of the Committee of Ministers to member states
on measures concerning media coverage of election campaigns
(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 7 November 2007
at the 1010th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)
The Committee of Ministers, under the terms of Article 15.b of the Statute of the Council of Europe;
Noting the important role of the media in modern societies, especially at the time of elections;
Considering the constant development of information and communication technology and the evolving media landscape which necessitates the revision of Recommendation No. R (99) 15 of the Committee of Ministers on measures concerning media coverage of election campaigns;
Aware of the need to take account of the significant differences which still exist between the print and the broadcast media;
Considering the differences between linear and non-linear audiovisual media services, in particular as regards their reach, impact and the way in which they are consumed;
Stressing that the fundamental principle of editorial independence of the media assumes a special importance in election periods;
Underlining that the coverage of elections by the broadcast media should be fair, balanced and impartial;
Recalling the basic principles contained in Resolution No. 2 adopted at the 4th Ministerial Conference on Mass Media Policy (Prague, December 1994), and Recommendation No. R (96) 10 of the Committee of Ministers on the guarantee of the independence of public service broadcasting;
Noting the emergence of public service media in the information society as elaborated in Recommendation Rec(2007)3 of the Committee of Ministers on the remit of public service media in the information society;
Considering that public service media are a publicly accountable source of information which have a particular responsibility in ensuring in their programmes, a fair, balanced and thorough coverage of elections, which may include the carrying of messages of political parties and candidates free of charge and on an equitable basis;
Noting that particular attention should be paid to certain specific features of the coverage of election campaigns, such as the dissemination of opinion polls, paid political advertising, the right of reply, days of reflection and provision for pre-election time;
Stressing the important role of self-regulatory measures by media professionals themselves – for example, in the form of codes of conduct – which set out guidelines of good practice for responsible, accurate and fair coverage of election campaigns;
Recognising the complementary nature of regulatory and self-regulatory measures in this area;
Convinced of the usefulness of appropriate frameworks for media coverage of elections to contribute to free and democratic elections, bearing in mind the different legal and practical approaches of member states in this area and the fact that it can be subject to different branches of law;
Acknowledging that any regulatory framework on the media coverage of elections should respect the fundamental principle of freedom of expression protected under Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights;
Recalling Recommendation Rec(2004)16 of the Committee of Ministers on the right of reply in the new media environment which allows the possibility for easy-to-use instant or rapid correction of contested information,
Recommends that the governments of the member states, if they have not already done so, examine ways of ensuring respect for the principles stated hereinafter regarding the coverage of election campaigns by the media, and, where necessary, adopt appropriate measures to implement these principles in their domestic law or practice and in accordance with constitutional law.
For the purposes of this recommendation:
The term “media” refers to those responsible for the periodic creation of information and content and its dissemination over which there is editorial responsibility, irrespective of the means and technology used for delivery, which are intended for reception by, and which could have a clear impact on, a significant proportion of the general public. This could, inter alia, include print media (newspapers, periodicals) and media disseminated over electronic communication networks, such as broadcast media (radio, television and other linear audiovisual media services), online news-services (such as online editions of newspapers and newsletters) and non-linear audiovisual media services (such as on-demand television).
Scope of the recommendation
The principles of this recommendation apply to all types of political elections taking place in member states, including presidential, legislative, regional and, where practicable, local elections and referenda.
These principles should also apply, where relevant, to media reporting on elections taking place abroad, especially when these media address persons in the country where the election is taking place.
In member states where the notion of the “pre-election period” is defined under domestic legislation, the principles contained in this recommendation should also apply.
I. General provisions
1. Non-interference by public authorities
Public authorities should refrain from interfering in the activities of journalists and other media personnel with a view to influencing the elections.
2. Protection against attacks, intimidation or other types of unlawful pressure on the media
Public authorities should take appropriate steps for the effective protection of journalists and other media personnel and their premises, as this assumes a greater significance during elections. At the same time, this protection should not obstruct the media in carrying out their work.
3. Editorial independence
Regulatory frameworks on media coverage of elections should respect the editorial independence of the media.
Member states should ensure that there is an effective and manifest separation between the exercise of control of media and decision making as regards media content and the exercise of political authority or influence.
