Free-to-air television lobby group Free TV Australia has called for an end to the “outdated advertising blackout” that prevents them, along with radio networks, from airing election advertising in the three days before a federal election.

From midnight tonight, TV and radio networks will no longer be allowed to air election advertising, due to provisions in the Broadcasting Services Act that legislate a “cooling off” period.

But the legislation doesn’t cover anything but TV and radio, which means all that happens is political advertising moves to other platforms, says Free TV’s chairman Harold Mitchell.

“We all know that from midnight tonight the political parties will simply transfer their advertising from television to other digital media platforms that are not regulated, such as digital news media sites and social media. For example, online news sites will be plastered with wall to wall political advertising, including video ads.

“We are calling on the new Parliament to get rid of this outdated provision which only serves to put commercial broadcasters at a disadvantage to all other digital media.”

“The rules are yet another example of the failure of successive governments to keep pace with changes in technology and consumer behaviour”.

Given so many people pre-poll vote nowadays, the blackout is “more meaningless than ever”. Australian Electoral Commission figures at the start of this week revealed 1.5 million votes had already been cast.

The free-to-air networks lose a lot from the ban. Because TV is watched by a broad cross-section of society, including many swinging voters and those in marginal seats, political parties pour money into television advertising. But not in the final three days.

Peter Fray

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