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Overview Of Survey Results IFES Roundtable On Adjudication Of Media Disputes

27 March 1996

The International Foundation of Electoral Systems hosted a special roundtable event focusing on issues related to the adjudication of media disputes during the pre-election campaign period. This event, one in a series of roundtables sponsored by IFES, had particular relevance in view of its timing in relation to the calendar of election activities and deadlines leading to the upcoming presidential elections. First, the nomination period was reaching its final phase with the deadline for submission of all nominating documents and petitions to the Central Election Commission set for 16 April 1996. Immediately upon registration of the candidate, his or her official campaign may officially begin. Secondly, the Central Election Commission is in its final stage of preparing regulations on rules which will guide candidate use of the state media for their pre-election campaigns. Based on experiences encountered in the 1995 elections and cases which have already been brought in the current election period, it has become evident that a number of complex questions concerning the responsibilities of officials, candidates and the media during the pre-election period remain unresolved. The roundtable provided a forum for discussion of some of the key issues that are likely to arise in the weeks leading to the presidential election.

The roundtable was presided over by Catherine Barnes, IFES Moscow Project Director, and speakers R. T. Biktagerov, Member of the CEC responsible for mass media, A.B. Vengerov, Chairman of the Court Chamber for Adjudication of Media Disputes, N.V. Fadeyev, Head of the Division for Adjudication of Disputes, and IFES Election Specialist, Linda Edgeworth. Part II of the roundtable was devoted to an open question and answer period moderated by V. A. Lepeokhin, former Deputy, and Advisor to the State Duma Committee of Public Associations and Religious Organizations.

Participants at the roundtable included representatives of the mass media, initiative groups, electoral associations and electoral commissions. With their orientation packets, participants received an informal survey questionnaire prepared by IFES. These questionnaires allowed participants to offer their views and impressions on the likelihood of campaign violations during the pre-election period, the role of various participants in ensuring that equal conditions are sustained throughout the process, and the manner in which disputes can be resolved. The results of this informal survey point to the kinds of issues and concerns which may arise during the pre-election period, and which will deserve continuing consideration as officials and participants fulfill the demands of their responsibilities in this most important phase of the election process.


Likelihood of Violations

In reviewing a list of 14 potential violations, 73% of all participants in the survey thought they were Somewhat Likely or Very Likely to occur.

- Broadcast or dissemination of propaganda in violation of standard ethical norms was identified by 68% of the participants as Very Likely, while 58% thought that an imbalance of news coverage about candidates was Very Likely.
- 42% thought it was Very Likely that biased influence would be interjected in the media by local administrative authorities. An additional 47% indicated that such influence was Somewhat Likely to occur.
- Regarding editorial bias in news coverage of the campaigns not a single participant marked the Not Very Likely category. 63% said that such bias was Somewhat Likely, with the other 37% indicating that it was Very Likely.
- Those violations most frequently rated as Not Very Likely to occur included unequal allocation of free air time (47%), different advertising fees charged to different candidates (53%), and exclusion of some candidates from debates and other media events (42%).
- 25% of non-media participants indicated that instances of journalists writing favorable news stories about a candidate for payment were Very Likely to occur. However, among participants representing media the number of responses indicating that such violations were Very Likely increased to 37%.
- 53% expected endorsement of a specific candidate by elected officials or government authorities to be Somewhat Likely: 37% expected it to be Very Likely.

Level of Responsibility in Ensuring Fair Pre-Election Campaigning

On a scale of 1 to 5, respondents were asked to determine the level of responsibility each participant in the election would bear in ensuring that the pre-election campaigns were fair.

- Election officials were seen to bear the greatest burden of ensuring the campaign period remains fair with 67% ranking the Central Election Commission's level of responsibility as Major, and 58% assigning similar weight to the role of Subject Election Commissions. Not a single respondent rated the level of burden as Little or None for either of these groups.
- Candidates were seen has having less of a direct burden with 56% of respondents assigning them only some responsibility; 44% identified the candidate's level of personal responsibility as Major.
- Respondents were mixed in their evaluation of the degree to which electoral associations and initiative groups held responsibility for ensuring a fair campaign. 13% indicated they had little or no responsibility for the fairness of the campaigns with the balance of responses evenly spread over the entire range of possible responses.
- All respondents indicated that media directors and editors bear at least some responsibility for fair campaigns with 44% describing their burden of responsibility as Major. 44% attributed a similar level of responsibility to journalists as well, although 13% believed journalists bear little or no responsibility for ensuring a fair campaign.

Complaints. Appeals and Penalties

Participants were asked to respond to questions regarding who should be held accountable for certain violations, who would be most likely to file formal complaints or appeals and what kinds of penalties should be generally applied to candidates who are found to have committed violations or misused their rights to use the media.

- 69% of respondents indicated that persons or groups providing campaign material that was found to be false or in violation of standard ethical norms should Always be held accountable. In contrast, 55% felt that stations or newspapers who accepted and used the material should only be held accountable in rare instances or only under extreme circumstances.
- Candidates should Usually be held accountable for false propaganda or campaign materials that violated ethical norms according to 40% of the participants, with the rest of the respondents equally split as to whether they should Always or Rarely be held accountable.
- When asked to identify the individuals or groups who would be most likely to file complaints and appeals regarding media disputes in the pre-election campaign 45% placed procurators and enforcement authorities in that role, while 38% indicated that Election Commissions would be most likely to file the cases.
- 47% of the participants felt a warning was warranted for a first offense. In addition, 68% favored publication or public disclosure of a finding of violation by a candidate as an appropriate penalty.
- 26% favored a reduction of, or disqualification from using free air time as a suitable penalty for repeated offenses followed by fines to be paid from the candidate's personal funds or from campaigns funds each favored by 16%.
- For a repeated offense 68% favored de-registration of the candidate while 37% felt criminal prosecution was warranted.
- Of those responding to the question, 79% disagreed with the statement that except for violent or criminal acts, campaigns should be unrestricted and left for the voters to decide about the integrity, honesty or competence of the candidate. 26% of the participants did not respond to the question at all.

Additional Comments

Participants were asked what they believe would contribute most to creating equal conditions for the pre-election campaign.

- The most common responses centered on improvements in the laws and more detailed regulations, and better education and knowledge about the laws on the part of all election participants.

Additional responses included:

- Enforcement of the laws by Election Commissions and the Courts;
- Openness and impartiality of Election Commissions;
- Objectivity in the mass media;
- Exclusion of executive authorities from the campaign process;
- Stricter controls to limit the advantages of incumbency;
- More equal financial opportunities for candidates;
- Stricter limitations on paid advertising in favor of allotments of free air time.

Participants were also asked to identify the factors which made it most difficult for equal conditions for pre-election campaigns to be sustained.

- Once again the most common responses focused on inadequate laws and general lack of understanding of the laws and regulations which apply.
- Another common response related to the intrusion by state officials in the campaign process and particularly their biased influence.
- Other responses included:
- Bias in the media generally, and media bias caused by their dependency on state authorities;
- Advantages of incumbency;
- Lack of sanctions or penalties for violations;
- Unequal financial opportunities.

Clearer regulations;

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