ECN Electoral Symposium
21 October 2014
Media & Democracy
The exercise of freedom of expression in a democracy has little meaning if it can only be exercised on an individual level. Freedom of expression is not only about what you are allowed to tell your neighbour or to hear what they have to tell you. It is very importantly also about the expression of facts and opinions and receiving of information through the media.
Freedom of the press affords the public an opportunity to form an opinion about the ideas and attitudes of their political leaders. It also gives politicians the opportunity to reflect and comment on public opinion. Enabling everyone to participate in free political debate which is at the very core of the concept of a democratic society.
The media are essential to democracy, and a democratic election is impossible without media. A free and fair election is not only about the freedom to vote and the knowledge of how to cast a vote, but also about a participatory process where voters engage in public debate and have adequate information about parties, policies, candidates and the election process itself in order to make informed choices. It acts as a crucial watchdog to democratic elections, safeguarding the transparency of the process. Thus, a democratic election with no media freedom, or stifled media freedom, is a contradiction in terms.
A prime concern of media coverage of elections is the right of voters to full and accurate information, and their rights to participate in debates and dialogue on policy matters and with politicians. Inherent to this task is the entitlement of parties and candidates to use the media as a platform for interaction with the public.
The ECN is also responsible for communicating information to the electorate – and to a variety of other groups, including the political parties and candidates. The media themselves have a right to report freely and to scrutinize the whole electoral process. This scrutiny is in itself a vital safeguard against interference or corruption in the management or conduct of the electoral process.
Transparency is required on all levels including for access to information; accountability and legitimacy of individuals, institutions and processes themselves; and for rightful participation and public debate.
As a State Institution, the ECN is obligated to inform the public on their actions, decisions, and plans. Individuals appointed or elected to the ECN are public figures who should be working in the interests of the public. As such, information regarding their affiliations, histories, and performance while in office, is to be freely accessed by the public.
Media acts as a mechanism to prevent and investigate allegations of violations or malpractice. This watchdog role extends from accountability of officials and their actions while ‘in office’ to entire processes. Media presence at voting and counting centres is critical to prevent electoral fraud.
Candidates and Parties have an explicit right to provide the electorate information regarding their attributes, political agendas, and proposed plans. Besides meeting directly with members of the electorate, candidates and parties accomplish this task through campaigns via media. It is paramount to democratic electoral processes therefore, that all candidates and parties are provided equal access to media for this endeavour.
>> View the media elections document in PDF