new, modern parliament, (with bedsit accommodation - so no more second homes needed), get rid of the knee-britches and pomp etc. and look forward to our parliamentarians being frequently reminded that they are "In office" not "In Power", for in a true democracy power resides with the people, (Tooting Beck Peoples liberation army included).

    >IF var=rant over

    GOTO back to work.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    Get a plumber to fix a pipe, not a sales assistant

    Surely this is a matter for a specialist lawyer to comment on? All that we seem to get from this article is an opinion of a 'returning officer', which - no offence - doesn't count for much. They only know about what is established law and procedure, not how new things like blogs fit into the picture.

    Perhaps this should have been one of The Register's Out Law articles?

    Now, in the words of James Whale, vote Boris!

  11. Dennis O'Neill

    So how does that affect...

    newspapers, then? Surely everything they publish during an election comes under that banner.

  12. Witty username

    Freedom of speech?

    If i think candidate X is a window licker, then i thought i had the right to say so?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This commentard doth spoth a difference

    Where the UK rules thus deal with evading spending limits for candidates, that southern aussie chief guy fineth everybody for the sake of taking away anonymity, not for mitigating spending limits. I don't see restrictions on the rules applying to talking about candidates. In the UK you could still vent anonymously about issues as long as you scrupulously don't mention candidates. Rules lawyering, yes, but the impact is rather large here.

  14. Steven Jones

    Really?

    From this it would appear that it will only pick up those that are spending significant amounts of money on distributing material locally. That's clearly the direction and aim of the law. Individuals who are running blogs which cost next to nothing to run and which are in any case not purely local distributions are surely not covered.

    In any event, there is not, as far as I'm aware, anything to stop national newspapers being as partisan as they care. Of the national media only the broadcase ones (TV & Radio) are required to follow the fair and balanced coverage rules.

  15. TeeCee Gold badge
    Happy

    If I read that right.

    It's perfectly all right to call Gordon Brown a one-eyed Scots idiot in the runup to the election, as long as you stand for Parliament?

    Worth the 500 quid deposit all on its own that and there's an outside chance of a fat salary, decent pension and huge expense account* in there as well. Like the Lottery with fringe benefits added.

    *Ok, maybe not that.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I think it really is unfair

      to harp on the 'one-eyed' bit. Unless by that you're implying he's a plonker.

      1. The Commenter formally known as Matt
        Joke

        unfair to harp on the 'one-eyed' bit

        Well when he was Chancellor he was rather short sighted

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Grenade

      TeeCee - If I read that right @ 16.59

      I think you will find that you can still claim un-receipted expenses for up to 10k a year?

      Of course, none of our noble MPs would ever abuse that....

      1. TeeCee Gold badge
        Happy

        Is that trough still open?

        Ok, like the Lottery on a rollover week then.

  16. Steven Jones

    Further stuff

    Just to add to my previous note, it's worth reading this from the electoral commision which is all about campaign expenditure and clearly doesn't apply to trivial amoutns of personal expenditure (nor, for that matter, does it include volunteer effort). However, if somebody spent a few thousand pounds setting up a dedicated electoral web site then it would most definitely count as campaigh expenditure :-

    http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/elections/election-spending/party-campaign-expenditure

    This is what is defined as campaign expenditure

    Campaign expenditure includes any expenditure incurred by a party in connection with the following items:

    party political broadcasts

    advertising

    unsolicited material to electors

    manifesto or other policy documents

    market research and canvassing

    media/publicity

    transport

    rallies or other events

    The PPERA specifies that 'notional expenditure' must also be treated as campaign expenditure. Notional expenditure is incurred when a party receives benefits in kind, i.e. when someone else bears the costs that a party would otherwise have been liable for; for example, a party supporter might pay half the costs towards a party's advertising campaign. The amount paid by the supporter would be treated as notional expenditure and would be counted as campaign expenditure incurred by the party.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe...

    But the "fairly strict rules of expenditure allowed in general elections" is open to being bent by the large parties. Central office regularly provide services at a nominal cost, whilst independents have to provide everything locally. Everything has a nominal value.

    Sometimes an independent gets lucky with some local expertise. I once helped an independent by "lending" some old PCs to their campaign. I was told I couldn't just donate or lend, I would have to lease them to the campaign. IIRC I charge them £1 and had to provide paperwork and an invoice.

  18. John G Imrie

    So what happens if ...

    an MP with connections to a foreign country sets up a web site in that country supporting one or another party and then buys a .uk domain that redirects to that site?

    What happens if the site is paid for using earnings not generated in the UK?

  19. Alan 6 Silver badge

    Radio

    Local DJ (and demi-god) James H Reeve used to be taken off air during Elections as he wasn't trusted to keep his well researched and argued left-wing views to himself...

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reasons

    It may be draconian, but at least you say why these laws exist. Seems fair when you explain why, although im sure others will argue.

  21. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
    Big Brother

    Oh good

    So the political kleptocrats will not be able to stuff the audiences of television debates with hordes of the party faithful sheep

  22. Mike Richards

    Does this mean

    We can continue to call Alan Johnson a complete twunt right up until the moment the election is announced?

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Does this mean

      I think you can call him a complete and utter twunt all the way through the election campaign, as long as you don't spend any money bringing your views to a wider audience. Let's face it, if calling politicians names were illegal during election campaigns then they'd have to close the pubs for four weeks.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I will happily

      keep calling him it (or variations thereof) when he's in Opposition; indeed, when he's retired. I'll follow him around all day calling him it (if people will club together for my expenses!).

  23. Tony Humphreys
    Black Helicopters

    The BBC?

    If its right that during the election period a facebook group supporting one side may be illegal, surely the BBC would be illegal (along with NSPCC, RSPCA, WWF, Carbon Trust, and every other group that wants just £3 a month).

    Perhaps this post is illegal, if not now then maybe retrospectivly in the future. I would not at all put it past them.

    1. Kwac

      'Balance'

      If the BBC supports one side at ANY time we hear the other droning on about it. In the run up to elections especially so.

      In the interests of 'balance' - that's why the lunatic fringe (including Nick Griffin) get heard.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      interesting point

      "Perhaps this post is illegal, if not now then maybe retrospectivly in the future. I would not at all put it past them."

      An interesting point. Didn't the UK courts recently rule that an online article is "published" every time it is accessed?

      If so, a comment could become illegal if it was accessed during the run-up, even if it was posted previous to the run-up (assuming it would be illegal if published during).

      In that light, the judgement makes sense to me. Before now I'd have said something was only published the first time it was made publicly available - in the same way that a magazine is published once and could find it's way to a doctor's waiting room to be read by lots of people over a period of time - which is about ten years if the waiting rooms I've seen are anything to go by.

      So there could be pages out there that are fine right now but become illegal once an election is declared and then are fine again afterwards?

      My personal opinion is to just ignore the internet, at least this time around - are people's views really going to be changed on who they vote for because of some crap they read on the web?

      Will anyone give a shit about the election enough that they decide they're going to research the various options on the internet?

      If the answer's yes then Google can shape our elections.

      Fortunately Google won't be able to do that as everyone just votes for the same party as their parents do or did (those who don't like their families vote for the other party to spite them). The folks who vote Lib Dem are the ones who actually thought about it and realised that:

      a) they're the least shit out of the lot of them

      b) it doesn't make a blind bit of difference who's in office because ultimately it's Joe Public that actually screws the country up, not the politicians (60 million of us and a few hundred of them and yet it's all the politician's faults?)

      This article is the sort of stuff I read The Register for.

      And finally, that person in the lead in the Aussie elections couldn't run a bath.

      AC 'cause I've never been to Australia ...

      1. seanj
        Stop

        My fault?

        "ultimately it's Joe Public that actually screws the country up, not the politicians"

        Yes, I agree.

        It's entirely my fault that we sent troops to Iraq

        It's entirely my fault that we sent troops to Afghanistan

        It's entirely my fault that we are being force fed ID Cards

        It's entirely my fault that I run the risk of being arrested for the crime of being too tall in possession of a recording device in public

        It's entirely my fault that innocent bystanders are beaten to death by police

        It's entirely my fault that a man was murdered by the police for the crime of "being in a rush and looking a bit too dark"

        It's entirely my fault that we're the most surveilled society in the world

        It's entirely my fault that my freedoms are being removed one by one in the name of preserving "freedom"

        It's entirely my fault that politicians are corrupt, thieving filth

        It's entirely my fault that the UK has been sold out without say to the EU in an attempt to make Tony Blair the first Emperor of Europe

        None of that was anything to do with those poor, hard done by politicians, we were asked how we felt about every single one of those issues, weren't we? And the voting population stood up and in one voice shouted "Yes please, Mr Brown, sir, arse-rape us hard!".

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    LOL

    Just a thought (before thoughts gets censored as well)

    If Mr. BinLadies comments on his cave's blog that he backs an UK candidate from well known party.

    Then we all see on the big brother telly, UK.gov visiting Mr. BinLadies´s cave to compliment him and offering a medal for such honorably blog comment.

    As second thought...

    It would be nice to see UK.gov visiting him on his cave when the US.gov has been unable to find the door to his cave since beginning of the last decade... then probably isn't that bad law after all...

    But would be nice to see how it will be enforced :-)

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Big Brother

    Why Big Brother producers don't invite all these politicians to live in the Big Brother house during all campaign?

    Certainly it would be allot funnier to see what they say, do and how funny they are as individuals.

    On other hand politicians would have an unique opportunity of long hours of telly and massive audiences. TV would win, Political class would win and would be see with different eyes (as celebrities) and we all would win.

    And who reached the top score of the Big Brother funnymeter would win the house and the country (so 2 in 1 promotion)

    This is only for our good after all... :-)

  26. Charles 9 Silver badge

    One thing the US seems to get wrong...

