Ministers’ Deputies
CM Documents

CM(2007)155 add 2 October 20071
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1010 Meeting, 7 November 2007
5 Media


5.1 Steering Committee on the Media and New Communication Services (CDMC)

a. Draft Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… of the Council of Europe to member states on measures concerning media coverage of election campaigns
Explanatory memorandum

For consideration by the GR-H at its meeting on 23 October 2007

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Draft explanatory memorandum to the draft Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)…
of the Committee of Ministers to member states
on measures concerning media coverage of election campaigns

Introduction

1. It is a fact that the media play an important role in modern society as a vehicle for the dissemination of information. This role acquires a special dimension at the time of elections given the fact that, by carrying out their activities in a fair manner, the media contribute to free and democratic elections.

2. Free and fair elections are one of the basic foundations of democratic States. The Council of Europe’s commitment to all matters related to human rights and democracy led to the examination of the question of media and elections by the intergovernmental Group of specialists on media in a pan-European perspective (MM-S-EP).

3. The broad terms of reference of the MM-S-EP, under which the Recommendation No. (99) 15 on measures concerning media coverage of election campaigns was prepared, was to identify and study themes which could help promote the integration of new member states in the media field. The Group’s assignment was therefore to work on media law and policy questions of relevance to both the new democracies and the older member states of the Council of Europe.

4. During a contact meeting with relevant professionals it became apparent to the MM-S-EP that the issue of media coverage of elections is a complex one, which can be handled by regulatory intervention or self-regulation, or is even left unregulated in certain member states. Therefore, a diversity of approaches exists on this issue.

5. Regulatory frameworks with provisions on equal treatment of political parties by the media exist in many countries. However, in practice there are shortcomings and some frameworks are insufficient.

6. It was considered that the establishment of a number of general principles on this matter could be useful to preserve freedom of expression at election time, and serve as guidance to journalists, politicians and courts participating in the electoral process. In addition, it was underlined that such an instrument could also be useful in protecting journalists from political pressures during campaigns.

7. The need to have a clear regulatory framework on the performance of the media during elections was particularly felt at that time in some of the new democracies. It is considered that such frameworks are necessary to ensure a minimum of democratic election standards.

8. Another advantage of sound regulation in this field is that it can contribute to the shaping of standards among professionals covering elections.

9. In preparing Recommendation No. (99)15 on measures concerning media coverage of election campaigns, a broad perspective was taken by the MM-S-EP to encompass the different national situations, and was extremely vigilant to avoid any type of interference with the editorial independence of the media. In addition, the value of self-regulatory measures by media professionals themselves, for example, codes of conduct, is acknowledged throughout the Recommendation.

10. At its 678th meeting, on 9 September 1999, the Ministers’ Deputies adopted Recommendation No. R (99) 15 on measures concerning media coverage of election campaigns.

11. Some years later, on the occasion of the 7th European Ministerial Conference on Mass Media Policy, held in Kyiv on 10th and 11th March 2005, an Action Plan was adopted which called for an examination of whether the principles contained in Recommendation No. R (99) 15 on measures concerning media coverage of election campaigns should be reviewed in the light of the development of digital broadcasting services and other new communications services.

12. This examination was undertaken by the intergovernmental Group of Specialists on Human Rights in the Information Society (MC-S-IS) and the decision was made to update Recommendation No. (99)15 on measures concerning media coverage of election campaigns taking into account the development of digital broadcasting services, online media and other electronic communication platforms. The Group consulted Mr Wolf Ludwig (Switzerland) as an expert on the issue and exchanged thoughts with the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission).

13. The MC-S-IS, under the chairmanships of Ms Alexandra Krick (Belgium) and, thereafter, of Mr Thomas Schneider (Switzerland) completed its work on a revised draft Recommendation in March 2007. In June 2007, the Steering Committee on the Media and New Communication Services (CDMC) examined and agreed on the draft and, subsequently, submitted it to the Committee of Ministers for examination with a view to its adoption.

