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S. Bolshakov. Interaction between the Election Commissions and the Mass Media
Speaking before the representatives of the leading TV and radio companies and periodicals of Russia in July 1999 A.A. Veshnyakov, Chairman of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation, stressed that the role of the mass media in an election campaign can hardly be overestimated. The experience of the federal and regional election campaigns carried out in Russia in 1993 - 1998 convincingly demonstrates that the legal assessment of voting returns and the legitimacy of the bodies of power and officials elected by the population is undeniably affected by such factors as elucidation of the Russian electoral laws and specific applications of these laws in a concrete election campaign and timely provision to all participants in the electoral process of information about the periods and rules for the performance of electoral actions at various stages of the electoral process, about the dynamics of voter turnout and election results.
Legal Basis for the Interaction
Interaction between election commissions and the mass media and all other participants in an election campaign relies on a strictly legal basis - the electoral laws. The legal basis for the forthcoming election of deputies to the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation of the third convocation is formed by the Federal Law «On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right of Citizens of the Russian Federation to Participate in a Referendum» as amended and supplemented by the March 30, 1999 law and by the Federal Law «On the Election of Deputies of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation» in its 1999 version.
These laws comprehensively regulate the status, powers and operating procedures of election commissions as well as the rights and responsibilities of the mass media in the electoral process. It must be emphasized that the amendments introduced in these laws are generally directed towards improving the quality of information support of the elections, realizing the voters' right to full, accurate and objective information about candidates, making elections more transparent and, ultimately, protecting voters from attempts unlawfully to influence the expression of their will.
Rights of Election Commissions in Respect of the Mass Media
Under the new Federal Law on the election of deputies of the State Duma the election commissions must inform voters about the periods and rules for the performance of electoral actions, candidates and registered candidates. For this purpose election commissions may use, free of charge, air time on the channels of TV and radio companies and space in print media. The law establishes the TV and radio companies and periodicals which are obliged to provide free air time and print space for elucidation of electoral laws, information for the voters about the periods and rules for the performance of electoral actions and the progress of the election campaign. Thus, the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation is entitled to not less than 15 minutes of air time, weekly, on the channels of TV and radio broadcasting organizations whose stable reception zone extends to the territory of one half or more than one half of the Subjects of the Russian Federation. Similar periodicals must allocate to the Central Election Commission of Russia not less than one-hundredth of their weekly volume.
Election commissions of the Subjects of the Russian Federation use air time and print space provided to them by the TV and radio broadcasting organizations and by the editorial offices of periodicals whose stable reception zone or whose circulation zone extends to the territory of less than one half of the Subjects of the Russian Federation. The dates and time when free election propaganda materials are to go on the air is established by means of lot-drawing organized by the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation together with the TV and radio organizations. The dates of publication of election propaganda materials are established by means of lot-drawing organized by the editorial office of the given periodical.
Functions of the Mass Media
The mass media are called upon to perform such important functions as highlighting the progress of the election campaign and ensuring the transparency and openness of electoral actions. The new Federal Law establishes the TV and radio broadcasting organizations and periodicals which broadcast and publish information concerning:
- the calling of the elections and the postponement of voting day, if it is postponed;
- the scheme of formation of electoral districts, including its graphic representation;
- the list of electoral precincts, their boundaries and numbers, the location of precinct election commissions and their telephone numbers and the location of polling stations;
- registered candidates, lists of candidates, electoral associations and electoral blocs and the biographical data of registered candidates, including information about their convictions that have not expired and have not been cancelled, their incomes and property;
- amounts contributed to and spent from the electoral funds of candidates, electoral associations and electoral blocs;
- the time and place for voting in the elections;
- election results for the given electoral district and full official data about the general election results.
The new Federal Law specifies in detail more the conditions for conducting election-related opinion polls and the publication of their results. In particular, the law provides that the organizations which conduct opinion polls and the mass media which publish their results and forecasts concerning the outcome of the elections must furnish copies of such publications to district election commissions or to the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation, respectively, for the formation of a data bank that might subsequently be used by interested persons. This requirement takes effect after the end of registration of candidates and federal lists of candidates.
Restrictions on the Activity of the Mass Media and Journalists
The laws increases the responsibility of all participants in the electoral process, including the mass media to avoid violation of the electoral rights of citizens. To guard voters against excessive information pressure, to ensure equal conditions for candidates in the struggle for election and to protect candidates against dissemination of false information about them, the laws impose certain restrictions on the information activity of the mass media and some journalists. Registered candidates who work in the mass media must be suspended from their jobs for as long as they participate in the elections and must not take advantage of their official position. Within three days upon their registration these candidates must submit a certified copy of the relevant order signed by the CEO to the election commission which registered them. Journalists, other creative workers and officials of editorial offices of the mass media, state-owned TV and radio companies are prohibited from highlighting the election campaign through the mass media, if they are candidates or agents of candidates.
If a registered candidate, an electoral association or electoral bloc uses the mass media to carry on provocative propaganda or propaganda calling for the violent seizure of power, inciting social, racial, national or religious hatred and enmity, the election commission must apply to a court for cancelling registration of the candidate or list of candidates.
Election commissions have the right to apply to law enforcement agencies, courts and executive bodies of state power implementing the state policy with regard to the mass media to ask them to put a stop to unlawful propaganda activities carried out by a TV and radio company or the editorial office of a periodical and bring the violators to justice as provided by Russian Federation laws.
Obligation to Reimburse the Cost of Free Air Time and Print Space
An electoral association or electoral bloc which has not received the required number of votes according to voting returns and has not taken part in the distribution of deputy mandates or has recalled a federal list of candidates without any compelling reasons must fully compensate the TV and radio companies and editorial offices of periodicals for the cost of free air time or free print space provided to them. Information about such electoral associations and blocs is to be furnished to the TV and radio companies and editorial offices of periodicals by the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation within three days after official publication of the general election results.
The new Federal Law greatly extends the possibilities for interaction between election commissions and the mass media. This does not mean that in the course of the 1995 election campaign the election commissions did nothing to provide the necessary information to the voters. At present, however, the Law lays down strict requirements with regard to the concrete information activities of the election commissions, ensuring a higher qualitative level of free democratic elections.
Member of the Central Election Commission
of the Russian Federation
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