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Local radio station appoints news editor after breaching Ofcom impartiality rules on local election polling day

A radio station that breached impartiality rules by predicting local election results on polling day has hired a news editor after admitting the errors took place when no full-time journalists were employed.

Radio Exe, which broadcasts in the Exeter area, featured analysis of the likelihood of Labour holding onto Exeter City Council at the local election on 3 May in news items at 8am and 9am – just hours after polls to elect one third of the council opened at 7am.

Ofcom’s broadcasting code states that discussion and analysis of election issues must end when the polls open so voters’ decisions are not directly influenced by media coverage.

In the item broadcast at 8am, which received one complaint to Ofcom, a reporter said: “Labour currently holds 29 of the 39 seats, the Conservatives have eight and the Lib Dems and Greens have one each.

“Even though there’s the faintest of mathematical hopes for the Conservatives, Exeter will be a Labour council tomorrow, as it has been for the whole of this decade.”

At 9am, the reporter said: “Right now Exeter is Labour controlled, and that’s going to be the case tomorrow too, so dominant are they.

“The Tories have the slimmest chance of taking over, but they’d have to win twelve of the thirteen seats, and not even the Conservatives think that’s going to happen.”

Ofcom said these comments “constituted discussion and analysis of election issues and were broadcast whilst polls were open for the 2018 English local elections”, adding they were breaches of the code.

Independently owned Radio Exe apologised, calling the broadcasts a “clear mistake” and admitting it had been a “clear breach”.

The station said the two items had been intended to “round up” its election coverage but that they “evidently should have been transmitted before 7am, on the day before or not at all”.

Radio Exe told Ofcom it was a “small station” and that the breach took place when it had no full-time journalists in place.

It has now appointed a news editor to “tighten” its compliance processes and has considered its future coverage of local democracy issues in light of the complaint.

The station also apologised to each of the four main parties that took part in the election and Exeter City Council.

Read the full Ofcom ruling here (from page 31).

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