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A BC Member Advocates Setting Reasonable Prices for Election Advertising and Releasing Broadcasters from the Obligation to Organise Electoral Debates

02 May 2019
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Amend the Electoral Code to set clear standards for the cost of electoral advertising, respect the right of broadcasters not to reflect election campaigns and alter the period of media monitoring to apply sanctions in a timelier manner – these are but a few of recommendations the Broadcasting Council member Olga Gututui gives in her Analytical Note ‘The Mixed Electoral System: A New Challenge for Audiovisual Media in Moldova’, that recently appeared in the Media Forward series of materials, published by the Freedom House in Moldova.
The author analysed the way the audiovisual media services providers covered the Parliamentary Elections of February 2019 in the context of the new electoral system.
Thus, according to the BC member, in recent years little the picture in the concentration of media ownership has changed very little, and a third media group, controlled by the ‘Sor’ Party consolidated in 2018 (in addition to the existing ones, affiliated with the Democratic Party and the Party of Socialists).
The study also refers to the high advertising costs collected by certain television broadcasters. For instance, Prime TV and Publika TV, both controlled by the PDM leader, have established the prices of EUR 4,000 and, correspondingly, EUR 2,000 per minute of advertising during the election period. In this context, the author reminded that in accordance with the Election Code, the fee for the broadcast time paid by the election candidates should not exceed the typically collected fee for commercial advertising. At the same time, according to the author, this provision leaves room for interpretations, as the law compels media service providers to publish their prices for electoral advertising, while commercial prices may remain confidential.
As for the coverage of the electoral campaign in media, the author finds that the media has become a platform for electoral candidates, where they have attacked each other. The target of criticism differed from one TV channel to another, depending on their political affiliation.
 
At the same time, the BC member has highlighted a legal contradiction: although, on the one hand, the media outlets have the right to decide whether or not to reflect the electoral campaign, or broadcast electoral advertising, on the other hand, all TV channels are obliged to organize and broadcast electoral debates. This legal contradiction puts an additional burden on televisions, especially on small channels especially those that are limited in size and capacity or have a certain thematic focus (entertainment, children, religion, etc.)’, Olga Gututui believes.
 
Another author’s note is about the new tactics of media control used by politicians. Thus, during the election period, certain political parties restricted the access of ‘uncomfortable’ press to events of public interest. These include the case of TV 8 reporter, who was not allowed to attend a conference organised by the Sor Party and others.
 
As regards the BC monitoring of media outlets in terms of fair coverage of the electoral campaign, the study shows that TV channels have committed several violations outside of the monitoring period. According to Olga Gututui, the Council’s decision to release monitoring reports in ten-day periods is inappropriate, as this would delay the effects of the measures applied. ‘By the time a monitoring report is released and sanctions are applied, the damage is already done to the informational landscape. In addition, the punitive measures available to the Audiovisual Council – the issuance of public warnings and a modest fine – are not effective at deterring negative behavior, especially for the largest and most financially-endowed media service providers’, the BC member argues.
In order to address the state of affairs in the broadcasting, Olga Gututui recommends to include in the Electoral Code provisions on the minimum and maximum price per minute of electoral advertising, so that all electoral competitors will operate under equal conditions and have the opportunity to advertise on all media platforms. The author also proposes to remove legal contradictions, which would entitle media service providers’ not to organise electoral debates, especially when some thematic media outlets are in lack of the necessary capacities and expertise. Last but not least, Olga Gututui recommends reducing the reporting period for monitoring media service providers from ten to seven days, so that sanctions can be with applied with greater frequency and in a timelier manner.
 
The policy brief series is part of the ‘Media Enabling Democracy, Inclusion and Accountability in Moldova (MEDIA-M)’ Project.
Photo source: Valentina Ursu, RFE/RL