By Alagi Yorro Jallow
In modern political campaign, access to the media is crucial to electoral success. Since this is how the most voters can be reached and make informed choices, it is essential to ensure fair media access for every candidate and political parties. Media buys can be expensive, and not every political party has the same financial resources.
In the Gambia section 41 of the Gambia Constitution guarantees equal access to facilities and the media by candidates under the public elections Act. Both private and public media must provide equal access to media coverage.
“Section 93 of the Election Act makes it mandatory for the Independent Electoral Commission during an election campaign period to ensure equal access, as far as time is concerned, to each candidate and political parties on the radio and television, which is mandatory to all candidates and political parties. The private media too must abide by its civic responsibility to provide equal media access.
Most countries’ electoral laws or regulations have provisions on media access. Electoral systems require both private and public media to allow time/space on equal terms to all parties and candidates able to pay for advertising. Some may also require the media to allocate airtime fairly among candidates and parties. Some systems provide public funds or free airtime to achieve a balance in the time available to the different parties. Eligibility requirements for equal time or public funding may be based on how a political party is categorized by electoral administrators when it registers, such as by the percentage of the vote it won in the previous election or the number of seats it holds in the legislature.
Most election laws or regulations require equal access and treatment for those wishing to broadcast election advertisements. For example, in other countries, the law “prohibits a broadcaster from offering or giving to any political party terms for broadcasting time that are more favorable than those offered or given to any other party for comparable time.
Equal access does not necessarily mean equal treatment. In a crowded field of competing candidates and parties, it may be difficult to decide who should appear in the media and in what order. Is there enough time for all the candidates and political parties’ advertisements to air within the official campaign period, or for the voters to absorb these messages? What time slots are the candidates allotted in the campaign, and when? Even if candidates have equal airtime, do they also have equal access to production resources needed to create their advertisements? An equitable formula for allocating resources or airtime may be based on how each political party has been categorized by the electoral management body (see above).
In other countries, the Electoral Act requires every broadcaster or print media to provide the Electoral Commission with a report on all election programs broadcast for parties and candidates during the campaign period. The report must include: the name of the candidate or political party for which each election program was broadcast; the length of each election program and the time when it was broadcast; and in most systems, the law also enables parties or candidates to take legal action against broadcasters who they believe have treated them unfairly.