14. At their […] meeting on […], the Ministers’ Deputies adopted Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… on measures concerning media coverage of election campaigns.

Comments on the provisions of Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… on measures concerning media coverage of election campaigns

Preamble

15. The preamble sets out the main goals and principles of Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)…. Most of the ideas which appear in the preamble are developed in more detail in the operative part of the Recommendation.

16. In the light of the development of digital broadcasting services, online media and other electronic communication platforms, the preamble of Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… underlines the evolving and rapidly changing media landscape which will necessitate further periodic review of the Recommendation, in particular with regard to the differentiated principles for various media types.

17. The preamble points out that due consideration should be given to the significant differences between the print and the broadcast media. Given the perceived importance of broadcasting and its influence on voters, many of the principles in Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… refer to the broadcast media.

18. The preamble refers to the need to strike the right balance between respect for the editorial independence of the media and the need for certain rules to ensure fairness by the media during election periods. Ensuring this balance is one of the main underlying concerns throughout the whole of Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)….

19. The preamble recalls the particular and unique role of public service media in democratic societies, which justifies differentiated rules for their overall services.

20. The preamble also recalls the fundamental principle of fair, balanced and thorough coverage of elections by public service media. Other matters, such as the allocation of free airtime to political parties, the recourse to paid advertising by political parties or the use of opinion polls by the media during campaigns, are also mentioned in the preamble.

21. The value of self-regulation to ensure fairness by the media during elections is also underlined in the preamble. It is acknowledged that voluntary measures adopted by media professionals themselves, in particular in the form of campaign codes of conduct or internal guidelines on good practice for responsible and fair coverage of electoral campaigns, are useful and necessary complements to state legislation or rules in this area.

22. As concerns the wording of Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)…, it was considered that member states should be requested to examine ways of ensuring respect for the principles stated in the Recommendation and to adopt measures to implement these principles in their domestic law or practice in accordance with constitutional law. These last references were considered necessary as a safeguard, given the differences among member states in this area, and were also intended to avoid over-regulation in those cases, where effective self- or co-regulatory regimes are already in place.

23. Using Recommendation No. (99)15 as a basis on which Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… was prepared, it should be noted that reference to the principles of fairness, balance and impartiality in the coverage of election campaigns by the media were removed both from the last paragraph of the preamble and the first paragraph of the “Scope of the Recommendation” of Recommendation No. R (99) 15 because the media’s right to express any political preference, conflicts with these principles which are valid only in the case of ownership by public authorities and for traditional linear broadcast media.

Definition

24. Recommendation (99)15 covered print and public and private broadcast media. However, most of the provisions concerned the broadcast media. In the MC-S-IS, there was broad discussion about enlarging the scope of Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)…. It was broadly accepted that a restriction to print and broadcast media was now outdated considering the significant developments in online media services over the last decade. The increasing convergence of online services of traditional print and of traditional broadcast media was also taken into account.

25. Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… updates Recommendation No. (99)15 in order to be as technology-neutral as possible while still taking into account the necessity of differentiation of the particular rules to be applied to different types of media. It is essential that the scope of the definition’s reference to the term “media” only covers mass-media which are defined by three criteria: (i) information and content created and disseminated periodically (excluding, for example, any one-time only newsletter or leaflet); (ii) editorial responsibility (excluding inter alia un-moderated fora or sole platforms for user-generated content); and (iii) clear impact on a significant proportion of the general public (thereby generally excluding, for example, private websites or blogs).

26. As outlined in the first sentence of the definition, the means and technology used for dissemination are not decisive criteria. In addition to the print media, the notion of media “disseminated over electronic communications networks” in Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… includes all forms of “new media” within the scope of the definition. The terminology used in this new definition is derived from EC Directive 2002/21/EC on a common regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services (Framework Directive) because it is both broadly known in the majority of member states and is technologically neutral and expansive.

