Media and elections

Media and elections

Credible and fair elections are an essential element of democratic societies. During electoral periods the media play a particularly vital role, as they are the main source of information for the population, not only about the technicalities of registration, voting and the counting of ballots but also about the performance of the Electoral Management Body (EMB), the government and the actions, intentions and policies of all political players.

To play their role, the media need both access to information and the freedom to freely and safely communicate their findings. They act as a watchdog, ensuring greater transparency and accountability during the election process, providing citizens with information on their candidates, party policies and the elections process, and enabling them to make informed decisions when they cast their votes or engage in public debate.

This means the media also has a responsibility to produce accurate, professional and impartial reports.

Media and electoral bodies, therefore, need to work together to recognise the roles and responsibilities of each party and to acknowledge the necessity and importance of each other’s roles in delivering fair elections.

MISA’s role in fair elections

MISA regularly convenes missions to observe the conduct of the media and electoral bodies during elections and MISA’s network of Chapters play an active role in monitoring freedom of expression violations in their respective countries during election periods. They have also advocated for governments to uphold journalists’ safety and rights to freedom of expression and access to information in their election reporting.

We believe certain basic pre-conditions are required to enable free, open and democratic elections. These are:

  • Measures to create an environment in which a pluralistic media sector can flourish.
  • The repeal of laws that unduly restrict freedom of expression and protection against liability for disseminating statements made directly by political parties or candidates.
  • Effective systems to prevent threats and attacks against the media.
  • Rules against discrimination in the allocation of political advertisements.
  • Any regulatory powers to be exercised only by independent bodies
  • Clear obligations on public broadcasters, including for informing the electorate, strictly respecting rules on impartiality and balance, and to grant equitable access to all parties and candidates.

Guidelines for covering elections

In 2012, MISA and several partners convened southern African journalists and Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) to develop regional guidelines for media coverage of elections in southern Africa. In addition, MISA facilitated platforms for media and EMBs to share their respective communication and information needs, and to discuss concrete proposals to improve communication between EMBs and the media.

The guidelines cover:

  • Role of the media in elections
  • The conditions necessary for the media to play an effective role in elections
  • Ethical considerations in election coverage
  • Role of public and private media regarding election advertorials
  • Converged media
  • Polls
  • Reporting results
  • SMS surveys, phone-ins and talk shows
  • Implementation and monitoring of media and election reporting guidelines