Elections and Freedom of Expression

Role of elections in democracy

Free and fair elections and media freedom are the foundations of democracy. Elections are not only about casting a vote in fair conditions, but about ensuring citizens are informed about candidates, parties, and their political platforms. Candidates must be able to communicate their messages to the public so that voters can make an informed choice. Put simply – a democratic election is impossible without media freedom.

Electoral standards and safeguards

ARTICLE 19 has been addressing issues related to freedom of expression and information and elections for more than 25 years. Back in 1994, ARTICLE 19 published its standard-setting document in this area, Guidelines for Election Broadcasting in Transitional Democracies. The Guidelines are built on international standards on broadcasting during elections and best comparative practice; they represent the benchmark to which all countries holding elections should work towards. ARTICLE 19 has analysed a number of election and media related legislative proposals, and several ARTICLE 19 offices work on the issue at the regional level.

Elections in the Digital Age

Digital technologies have provoked huge changes to elections over the past few decades: Internet platforms have vastly increased the ability of voters to access and interact with information about political parties and candidates. Political parties, especially small ones, are more able than ever before to get their message out to larger audiences, spending less by using free blogs, video sharing platforms and social media.

But as is increasingly clear from recent elections, the same openness can pose serious challenges to the right of citizens to freely choose elected representatives. The use of targeted political advertising and coordinated inauthentic behaviour to disseminate misinformation have led to fears over the integrity of elections.

Many of the traditional safeguards to ensure the fairness of elections are difficult to apply online. The rules applicable to political communications during election periods, transparency of and limits on electoral spending, respect for silence periods and equal treatment of candidates, are increasingly complicated by digital technologies. It is urgent to consider whether, and how, “offline” electoral rules can be adapted to campaigns that are increasingly run online.

ARTICLE 19’s Principles on Freedom of Expression and Elections

In the 25 years since the publication of the ARTICLE 19 Guidelines, developments in technology, law and society have impacted on freedom of expression and elections. These developments demand the elaboration of new standards and safeguards to ensure free and fair elections that are fit for purpose in an increasingly globalized and digital context.

ARTICLE 19’s forthcoming Principles on Freedom of Expression and Elections will address these developments, outline current international law and standards, and identify key issues and gaps, particularly related to digital technologies.

ARTICLE 19’s standard-setting work

ARTICLE 19 is currently revising its guidance to national regulators and broadcasters to ensure the protection of freedom of expression during election periods. Previously issued guidance include: