BBC Denies Breaking Electoral Law over Postal Votes
In another basic error from the public service broadcaster, its political editor breaks the strict secrecy of the postal ballot.
On the Politics Live programme this lunchtime, the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg was interviewed en route to north Yorkshire about the turnout in tomorrow’s General Election.
During the two-way conversation, Kuenssberg said her sources had been looking at the postal vote. “They’re not meant to look at it,” she told Jo Coburn. “But they get a hint, and on both sides the postal votes that are in are looking pretty grim for Labour in lots of parts of the country.”
According to the Government’s website, the deadline for postal votes to be returned by voters to electoral offices is 10pm on 12 December – meaning that Kuenssberg made her claims on a limited sample and incomplete information.
what the papers don’t say
Byline Times has contacted the elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, about anyone disclosing the contents of the postal vote, and it stressed that “anyone attending a postal vote opening session has a duty to maintain secrecy”.
The penalty for disclosing any information from the postal vote is an unlimited fine and imprisonment of up to six months.
In a follow-up Tweet this afternoon, the Electoral Commission said that “anyone with information to suggest this has happened should report it immediately to the police”.
The BBC replied to a second request for comment two hours after this article was first published, telling Byline Times “it does not believe it, or its political editor, has breached electoral law”.
According to the 2019 BBC producer guidelines – as posted by former BBC Newsnight correspondent Paul Mason on Twitter – on the day of a vote “it is a criminal offence to publish details of how people have voted in the elections”.
In general, BBC journalists are not supposed to report any outcome of an election before polls have closed, hence why the BBC itself only announces the result of the exit poll at 10pm.
In a curious move, today’s episode of Politics Live is not available to watch on BBC iPlayer.
The BBC’s controversial move follows the misreporting of an incident at Leeds General Infirmary on Monday, when Kuenssberg and ITV’s political editor Robert Peston falsely reported an assault by Labour activists on an advisor to the Health and Social Care Minister Matt Hancock.