27. Electronic communications networks are defined as transmission systems and, where applicable, switching or routing equipment and other resources which permit the conveyance of signals by wire, by radio, by optical or by other electromagnetic means, including satellite networks, fixed (circuit- and packet-switched, including Internet) and mobile terrestrial networks, electricity cable systems, to the extent that they are used for the purpose of transmitting signals, networks used for radio and television broadcasting, and cable television networks, irrespective of the type of information conveyed.

28. The enumeration of examples for various categories of media referred to in the definition of Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)…, namely print, broadcast, online-news services and non-linear audiovisual media services, is necessary because of the application of different principles for them. Chapter I (General Provisions) of the Recommendation is not limited to those examples and is, by definition, also applicable to any new form of media not explicitly mentioned in the second sentence of the definition provided the provisions meet the criteria for mass media as referred to in paragraph 25 above. As the media landscape evolves, it will be necessary for the purposes of legal certainty to reconsider and possibly re-define which media the specific provisions of Chapter II of the Recommendation will apply to. By undertaking future periodic reviews of the Recommendation it will be necessary to examine whether new forms of media have further evolved and consequently whether the scope of Chapter II should be adapted accordingly.

29. Evolving new services, similar to those traditionally understood as “broadcast media” (radio and television), require a more future-proof terminology. The addition of the term “other linear audiovisual media services” complements the definition of “broadcast media” and will include any similar communication where the content and its schedule is pre-determined by the media service provider and a simultaneous viewing/listening to the programme occurs. Typical examples of linear audiovisual media services are live-streaming, webcasting or near-video-on-demand services.

30. The term “online news-services” - derived from Recommendation Rec (2004) 16 of the Committee of Ministers on the right of reply in the new media environment - in particular covers the online-equivalents of print-newspapers or magazines and newsletters and websites with similar content.

31. Complementary to linear audiovisual media services, on-demand audiovisual media, in particular various video-on-demand services, have gained significant importance in the new media landscape. Revisions to the European Union ‘Television Without Frontiers’ Directive (i.e. Directive 89/552/EEC) and the Council of Europe European Convention on Transfrontier Television (ETS. No 132) are likely to cover these services. There will also be effective regulation of these services in the vast majority of member states. The distinctive criterion distinguishing linear (i.e. live broadcast) and non-linear (i.e. on-demand) media services is that, in the former instance, the user has no influence on the programme’s schedule and availability, whereas in the latter, the user, on the basis of a catalogue of programmes, may make an individual request for the delivery of a media service at any given moment.

Scope of the Recommendation

32. As regards the type of elections covered by Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)…, in principle, all political elections taking place in member states are included, that is, presidential, legislative (including elections to the European Parliament), regional and local elections as well as referendums. Nevertheless, it is acknowledged that certain provisions will not be directly applicable to all of these types of election since, for instance, some of the principles could be difficult to implement at the level of local elections.

33. It is considered that, where relevant, the principles of Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… should also apply to the coverage of elections taking place in a country other than that where the media outlet is established.

34. It is natural and legitimate that domestic linear broadcasting services will cover foreign elections from a national perspective (that is, services which are not addressing citizens of the country where the election is taking place), especially if they can be received by a significant proportion of the population of the country where the election is taking place.

35. Linear broadcasting services principally covers two cases: (a) where a broadcasting service is addressing the audience in the country where the election is taking place, and (b) where a broadcasting service is addressing members of an expatriate community (for example, migrant workers) who have the right to vote in the country where the election is taking place.

36. In countries where pre-election time exists, this period normally refers to the time between the official announcement of the campaign (or the convocation of the elections which is published in the official gazette) and the actual opening of the election campaign. A significant number of countries do not, however, make a formal distinction between the pre-election and official campaign periods.

37. It is not always easy to differentiate between electioneering and ‘normal’ political activity, and parties may try to convey their message to the public at all times, including during pre-election time. Therefore, it is considered that the principles of Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… should similarly extend to such events and periods which could affect free and fair elections.

