Public service broadcasting

IRIS Special 2017: Media coverage of elections: the legal framework in Europe

Author: Maja Cappello (ed.), European Audiovisual Observatory

Published: 12/07/2017

This report provides an overview of the most recent rules, case-law and policies across Europe with regard to the coverage of elections and referenda in the various media. Looking into broadcasting and print media, as well as the online dimension, it gives an insight into the differing degrees of regulation that political communication is experiencing within the different contexts, and shows – maybe quite surprisingly – that broadcast media remain the most regulated ones (as they remain the most influential), and that social media, despite their increased use by “crooked” politicians, remain substantially unregulated.

The structure of the report takes a bird’s-eye perspective and is divided into three main sections.

Firstly, Part 1 contains an overview of the topic, and is divided into a number of sub-chapters. Chapter 1 briefly identifies the main issues, including what the role of the various media is during elections and what types of rules apply during elections and referenda. Furthermore, a separate section explores the question of whether major online media have self-regulatory rules on political content and election coverage and gives an indication of online media’s role in elections. Chapter 2 explores Council of Europe (CoE) law in respect of these issues – in particular the European Convention of Human Rights and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights regarding elections and the broadcast, print and online media. Chapter 3 contains a brief overview of the current common European standards and policy in respect of media reporting of elections, including recommendations, opinions and reports from CoE bodies such as the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly, and the Venice Commission, and from other European bodies such as the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Secondly, Part 2 contains a number of country reports whose purpose is to explore whether governments are extending laws to encompass the online environment, whether regulators are extending enforcement to the online environment, and whether the regulation of traditional media is being gradually lifted. The country reports are not exhaustive, and only represent a sample of CoE member states. Some of the largest member states, including France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain, and the United Kingdom, are included owing to their size, and in the light of recent and forthcoming elections and referenda. Ireland is included by way of representing small member states, and because of its considerable case-law on media, referenda and elections; the Netherlands is included because it held parliamentary elections in March 2017, and up-to-date discussion and relevant policies are easily accessible.

Lastly, Part 3 contains two chapters. The first provides an overview and objective analysis of the results from the country reports, and attempts to identify trends. The final chapter concludes with a brief overview of the entire IRIS Special.