And now: the Australian Electoral Commission’s ability to understand and answer questions.

From: Jashank Jeremy
Sent: Thursday, 8 August 2013 7:47 PM
To: Australian Electoral Commission
Subject: Request for clarification of Commonwealth Electoral Act, section 328


I’m the editor-in-chief of a student-run magazine that has a weekly distribution of around 1000 readers in both electronic and paper forms. The target reader demographic comprises 12-18 year old readers at a high school on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. My tenure as editor-in-chief is drawing to a close over the next few weeks, though, and the majority of the day-to-day running of the publication has already been turned over to my immediate successor. Nonetheless, I’m still a regular contributor and act in a senior advisory role.

With the announcement of the Federal election, the magazine’s steering committee have been planning a series of issues covering key aspects of the election: the political issues, and the positions of the major parties on those issues. We receive no financial support beyond funding from the school we are based at for the operational costs of printing, and certainly no support from politically affiliated organisations.

It only occurred to me earlier today to confirm the situation regarding the publication of electoral material according to the Commonwealth Electoral Act (1918), and I am more confused now about the coverage. If we publish an unsolicited political analysis that explicitly documents the position of a number of political parties without seeking authorisation from those parties, do we fall in breach of section 328?

If you could please get back to me as soon as possible, that would be fantastic. I don’t particularly fancy being in breach of the Act.

I was rather hoping to get a sensible reply to this.

So I was rather surprised when I got this back:

From: Australian Electoral Commission
Sent: Friday, 9 August 2013 3:41 AM
To: Jashank Jeremy
Subject: RE: Request for clarification of Commonwealth Electoral Act, section 328

Dear Jashank

Thank you for your email.

Election advertising in the electronic media is subject to a ‘blackout’ from midnight on the Wednesday before election day until the end of polling. The blackout does not relate to news broadcasts or to the printed media such as newspapers.

This is a requirement of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 which is administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

For further information on the broadcasting of election advertisements please see our Electoral Backgrounder on Electoral Advertising:

Or contact the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

… and does this answer my question? Of course not.

I mean, that’s one of the things I was worried about, because it’s not actually clear that newspapers or news broadcasts are exempt from the electronic media blackout (which is good to know) but it’s not clear if actually providing political commentary that focuses on parties are.

I’m tempted to say no, and if that’s not the case, well, that I’m in very deep water indeed. It’s too late to change this week’s issue now.

But that’s nowhere was I actually asking about it. I wonder if I do need to go and talk to the ACMA, which is something I should probably have done ages ago.

I also note with interest the time the email was sent. Yes, that’s 3 AM. And, upon examination of the headers, there’s no X-Mailer, but various little stains suggesting at least one Microsoft product was involved, although every single hop in their network bar one runs Postfix.

Greg Lehey’s already written about his experiences with the AEC’s incompetence, which makes me wonder if sending email to the AEC is a bad idea in general.