“TEARS IN THE BACK SEAT 2,” is the Daily Mirror’s version of events, a clear reference to former prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s tearful departure after being ousted in 1990.
May has so far resisted calls for her to resign. There is no indication her downfall will happen today. But the next hours and days could be critical. And yet British broadcasters have to be especially careful this week about what they say on air.
That’s because one of the most fateful weeks in recent British political history coincides with yet another politically fateful week for the future of the European Union. In staggered elections over the next four days, about 400 million Europeans are eligible to vote in European Parliament elections. Thursday, it’s the turn of a nation that doesn’t even want to be in the club of E.U. member states anymore: Britain.
As Brits headed to the polls, strict reporting laws took effect. “There will be no coverage of the election campaign on polling day, from 00.30 until polls close at 22.00 on TV, radio or bbc.co.uk,” the BBC noted on its website.
BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said goodbye (“in theory”) to her Twitter followers on Wednesday night, adding “that’s more or less it from me” until the restrictions end.
In weirdness of all of this, once polls open tmrw we can report v little of what’s going on .... so that’s more or less it from me til 10pm tmrw - in theory !— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) May 22, 2019
The BBC did not ignore questions about May’s future Thursday morning. On its website, the broadcaster maintained election rules do “not mean that other politics, for instance, what happens in Parliament or political events generally, cannot be covered appropriately.”
But some restrictions will remain in place until Sunday, when polls have closed across the continent, even though newspapers and most websites are not impacted by those rules.
“Whilst the polls are open throughout Europe, it is a criminal offence to broadcast anything about the way in which people have voted in that election or to forecast the election result, which includes how a particular party or candidate may have fared, based on how people have voted,” the BBC explained.
That means, if May’s opponents changed existing rules to topple her or if she resigned herself, citing potentially devastating results for her Conservative Party in the European elections — the BBC, in theory, might not be able to report on those reasons. If politicians said anything along those lines live on air, they may have to be cut off until Sunday, the Guardian newspaper reported.
In comparison to the United States, British TV on election days is relatively boring. News anchors pretty much say: The vote is happening — and now, the weather. The idea is that last-minute scandals or developments could swing a vote, without giving journalists proper time to investigate the stories or politicians time to react.
Britain also isn’t the only country with such restrictions. France, for instance, has a similar rule that takes effect 44 hours before legislative or presidential elections. During those two days, French media outlets are banned from covering “electoral propaganda,” but that could include anything from statements from candidates to electoral polls.
It’s a rule that’s designed to preserve the integrity of elections. But today, British broadcasters may be forced to push the limits of those rules until 10 p.m.
In a polarized Britain, many might have made up their minds before then, anyway.