Principles

I. General provisions

Non-interference by public authorities

38. Whilst acknowledging that the main focus of Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… is to ensure fair performance by the media during elections, it is considered that the problem of interference and attacks on the media and individual journalists at election time should also be addressed in the Recommendation, especially considering that any attack or pressure on the media would constitute a serious violation of democratic standards and practice.

39. Obstacles to the unhindered coverage of an election campaign may arise from different sources: the government/public bodies, political parties, interest groups or other entities. Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… is concerned with interference by the government and/or its agencies and therefore stresses that public authorities should refrain from interfering in the activities of journalists and other media personnel with a view to influencing the elections. It is important to reassert this warning in this Recommendation. Effective protection of this principle also requires a clear separation between the exercise of the control of media and the decision making as regards media content, and the exercise of political authority or influence.

Protection against attacks, intimidation or other types of unlawful pressure on the media

40. In order to promote unhindered editorial coverage of elections, Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… underlines that member states should take appropriate steps for the effective protection of journalists and other media personnel and their premises.

Editorial independence

41. In general, there are no special regulations for the print media, non-linear audiovisual media services and online news-services regarding reporting or editorial coverage of elections in Council of Europe member states. On the basis of tradition and because of the different natures of various forms of media, the press has been free to have a distinct political leaning. The way the public has access to and is influenced by the press differs significantly compared to the broadcast media.

Ownership by public authorities

42. Despite the abovementioned principle of editorial independence, there is one situation where a regulatory framework for print media, non-linear audiovisual media services and online news-services at election time is justified: when a public authority owns the media. Since such media are controlled by public authorities, it seems logical that they should be under the obligation of offering a broad perspective representing the whole range of political views. This does not include official State gazettes, which only publish legislation, statistics or other factual information.

43. Paid political advertising in the media is a common practice in Europe, and as a result, newspaper owners are in principle free to accept or refuse advertising requests from political parties, subject to the application of relevant general rules, in particular concerning competition. In addition to the general principle regarding the recognisability of such advertising by the media, as set out in the section entitled “Transparency of, and access to, the media” (see below), Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… considers that when a public authority owns either/or a newspaper, an online news-service or an audiovisual media service, equal treatment and non-discriminatory tariffs should be applied to all political parties that request the purchase of advertising space. Again, the rationale behind this exception is that such media should fulfil a “public service mission” and treat the different political parties on an equal footing as regards paid political advertising.

Professional and ethical standards of the media

44. Various professional standards and codes of conducts for journalists already exist via international and partly national journalist associations on a self-regulatory level. Those standards and codes comprise standards and guidelines as regards deontology and reflect established ethical rules. Media professionals and their respective associations are encouraged to develop additional and appropriate guidelines for the coverage of election campaigns.

Transparency of, and access to, the media

45. While the Recommendation contains specific rules for paid political advertising in Chapter II, it is a necessary general principle that all paid political advertising in all forms of media should be readily recognisable as such. This is a minimum principle which includes an obligation to inform the public of the political nature of the advertising as well as the option to request the identification of the party ordering the advertising.

46. Media ownership by politicians and political parties has repeatedly raised concerns in the past. While categorical restrictions of such ownership would raise concerns with regard to Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, it is crucially important that the public is aware of the potential influence of media owners. Transparency therefore helps to minimize the abuses of media influence during the course of election campaigns.

The right of reply or equivalent remedies

47. The right of reply is provided in most countries by press, broadcasting or other legislation as well as by professional codes of practice. Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… stresses that if a candidate or political party is entitled to the right of reply or equivalent remedies under national laws or systems, it should be ensured that this right can be exercised effectively within a reasonable time during the campaign period, including on ‘the day of reflection’ if the right of reply can not otherwise be exercised.

48. A specific procedure to guarantee a rapid right of reply or equivalent remedy is not mentioned in Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… because it is for member states to choose the mechanism which is best adapted to their national context. On some occasions, this may be a summary court proceeding, whilst at other times this may be the press or broadcasting self-regulatory body or even an electoral commission which are entrusted with the powers to resolve cases involving the granting of the right to a rapid reply.

