Election 2019

It’s time: election blackout in action

A selection of social media ads from the 2019 election. Screenshots: Eloise Parks

A nationwide blackout on election advertising came into effect overnight, but some forms of media continue to be exempt from the rules.

Social media, catch-up TV, podcasts and streaming services are not included in the legislation of the Broadcasting Services Act (1992).

The Act restricts political parties from advertising on television and radio until polls close at 6pm on Saturday.

The blackout’s function is to dissuade voters from making rash decisions based on last-minute persuasive claims, which may not be based on fact-checked information.

As the internet has continued to rise in usage and influence, critics have pointed to the somewhat archaic nature of the law.

“The technology has leaped ahead of the law and we’re in a perverse situation where the original policy intent and public good is no longer being achieved and all that is happening is traditional media is being disadvantaged versus new media,” Melbourne School of Government principal fellow and former campaign director and secretary of the Australian Labor Party Nicholas Reece told the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year.

Government spending supports this notion; according to the Department of Finance’s 2017-18 annual report, 33 per cent of the government’s advertising spend was on digital media, a significant rise from in the 2011-12 period when it sat at 14 per cent.

University of Melbourne Professor of Political Sciences Sally Young says the blackout laws no longer appear to work in modern society.

“Those rules were designed for another era when television and radio broadcasting were the main games in town, and they were the main ways which people would have heard about the election in the media,” Professor Young says.

“It was designed also to give people a period of reflection so people can have a quiet period when they can reflect on their vote, but none of that makes much sense now with the internet.

“A lot of people will still be receiving ads and different messages electronically.”

Professor Young also makes note of the increase in pre-polling as opposed to voting on the election day itself, and how this further renders the law redundant.

“The polling day itself doesn’t make as much sense anymore because so many people are voting before polling day – we’ve seen in Victoria especially that pre-polling votes have been very high.

“So people aren’t even waiting to polling day to make up their mind.”

The Australian Electoral Commission reports more than 3 million people have voted early this year as of today including around 247,000 in WA.

A spotlight on Clive Palmer in the 2019 elections. Video: Eloise Parks.