Election a mixed blessing for radio

Australia’s federal election has now been called, and radio stations all over the country are moving into election mode with 36 days to go before polling day on October 9.

Sales people are hoping for an increase in advertising and talk stations are hoping to get the balance right between coverage and overkill.

What are the implications for radio stations as they head for election day? radioinfo has prepared this special report:


DMG’s Paul Thompson is not expecting an election generated advertising windfall.

“Advertising has been extraordinarily buoyant recently, but the election might soften demand by making people cautious. Elections often have a dampening effect, especially in retail.”

He expects that any increase in ads for candidates and political parties may be offset by caution from regular advertisers during this period.

A senior party staffer, who did not wish to be named, has told radioinfo that parties are likely to hold off most of their radio and tv advertising spend until the last week of the election campaign.

He estimates that ads will be booked in the last 5 days before the election blackout on Wednesday 6 October. Parties are likely to monitor the mood of the electorate and use that last week to blitz a particular theme through advertising, according to radioinfo’s source.

Parties have a component of their budgets reserved for national advertising campaigns, but candidates also have locally raised money which they can use to enhance that national spend.

The anomalous ‘Election Advertising Blackout’ rule that prevents radio and tv stations from airing political ads in the three days before election day (Wednesday October 6 to Saturday October 9), does not cover newspapers, which will be happily taking money for political ads right up until polling day.

Advertisers placing political ads in both electronic and print media are required to reveal the names of speakers and party details in their advertising under Clause 4 of the Broadcasting Services Act and (clause 5) to keep records of political material broadcast.


The ABA has told radioinfo that Schedule 2 (part 2, clause 3) of the Broadcasting Services Act stipulates that if a station decides to cover the election it must “give reasonable opportunities for all political parties contesting the election” to be heard (see the appropriate section of the Act by clicking the link below).

Commercial Stations can decide not to cover the election, as some music stations may do. But if they do cover it they are obliged to give all players air time, not just parties the station supports.

The Act, however, does not force commercial stations to be unbiased in their coverage. A station can take sides on an issue in Australia’s free speech environment. A presenter can also show bias and talk to only preferred parties, as long as, across the station and across the day a balance is achieved.

ABC Radio stations have a much stricter set of guidelines imposed by the corporation’s own internal editorial practices and policies. ABC radio presenters are expected to count minutes and achieve balance by time within programs, as well as across the day. ABC presenters contrast with commercial presenters in that they are expected not to favour one party or other in their lines of questioning and are not allowed to state their political opinions on air.

ABC Radio is now, controversially, being monitored by an outside agency, which will calculate the amount of political content aire, and make judgements on bias. One ABC source, who objects to the monitoring, was sceptical of the ability of juniors who do that monitoring to make judgements on complex interview material compiled by reporters who have much more experience than they do.

Community Radio stations, especially those in capital cities, see themselves as an alternative voice interested in giving airtime to smaller parties and alternative policies where it is necessary to balance the output of the larger media organisations.

In regional areas community stations are closely connected to local candidates and are likely to give them more air time than they could get from commercial or ABC stations. The Community Radio sector is also keen to push it’s agenda for increased funding to the sector and has been conducting a lobbying campaign in the lead up to the election.


As the electoral campaign progresses, politicians and their media minders will calculate the value of their speeches and policies and strategically place them across all media to achieve the desired effect. Each side of politics will be watching the other for opportunities to ridicule their campaigns or put out some counter-spin.

Candidates will ride the news media cycle, placing stories with newspapers in the late afternoon in the hope that they will run the next day and be picked up by talkback radio during the high rating breakfast and morning programs. By evening tv news time the issue will have fattened out and be worth a few pictures, especially if there was a lunchtime news conference or slanging match to justify a few more seconds on screen.


radioinfo’s Canberra sources say any seat held with less than a 5% margin is vulnerable, and those marginal seats will receive a higher proportion of spending than most others. The swinging seat of Eden Monaro, serviced by commercial station 2EC and ABC Radio Bega is one example of such a seat.

Stations in marginal seats are also expected to be the focus of strong lobbying, as grass roots party supporters dial the talkback phones armed with scripts and phrases to try and influence presenters and listeners.

Talk radio producers have told radioinfo that party stooges are already clogging up their incoming talkback lines trying to get through. Most experienced talk radio producers and call screeners can easily spot a party stooge and usually control their attempts to stack the talkback airwaves.

“We know that they’re all doing it,” one producer told radioinfo, “so at least that helps us balance views. Once we free up some lines the alternative viewpoints usually get through.”


Will listeners be swayed by what they hear from the politicians and commentators?

One party source told radioinfo, on the guarantee of anonymity, “people who listen to talkback radio have more interest in the political process, but have also probably made up their minds on how they will vote” so reaching them through talk radio is not always useful.

On the other hand, with music stations parties might reach swinging voters who have not yet decided on their voting intentions, but at a much higher cost per unit for the advertisements.

Most managers and programmers spoken to by radioinfo ruled out the possibility of doing live reads for political candidates, saying that the lines between editorial and advertising could be compromised. All PDs preferred to air prerecorded ads from the candidates themselves or from the parties.


A number of political sources canvassed by radioinfo said the traditional background for politicians was Law, because legal training teaches skills of presentation and logical argument.

But some believe the Law is now only one training ground for successful politicians, and that Media is the other. A radio talkback host or current affairs reporter now has the same kind of training and experience as a lawyer, and more and more of them are using it to move into political careers.

Three state leaders are former radio people: Northern Territory Chief Minister Claire Martin, who was a talk radio host on 2CN Canberra; NSW Premier Bob Carr, who was a reporter for ABC Radio’s current affairs programs; and South Australian Premier Mike Rann, who was a radio news and current affairs reporter in New Zealand.

“The degree of articulateness in media personalites and lawyers is now equal. Both backgrounds give you the ability to communicate effectively,” says radioinfo’s Canberra source.