    ...sure free speech is important in any modern thinking society, but when it comes to important decisions, such as an election, FREE speech is not as important as FAIR speech.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Democracy Outlawed

    So, when you comment it may be criminal to some, but if you consider elements of UK law to be criminal in themselves then that makes you an outlaw. Oddly enough, that also makes people who think they are UK law abiding into criminals, such is the matter of perspective.

  28. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Coat

    AC@16:48

    "Fair is the word you mean. It's part of a process which stops people like Rupert Murdoch doing what he did in the US. A prolonged, biased and wildly innacurate campaign by Fox to smear Obama and the Democratic party.

    I know which system I think is most democratic"

    Er.no. "The Representation of the People's Act" in the UK is what requires TV stations in the UK to offer "balence" reporting with *roughly* equal levels of coverage to all major parties.

    This does *not* include newspapers, giving the UK newspaper coverage (mostly Murdoch owned) over the last half century (The Sun

  29. ceebee

    well that was fun....

    Pity the poor South Australian Attorney General Michale Atkinson... the outcry against the changes to electoral coverage was so intense he has had to back down.

    He says is humiliated ..poor man ... he is the same man who Australian gamers detest with an intense passion because he has stood in the way of R18+ games being allowed here.

    Mr Atkinson decried the internet describing it as a "sewer'!

    He and some of his other colleagues, such Sen. Conroy, our "Communications" Minister and who wants to impose mandatory internet filtering to "protect our children" clearly have no understanding of internet or democracy or civil rights at all.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Late news.

    The Attorney general in South Australia copped such a huge backlash that he has promised that the electoral censorship law will be retrospecively repealed, and is passing a regulation to suspend it for the upcoming election.

    It seems he got a LOT of complaints, so much so he could not backflip fast enough.

    ElReg will catch up eventually I suppose!

  31. LinkOfHyrule
    Thumb Down

    Non story???

    So basicly this article tells us the laws on print and boracast media reguarding election coverage. What's that got to do with online comments? If there are actully laws that say I cannot say in comments "Gordon Brown smells of mouldy black pudding" during an election we would all know this already.

    Is this article not just scaremongering and trying to make something out of nothing? Then again, maybe its a 'pre-emptive' strike as I'm sure the powers that be would love to make such laws and give it time they will!

  32. David 100
    Stop

    An election agent writes...

    The actual monetary value of someone posting on say Facebook (the cost of the user's computer time plus the notional cost of processing that transaction on Facebook's servers) is trivial, less than one penny.

    So if someone unconnected with a campaign posts something pro- or anti- a particular election candidate, nobody is going to do anything about it. However, if they develop & setup a swanky website and incur other costs, then essentially they are a third party and should be registered with the Electoral Commission.

    Similarly, if someone talks down the pub about a candidate this has no cost, but if they stood in the town centre with a mega-phone offering their opinion, then (as well as attracting the attentions of the police) it's arguable they should be registered and declare the cost of the mega-phone.

    In terms of the media, my understanding is they are exempt from all this (free press), but some organisations work to a code of practice (either on a voluntary or statutory basis). This is the reason that when there's a by-election, the BBC News report will mention at the end all the candidates standing, because they can't just promote the main contenders and ignore the random local independent who'll be lucky to get 20 votes.

  33. Jerome 0

    Blogs aren't local

    How can rules regarding "locally distributed print media" be construed to apply to blogs? Blogs are international in nature - you can read them on the ISS if you want. A more fitting analogy is with national newspapers, which certainly don't do anything to hide their partisan nature. Blogs also cost nothing to run, so they're unlikely to fall foul of spending rules.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Personal experience

    I once had the "pleasure" of helping a friend with collecting numbers during an election - which party it was for does not matter as it is beside the point - and she had an A4-size "poster" for one of the local candidates in her car window.

    One of the tellers (see note below) complained about this as it was clearly in breach of the rules - the only people who are supposed to display such posters etc within sight of the polling station is the candidate themselves.

    Thing was, the complainant had parked *his* car directly opposite the polling station - nearer than the car park my friend had used - and the side panels were almost completely hidden by posters for the candidate he supported...

    Still, this rat-frack got his come-uppance - his candidate (the sitting councillor) lost spectacularly, and my friend's choice got in!

    Note: Tellers are the people who sit outside and collect your Voter Number as you walk in - there are many uses for these numbers, but the main one is that the staff supporting each candidate can get a rough idea of how they are doing by the number of people who pledged to support them when canvassing compared to the number who have been and voted, and to make sure as many people who pledged support have actually gotten off their butts and voted as possible.

    The Government already knows how you voted - remember your voter number gets written on both the stub and your ballot paper? - and most of the tellers share numbers so there's no point being a twat and only giving it to "your" Teller because 99% of them will tell the others as soon as you are out of earshot anyway; this is actually an advantage because if one Teller doesn't hear a number because too many voters turn up at once, most others will tell them as soon as convenient. It's only arrogant "better than the rest" prats like the culprit in my narrative above that don't pass it on... and he missed out because one of the other tellers had a flask of tea - and wited until he had gone before she offered a cup to the other (non-Twat) Teller and the Twat's replacement!

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