BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg may have broken electoral law by reporting anonymous claims that postal ballots painted a “grim” picture for Labour.
Kuenssberg told viewers 11th December while parties weren’t permitted to view voting papers before official counting began at 10pm on election day, officials had got “a hint” of how they were doing and the outlook for Jeremy Corbyn’s party was bleak.
“The forecast is it’s going to be wet and cold tomorrow. The postal votes, of course, have already arrived. The parties – they’re not meant to look at it, but they do kind of get a hint – and on both sides people are telling me the postal votes are looking pretty grim for Labour in a lot of parts of the country,” she said.
Hi @ElectoralCommUK, it's illegal to view and/or count postal votes ahead of December 12th, and it's surely extremely dubious for news outlets to report on that. So can you start looking into @bbclaurak, @BBCNews and @Conservatives immediately? Thanks. https://t.co/MtSd9oVOfl— Kit Klarenberg (@KitKlarenberg) December 11, 2019
Footage of the segment spread like wildfire on social media, with many users reporting they'd contacted the UK Electoral Commission, Metropolitan Police and broadcast watchdog Ofcom of her remarks, made during an interview on BBC Politics Live, quickly went viral on social media, prompting widespread outcry and debate over whether Kuenssberg had breached the Representation of the People Act, which prevents media reporting of how people voted until after polls have closed.
A spokesperson for the British state broadcaster made clear the BBC “does not believe it, or its political editor, has breached electoral law”.
Just a reminder to all journalists thinking about reporting how the postal votes are stacking up, there's an excellent piece of advice in the BBC producer guidelines... pic.twitter.com/4u4GalekdM— Paul Mason #VoteLabour (@paulmasonnews) December 11, 2019
The denial came despite internal guidance making clear it is a criminal offence “to publish details of how people have voted” in the General Election before official vote counting begins on the evening election day itself, and the Electoral Commission issuing a statement the same day as Kuenssberg’s comments warning against revealing results.
“It may be an offence to communicate any information obtained at postal vote opening sessions, including about votes cast, before a poll has closed. Anyone with information to suggest this has happened should report it immediately to the police,” it said.