Election Commissioner issues guidelines for electronic media in upcoming elections
[March 10, 2004
- 6.00 GMT

The Commissioner of Elections Dayananda Dissanayake yesterday, March 9, issued comprehensive guidelines to be followed by all electronic media - both State and Private - on coverage of the current Parliamentary elections.

The 18-point guidelines have been issued to ensure balance and impartiality in their reporting and prevent discrimination against any political party, candidate or party leader in granting access to airtime.

The Commissioner of Elections has issued these guidelines after a meeting with the Ministry of Information Secretary, Tilak Ranaviraja, February 11, with regard to broadcasting of programs relating to the upcoming April 2 elections, over electronic media.

The full text of the guideline issued by the Commissioner of Elections: 

By virtue of the powers vested in me under Article 104B(5) of the Constitution, the following guidelines are issued to all broadcasting and telecasting operators to follow these guidelines in order to ensure a free and fair election.

1. All telecasting and broadcasting media shall be balanced and impartial in their election reporting and shall not discriminate against any political party, candidate or political party leaders in granting access to airtime.

2. All heads of broadcasting and telecasting institutions should ensure that the broadcast and telecast of election programs shall not be interfered with by the Minister or any other outside political interference, unless a restraint becomes absolutely necessary to prevent substantial harm to a legitimate interest, such as an act of violence.

In any event, such restraint shall not be in contravention of the rule stipulating impartiality and fairness in pursuance of these guidelines. Any decision of the broadcasting or telecasting institution to restrain any program, shall be notified immediately to the Commissioner of Elections promptly with all relevant material to justify such decision.

3. All media institutions shall provide accurate, balanced and impartial information in their news bulletins and current affairs.

4. Owing to the potential for editorial opinion to be confused and biased, electronic media are urged not to broadcast editorial opinions. However, if editorial opinion is permitted for any reason whatsoever, it is obliged also to broadcast and telecast opinions to the contrary as well.

5. News coverage of press conferences and public statements concerning political controversy called or made by the Head of the Government, Ministers, members of the ruling party shall be subject to a right to reply with equal time by political parties opposing them.

6. It is obligatory on the part of the news department and current affairs section (or any similar section) of each institution not to air any program during the campaign period, unless the contents of the program are balanced.

7. If any material is broadcast covering an incident or event with any comment or contribution from any political party or candidate or a person concerned with a political party, all other political parties that have any interest or are concerned or are likely to be affected should also be given coverage in the same news item or programme.

8. Any documentary program or special programs that are broadcast during campaign period should disclose the names of the script writer, announcer and the editor.

9. Air time of any program or news bulletin should not be utilised for unsubstantiated allegations against candidates or political parties or political leaders until the election is concluded. However, if any allegations of any nature are made against a candidate, political party or political leader such party or person should be given equal time and prominence to counter such allegations.

10. All institutions shall act carefully and diligently in airing non election news such as coverage of official functions and crimes. No coverage should be given for any candidate whether such a candidate holds a position of a minister or other officer during the campaign.

11. Coverage of President and the Prime Minister should be treated as a coverage given for the political party to which he or she belongs and therefore leaders of major political parties contesting elections should be given equal coverage in all programs.

12. All electronic media institutions should act fairly in selecting participants for panel discussions and as such, the composition of a discussion should be balanced.

13. All phone-in programmes should have fair opportunities for all callers irrespective of the content of their questions and contributions. Officers handling such technical aspects of phone in programmes should be answerable for such balanced phone in programmes.

14. If any Chairperson, Member of the Boards or employees of any electronic media institution actively engages in political involvement, such involvement causes conflicts of interest in balance broadcasting. Hence, the management shall be informed of the following in writing in respect of such persons.

(a) The level of involvement of such person.

(b) The nature and level of such person's employment.

(c) Extent of involvement in programme making.

15. If an individual (employee or any member of the board of the broadcasting or telecasting institution) publicly identified as a candidate or prospective candidate for the parliamentary or any other election or holding an office in a political party, such person should withdraw from journalistic functions until the election is concluded and shall not be permitted to engage in any journalistic function at the broadcasting or telecasting institution.

The management must consider the implications for individuals involved in presentation and who are or might become known to the public.

16. When a person refuses to participate in a discussion or interview and choose not to offer reasons for absence, the electronic media institution shall respect that position. Dramatic devices such as an empty chair in television should not be employed to underline a refusal but it is encouraged to employ a simple and direct announcement in that instance.

17. No election related programme or any other programme which has an effect of political propaganda for and against any party, candidate or political leader, shall be broadcast or telecast during the two days preceding the election.

In the event of any other election (Provincial Council, Local Authorities, Presidential, or Referendum) are also declared during the period of campaigning, this rule continues to be effective notwithstanding the declaration of any such election and campaign black out period of the general election should be strictly observed.

18. The attention of the Chairpersons of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and Sri Lanka Rupavahini is drawn to Article 104B(5)(b) of the Constitution, which requires them to take all steps necessary to ensure compliance with these guidelines.










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Last Updated Date: March 10, 2004  - 6.00 GMT.


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Election Commissioner issues guidelines for electronic media in upcoming elections