COUNCIL OF EUROPE
COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS
RECOMMENDATION No. R (99) 15
OF THE COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS TO MEMBER STATES
ON MEASURES CONCERNING
MEDIA COVERAGE OF ELECTION CAMPAIGNS
(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 9 September 1999
at the 678th 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;
Stressing that the fundamental principle of editorial independence of the media assumes a special importance in election periods;
Aware of the need to take account of the significant differences which exist between the print and the broadcast media;
Underlining that the coverage of elections by the broadcast media should be fair, balanced and impartial;
Considering that public service broadcasters have a particular responsibility in ensuring in their programmes a fair and thorough coverage of elections which may include the granting of free airtime to political parties and candidates;
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-electoral 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 electoral 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 coverage of elections should respect the fundamental principle of freedom of expression protected under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights;
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,
Recommends that the governments of the member States examine ways of ensuring respect for the principles of fairness, balance and impartiality in the coverage of election campaigns by the media, and consider the adoption of measures to implement these principles in their domestic law or practice where appropriate and in accordance with constitutional law.
Appendix to Recommendation No. R (99) 15
Scope of the Recommendation
The principles of fairness, balance and impartiality in the coverage of election campaigns by the media should apply to all types of political elections taking place in member States, that is, presidential, legislative, regional and, where practicable, local elections and political referenda.
These principles should also apply, where relevant, to media reporting on elections taking place abroad, especially when these media address citizens of the country where the election is taking place.
I. Measures concerning the print media
1. Freedom of the press
Regulatory frameworks on media coverage of elections should not interfere with the editorial independence of newspapers or magazines nor with their right to express any political preference.
2. Print media outlets owned by public authorities
Member States should adopt measures whereby print media outlets which are owned by public authorities, when covering electoral 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.
II. Measures concerning the broadcast media
1. General framework
During electoral 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 electoral campaigns in a fair, balanced and impartial manner in the overall programme services of broadcasters. Such an obligation should apply to both public service broadcasters as well as private broadcasters in their relevant transmission areas.
In member States where the notion of "pre-electoral time" is defined under domestic legislation, the rules on fair, balanced, and impartial coverage of electoral campaigns by the broadcast media should also apply to this period.
2. News and current affairs programmes
Where self-regulation does not provide for this, member States should adopt measures whereby public 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. As appropriate, 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. Other programmes
Special care should be taken with programmes other than news or current affairs which are not directly linked to the campaign but which may also have an influence on the attitude of voters.
4. Free airtime for political parties/candidates on public broadcast media
Member States may examine the advisability of including in their regulatory frameworks provisions whereby free airtime is made available to political parties/candidates on public broadcasting services in electoral time.
Wherever such airtime 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 electoral purposes, regulatory frameworks should ensure that:
- the possibility of buying advertising space should be available to all contending parties, and on equal conditions and rates of payment;
- the public is aware that the message is a paid political advertisement.
Member States may consider introducing a provision in their regulatory frameworks to limit the amount of political advertising space which a given party or candidate can purchase.
III. Measures concerning both the print and broadcast media
1. "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.
2. Opinion polls
Regulatory or self-regulatory frameworks should ensure that the media, 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/broadcasting 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 on Human Rights, 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.
3. The right of reply
Given the short duration of an election campaign, any candidate or political party which is entitled to a right of reply under national law or systems should be able to exercise this right during the campaign period.
IV. Measures to protect the media at election time
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 unlawful pressures 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 them in carrying out their work.