Not only are there complaints that three centres are inadequate to cover the whole of rural North Antrim for recalling Ian Paisley and forcing a by election, but there are complaints about the purdah on comment it enforces too. This twitter dialogue from two leading commentators Michael Crick of Channel 4 News and Anthony Wells of YouGov covers the point.
The 2015 Recall of MPs Act says that during the 30-day period NOBODY – journalists or anyone – can make any statements about whether any individuals have signed the petition, or make any forecast of the outcome, based on talking to people who might sign it.
No. It’s worded the same way as the regulation that stops exit polls being published until 10pm on election day. The only real difference is the time scale, because the petition is open for 30 days, voting on election day is only open for 15 hours.
Yes, but the rules on exit polls only apply to a tiny fraction of the actual voting period. They don’t apply to 3 or so weeks people can vote by post, and I & others have frequently broadcast interviews with people saying how they have cast their postal ballots.
I think broadcasting someone saying how they’ve already cast their postal vote is probably technically illegal under Section 66A (though I’m glad you don’t get prosecuted for it. That would be thoroughly daft
Our own Newton has noticed..
The recall petition against Ian Paisley has begun in North Antrim, surprising many with the reporting restrictions around this new and previously unused parliamentary mechanism.
For the next six weeks, while the petition is open, it will be an offence punishable by up to six months in prison to reveal who has signed, publish forecasts based on asking who has signed, or seek to influence the outcome in a broadcast from home or abroad.
This all makes perfect sense if the petition is seen as a vote, as logically it should be. Similar restrictions apply while normal polls are open against publishing voter information and exit polls, or broadcasting political exhortations and partisan commentary. Few consider this contentious. But voting normally lasts for hours, not weeks. Is a purdah of this duration sustainable? The recall legislation, just two years old and completely untested, looks ripe for legal wrangling. Paisley could end up deploying his much-mentioned solicitors after all.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London