Opinion polls

49. Despite the fact that it is difficult to show the extent to which opinion polls have an impact on the actual results of an election, it is nevertheless generally assumed that opinion polls can have a certain degree of influence on the outcome of elections.

50. In order therefore to ensure fairness and avoid undue influence on the electorate, it is considered that the media, when reporting the results of opinion polls, should provide the public with sufficient information to make a judgement on the value of the polls. In this respect, Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… suggests a number of elements which could be provided by the media at the time of releasing the poll results: the name of the party or organisation that commissioned the poll, the name and methodology employed by the pollster, the sample and margin of error and the date the poll was conducted. It is acknowledged that this is a topic that should mainly be addressed via self-regulation and that it is internal media guidelines which should specify how opinion polls should be reported.

51. Some countries have regulations restricting the dissemination of poll results on the day or the immediate days preceding the election. As with the general prohibition of electoral activity on ‘the day of reflection’, the reasoning behind such rules is to enable the public to take a decision on their vote without external influences, such as the predicted results which opinion polls indicate. However, other Council of Europe member states have no rules in this area and the media may report poll results right up to the election.

52. Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… leaves space for different national practices regarding the publication of opinion polls, but mentions that if member states choose to forbid the publication of opinion polls a certain period of days before the election, such a restriction should comply with Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In line with the general approach developed by the European Court of Human Rights, three criteria will have to be met for any limitation on the publication of opinion polls to be valid: the prohibition to publish opinion polls should be set down in a law, be necessary in a democratic society and be proportionate to the aim of protecting another interest.

53. The effectiveness of silence rules for opinion polls is sometimes questioned, given that the public may obtain poll results, not necessarily from the media to which restrictions apply, but by other means, such as by accessing Internet or from foreign newspapers or broadcasters. Given this fact, it is considered that restrictive rules in this area should be avoided, and that the duration of the prohibition to publish opinion polls should not be excessive.

54. As regards exit polls, which are conducted outside polling stations on voting day and assess what people have actually voted, it is suggested that member states consider the possibility of prohibiting the dissemination of such poll results until all polling stations have closed, given that they could have an influence on the outcome of the elections.

“Day of reflection”

55. As regards the so-called “day of reflection”, normally understood to be the day preceding voting, Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… provides that member states may consider the merits of including a provision in their regulatory frameworks to prohibit the dissemination of partisan electoral messages on this day, since it is considered that voters should have time to ‘digest’ all the information received during the campaign and thus take a decision on their vote without pressures.

56. Given the fact that material other than partisan electoral messages may have an implicit political message or content, it is important that self-regulatory practices by the media also address this issue.

57. Similarly to the right of reply or equivalent remedy, it is considered that member states should choose the mechanism which is best adapted to their national context. Regarding the dissemination of partisan electoral messages that have been disseminated contra legem, an effective remedy might be an adequate correction of these messages by an appropriate self-regulatory or regulatory body entrusted with the necessary powers.

II. Measures concerning the broadcast media

General framework

58. If pluralism considerations are taken into account by broadcasters, this will contribute to fair elections. This is the reason why it is recommended that regulatory frameworks should encourage and facilitate the pluralistic expression of opinions in the broadcast media. It is considered that if broadcasters adopt a pluralistic approach and reflect the different views of the political spectrum they can contribute to the information of voters and their free forming of opinions and thus to free and fair elections.

59. While the press have freedom in their reporting of elections, broadcasters generally have to follow a number of obligations at election time. Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… therefore formulates, as a general prescription, that broadcasters should cover elections in a fair, balanced and impartial manner. This does not mean, of course, that each broadcasting channel (e.g. a thematic sports channel) is obliged to offer coverage of election campaigns; however, where coverage is provided, either voluntarily or under an obligation, it should be done in a fair, balanced and impartial manner. Giving equitable treatment to all parties involved in the election does not necessarily mean devoting equal time to all of them, but rather means ensuring that all significant viewpoints and political parties are heard from. It means upholding a democratic debate in the broadcast media. Political impartiality in broadcasting is considered essential to give a true and accurate picture of the progress and conduct of elections.

