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Surreptitious Advertisement and Pre-election Environment

11.07.2012

Nino Tsagareishvili

Within the framework of the project Monitoring of Media Coverage of Parliamentary Elections, Human Rights Center will monitor surreptitious political advertising.

The media monitoring is financially supported by the International Foundation of Electoral Systems (IFES). It will cover the following TV channels: Public Broadcaster, Imedi, Rustavi 2, Kavkasia and 9th Channel. The goal of the monitoring is to reveal the tendencies in media coverage of the electoral campaign and come up with recommendations on how to improve the electoral environment.

According to experts, shortcomings in Georgia’s electoral legislation raise doubts about the potential for objective and fair conducting of elections. A package of legislative amendments offered by the NGO coalition This Affects You Too aims at improving the electoral environment by introducing a definition of surreptitious political advertisements.

The Georgian Election Code does not include any definition of surreptitious political advertisements and existing regulations are not enough to prevent such advertisements. The regulations presented in Election Code of Georgia, Law on Broadcasting and Law on Advertising do not set sufficient guarantees for avoiding such commercials.

Recommendation No. R (99) 15 of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers on Measures Concerning Media Coverage of Election Campaigns adopted by Georgia in 1999 touches on the issues of surreptitious political advertising during the election and pre-election campaign.

According to this recommendation: “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 programs, including discussion programs such as interviews or debates.”

The explanatory memorandum to the Recommendations goes on to state: “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. The Recommendation therefore stresses that no privileged treatment should be given to public authorities during such programs.”.

As for entertainment programs, according to the Committee’s Recommendations, broadcasters should restrain from inviting politicians to entertainment programs and similar talk-shows since it would put them at an unfair advantage over other candidates. The same is said regarding parody programs.

The Committee of Ministers states that these principles should primarily be addressed via self-regulatory measures. If not, the Committee calls on the member states to reflect them in relevant legislative provisions.

According to the Recommendations, these principles should apply both to the official electoral as well as pre-electoral period.

Although these Recommendations do not explicitly mention the term surreptitious political advertisement, their content implies inadmissibility of such advertisements.

The Ethics Code of Broadcasters of Georgia which offers guiding principles for Georgian broadcasters and enables them to abide by these principles through self-regulatory mechanisms does not envisage the above-mentioned recommendations.

Regulations to prevent surreptitious political advertising are not found in Georgian legislation either.

The coalition This Affects You Too finds it advisable to introduce a definition of surreptitious political advertisements in the Georgian Election Code and offers following wording:

“Information disseminated by a mass media outlet (TV report, program and etc…) which is not directly connected to coverage of pre-election campaign and which shows the electoral subject/prospective electoral subject/political party/person who is seeking to be a candidate, the name, slogan or electoral number (if this number is associated with the electoral subject/ prospective electoral subject/political party/person who is seeking to be a candidate) or other image requisites. Information about the participation of a government official in official activity to fulfill his/her official duties is not considered to be a surreptitious advertisement.”

This is the definition media monitors apply while monitoring surreptitious political advertising and social advertisements on six different TV channels. During the election period, paid political advertisements will be monitored as well.



This article is made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of Human Rights Center and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, USAID or the United States Government.

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