Consolidating the freedom of the media as pillars of democratic elections

“Media freedom is an essential condition for democratic elections; the media must be free to inform the public without political or economic pressure,” said the Culture Committee, meeting in Tbilisi, stressing that “the voters cannot be said to have genuine freedom of choice if that choice is not a well-informed one”.

Following the proposals of Gülsün Bilgehan (Turkey, SOC), rapporteur on this issue, the committee called on member States to “review their regulatory frameworks governing media coverage of election campaigns”, including the obligation for the broadcast media to cover election campaigns “fairly and impartially”, ensuring that opposition parties have a balanced coverage in programmes.

According to the draft resolution adopted by the committee, the editorial independence of public service media should be guaranteed, putting an end to any attempts to influence them or transform them into governmental media. “The State is not the boss of the public service media; these must not be subjected to any pressure or retaliation for the information they disseminate,” underlined Ms Bilgehan in her report, approved by the committee.

Noting a shift in the media landscape with the expansion of internet media and the growing role of social media, the committee also believes that States should implement effective strategies to protect the electoral process from the information manipulation and propaganda through social media.

With regard to these new media, the committee proposed measures such as the development of specific regulatory frameworks for internet content at election times, and the establishment of a clear legal liability for the social media companies that publish illegal content harmful to candidates. However, States should limit extreme measures, such as the blocking of entire websites, according to the committee.

Finally, the committee called on organisations in the media sector to develop self-regulation frameworks with professional and ethical standards for their coverage of election campaigns. It also called on Internet intermediaries to co-operate with civil society and organisations specialising in the verification of content, to ensure that all information is confirmed by an authoritative third-party source.