60. As a result of the above, Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… indicates that frameworks in member states should include the principle of fair, balanced and impartial treatment of political parties by the broadcast media. Such type of principle already exists in the constitutions or legislation of a number of countries.

61. Despite the existence of legislation incorporating such a principle, it is nevertheless also recognised that the internal rules of broadcasters and professional codes of conduct, that is, all types of self-regulatory practices, will be the factors that largely determine how the election is actually covered.

62. Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… underlines that the obligation to report elections in a fair, balanced and impartial manner should apply to both public service media and private broadcasters. There is unanimity that publicly funded media should provide a complete and impartial picture of the political spectrum in the coverage of an election given that their remit is to serve the public interest and offer a diverse, pluralistic and wide range of views at all times, especially during election periods.

63. Private broadcasters should abide by the principle of impartiality given that they also play a significant role in influencing public opinion at the time of elections. Therefore, all private broadcasters, irrespective of their audience share, coverage area or whether they operate thematic or pay-channels, should be under impartiality obligations when they deal with elections. However, it is acknowledged that this principle may in the future need to be reviewed, and exceptions to be considered, in the event of a multiplication of channels and changes in the role of the broadcast media thereby leading to a situation close to that which currently exists in the print media sector.

64. The opportunities offered by new communications services have brought about the phenomenon of broadcast media services exclusively set up for the self-promotion of a political party or candidate in the course of an election campaign. It is considered inappropriate to require these broadcast media to comply with the provisions set out for broadcast media in general. The waiver, as set out in the last paragraph of the section entitled “General framework” in Chapter II, allows member states to derogate from the principles set out in the “General framework” provided that a clear identification of such broadcast media is guaranteed.

65. One final aspect that should be taken into account when speaking of the obligation of broadcasters to be fair, balanced and impartial is that such a principle should be tested over the whole programme service of a broadcaster, over a period of time, and not necessarily in every individual programme. It is during the overall campaign period that broadcasters must be balanced and represent the different political viewpoints.

News and current affairs programmes

66. It is considered that the observance of fairness and impartiality is of particular importance in news, current affairs or discussion programmes given that some people form their voting intentions, to some extent, on the basis of such programmes.

67. Discussion programmes, like interviews or debates, act as supplements to the normal news coverage of elections and are important because they enable the public to make direct comparisons between candidates. These types of programmes should also be organised in a fair manner. However, the decision on how such fairness should be achieved (for instance, deciding on the format, the number of participants, the length, etc.) should be left to the initiative of the broadcasting organisation itself.

68. A problem that sometimes arises related to the news coverage of a campaign is that incumbent government officials, that is, candidates already occupying official positions, may attempt to gain undue advantage through additional news coverage of their official functions. Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… therefore stresses that no privileged treatment should be given by broadcasters to public authorities during such programmes.

69. Avoiding privileged treatment should be the primary objective. Should such treatment nevertheless occur, counterbalancing measures should be taken in favour of the affected parties/candidates. It is considered that redress should be found in a self-regulatory process. It would be desirable if the internal guidelines of broadcasting organisations highlighted the obligation to prevent or otherwise counterbalance excessive and privileged coverage of an incumbent politician. Another possible option to deal with such situations which is mentioned in Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)…, would be to entrust the relevant authority monitoring the coverage of the election (broadcasting regulatory body, electoral commission or other) with powers to intervene and compensate the prejudiced candidates.

70. As the general framework for broadcast media stipulates principles regarding fair, balanced and impartial coverage of election campaigns, the need for special care and/or specific rules for influential programmes other than news and current affairs programmes as previously referred to in Recommendation No. R (99) 15 are unnecessary and dispensable.

