#06 ENSURE EQUAL ACCESS TO POLITICAL ADVERTISING
According to the Code of Good Practice, administrative bodies have the obligation to enable voters to get acquainted with the lists of candidates (VC I.3.1.b.ii). Also, in accordance with the freedom of expression, the minimum access to privately owned audio-visual media, when it comes to the election campaign and advertising, should be legally ensured for all candidates participating in the elections. (I.2.3.c). In order for these standards to be met, it is necessary to undertake the following:
a. Improve the normative framework in the field of political advertising
Although the current Law on Advertising applies accordingly to election campaigns, the provisions of the Law are so focused on commercial advertising that it is practically impossible to determine their meaning in the context of political advertising. This problem was noticeable during all election campaigns after the adoption of the Law on Advertising in 2016. During that period, REM repeatedly issued opinions about the contents of the videos of presidential candidates and interpreted the provisions of the Law on Advertising. However, due to the lack of clear regulations, the way in which REM interpreted the existence of comparative and misleading advertising was inconsistent. In order to overcome these obstacles, it is necessary to adopt amendments to the Law on Advertising or to pass a special law that would have the regulation of political advertising as unique subject.
b. Clearly define the circle of entities that are allowed political advertising during the election campaign
It is necessary to amend the Law on Electronic Media and the Law on Advertising and clearly prescribe that political advertising is allowed only during the election campaign and only to those political entities whose electoral list or candidate proposal has been announced by the competent election commission.
c. Prohibit the broadcasting of advertising messages in which public resources are misused for the purposes of political promotion
Due to the lack of a precise normative framework that would prevent unpunished broadcasting of advertising messages in which a political entity abuses public resources for the purposes of its promotion, during the 2020 election campaign, the REM did not sanction media service providers who broadcast advertising messages in pre-election blocs for which the Anti-Corruption Agency, earlier in the campaign, found that they were an illegal way of political promotion. For that reason, it is necessary to unequivocally prohibit the broadcasting of advertising messages of this content by amending the Law on Advertising or by adopting a special law that would have the regulation of political advertising as unique subject.
d. Prohibit the broadcasting of rented terms of political entities outside the election blocs
Neither the Law on Advertising, nor any by-laws, allow media service providers to offer election participants the possibility to advertise their electoral lists in terms longer than those prescribed by law for the purposes of the election campaign. During the 2020 election campaign in the programmes of certain media providers, twenty-minute programme contents were broadcast in which, for a fee, the political subject was promoted. Since allowing political entities to rent terms longer than those prescribed by law additionally affects the inequality of election participants, as “renting” terms is by nature only possible for economically more powerful campaign participants, it is necessary to amend the Law on Advertising and prohibit media service providers to promote political entities outside the election advertising blocks for a fee.
e. Improve the transparency of political advertising financing
In order for all segments of election campaign financing to be transparent, and in particular the financing of advertising in electronic media, as over the years, incomparably more funds have been allocated in this field than in all other activities in the election campaign, it is necessary to amend the Law on Advertising and oblige media service providers, who decide to broadcast election advertisements, to publicly announce the price lists of their marketing services during the campaign before they start contracting the provision of political advertising services during the election campaign. Furthermore, it is necessary to prescribe that media service providers may contract the service of political advertising only directly with a political entity whose electoral list or candidate proposal has been announced by the competent election commission. In addition, it is necessary to prescribe the obligation of the REM to include in the reports on advertising during election campaigns the data on the number of leased seconds of each political entity and the date of broadcasting the advertising message
f. Determine indicators of unequal access to advertising
In order for all election participants to advertise under equal conditions in the programme of media service providers, it is necessary to specify that the following will be considered creating of unequal position: a) providing one electoral list with more than one quarter of the total number of terms offered to political parties, coalitions and organisations for the promotion of a particular program of media service providers; b) different prices of political advertising for different parties, coalitions or organisations participating in the elections; and c) more favourable or less favourable terms for publishing political advertising.