4. Ownership by public authorities
Member states should adopt measures whereby the media which are owned by public authorities, when covering election campaigns, should do so in a fair, balanced and impartial manner, without discriminating against or supporting a specific political party or candidate.
If such media outlets accept paid political advertising in their publications, they should ensure that all political contenders and parties that request the purchase of advertising space are treated in an equal and non-discriminatory manner.
5. Professional and ethical standards of the media
All media are encouraged to develop self-regulatory frameworks and incorporate self-regulatory professional and ethical standards regarding their coverage of election campaigns, including, inter alia, respect for the principles of human dignity and non-discrimination. These standards should reflect their particular roles and responsibilities in democratic processes.
6. Transparency of, and access to, the media
If the media accept paid political advertising, regulatory or self-regulatory frameworks should ensure that such advertising is readily recognisable as such.
Where media is owned by political parties or politicians, member states should ensure that this is made transparent to the public.
7. The right of reply or equivalent remedies
Given the short duration of an election campaign, any candidate or political party which is entitled to a right of reply or equivalent remedies under national law or systems should be able to exercise this right or equivalent remedies during the campaign period without undue delay.
8. Opinion polls
Regulatory or self-regulatory frameworks should ensure that the media will, when disseminating the results of opinion polls, provide the public with sufficient information to make a judgement on the value of the polls. Such information could, in particular :
- name the political party or other organisation or person which commissioned and paid for the poll;
- identify the organisation conducting the poll and the methodology employed;
- indicate the sample and margin of error of the poll;
- indicate the date and/or period when the poll was conducted.
All other matters concerning the way in which the media present the results of opinion polls should be decided by the media themselves.
Any restriction by member states forbidding the publication/dissemination of opinion polls (on voting intentions) on voting day or a number of days before the election should comply with Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights.
Similarly, in respect of exit polls, member states may consider prohibiting reporting by the media on the results of such polls until all polling stations in the country have closed.
9. “Day of reflection”
Member states may consider the merits of including a provision in their regulatory frameworks to prohibit the dissemination of partisan electoral messages on the day preceding voting or to provide for their correction.
II. Measures concerning broadcast media
1. General framework
During election campaigns, regulatory frameworks should encourage and facilitate the pluralistic expression of opinions via the broadcast media.
With due respect for the editorial independence of broadcasters, regulatory frameworks should also provide for the obligation to cover election campaigns in a fair, balanced and impartial manner in the overall programme services of broadcasters. Such an obligation should apply to both public service media and private broadcasters in their relevant transmission areas.
Member states may derogate from these measures with respect to those broadcast media services exclusively devoted to, and clearly identified as, the self-promotion of a political party or candidate.
2. News and current affairs programmes
Where self-regulation does not provide for this, member states should adopt measures whereby public service media and private broadcasters, during the election period, should in particular be fair, balanced and impartial in their news and current affairs programmes, including discussion programmes such as interviews or debates.
No privileged treatment should be given by broadcasters to public authorities during such programmes. This matter should primarily be addressed via appropriate self-regulatory measures. In this connection, member states might examine whether, where practicable, the relevant authorities monitoring the coverage of elections should be given the power to intervene in order to remedy possible shortcomings.
3. Non-linear audiovisual services of public service media
Member states should apply the principles contained in points 1 and 2 above or similar provisions to non-linear audiovisual media services of public service media.
4. Free airtime and equivalent presence for political parties/candidates on public service media
Member states may examine the advisability of including in their regulatory frameworks provisions whereby public service media may make available free airtime on their broadcast and other linear audiovisual media services and/or an equivalent presence on their non-linear audiovisual media services to political parties/candidates during the election period.
Wherever such airtime and/or equivalent presence is granted, this should be done in a fair and non-discriminatory manner, on the basis of transparent and objective criteria.
5. Paid political advertising
In member states where political parties and candidates are permitted to buy advertising space for election purposes, regulatory frameworks should ensure that all contending parties have the possibility of buying advertising space on and according to equal conditions and rates of payment.
Member states may consider introducing a provision in their regulatory frameworks to limit the amount of political advertising space and time which a given party or candidate can purchase.
Regular presenters of news and current affairs programmes should not take part in paid political advertising.