Non-linear audiovisual services of public service media

71. Considering the particular role played by public service media in a democratic society as a publicly accountable source of information which is financed by public means, it is foreseen that the principles applicable to their broadcast services should be applicable to their non-linear audiovisual media services. In most instances both types of service will complement each other and the users will expect similar obligations regarding impartiality, fairness and balance. Several member states have already incorporated such principles.

Free airtime and equivalent presence for political parties and candidates on public service media

72. It is a practice in many countries for political parties to access, at no cost, the public service media to deliver their electoral messages. This is what is generally called “free airtime” or “free political advertising”. It is a direct form of communication between politicians and voters, without any intermediary role by the media. One of the main advantages of giving free airtime to political parties is that it can compensate the risk of unfair and biased coverage of the campaign by certain media. In addition, unlike paid political advertising, the lack of financial strength of a party is not an obstacle to access the airwaves. Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… acknowledges the positive aspects of free political advertising and therefore requests member states to examine the advisability of introducing provisions granting free airtime and equivalent presence to political parties/candidates in public service media. Nevertheless, it is also recognised that there are some disadvantages with this practice such as, for example, giving access to extremist views might help the propagation of ideas which are harmful to democracy.

73. The way of dividing free political advertising space among parties, that is, deciding which parties qualify for airtime and in what amounts is a difficult and sensitive question, the solution to which differs from one country to another. Sometimes the division of airtime is based on the past performance of a political party or the number of seats it holds in parliament (proportional access). In other countries there is a tendency to divide airtime equally among all the contending parties (equal access). Another possible way of dividing airtime is to allocate a minimum amount to all contenders and add supplementary time on a proportional or other basis (mixed access). Given the variety of possible options to allocate airtime, Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… does not give preference to one practice over another. It does, however, recommend that when airtime is made available to parties it should be granted in a fair and non-discriminatory manner and on the basis of transparent and objective criteria.

74. As regards responsibility for the content of free airtime spots, it is accepted that, in principle, such responsibility should lie with the political party that has prepared the material. However, this issue is not addressed in Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… because it is considered that the precise delimitation of responsibilities between broadcasters and political parties should be decided at the national level.

75. Where member states subject public service media to the obligation of granting free airtime to political parties during election campaigns, they should ensure that this is not detrimental to the financial equilibrium of such a broadcaster.

76. As with the general principles, the development of non-linear audiovisual media services provided by public service media raises the question of equivalent provisions. As with free airtime on broadcast services, it should be decided at the national level whether public service media may also make available equivalent free presence on its non-linear audiovisual media services.

Paid political advertising

77. Paid political advertising in the broadcast media has traditionally been prohibited in many Council of Europe member states, whilst it has been accepted in others. One of its major advantages is the opportunity which it provides for all political forces to widely disseminate their messages/programmes. On the other hand, it may give an unfair advantage to those parties or candidates who can purchase important amounts of advertising space.

78. In view of the different positions on this matter, Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)… does not take a stance on whether this practice should be accepted or not, and simply limits itself to saying that if paid advertising is allowed it should be subject to some minimum rules, in particular that equal treatment (in terms of access and rates) is given to all parties requesting airtime.

79. It may also be considered important to establish limits on the amount of paid political advertising that can be purchased by a single party. The Recommendation does not however specify whether this is desirable or not nor does it set any precise limits on the amount of paid advertising because this is considered to be a decision to be taken at the national level.

80. The principle that regular presenters of news and current affairs programmes should not take part in paid political advertising underlines the importance of fairness during election campaigns, in particular the need to protect, and to avoid the misuse of, the public’s trust. A similar provision can be found in the Council of Europe Convention on Transfrontier Television (ETS. No 132), in Article 13, paragraph 4.

1 This document was classified restricted at the date of issue. It was declassified at the1010th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (7 November 2007) (see CM/Del/Dec(2007)1010/5.1).


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