MLI Expert Comment on the TV Debates Rules under the Amended Election Law

March 28, 2014

The recently adopted amendments to theUkraine`s Law On Election of the President of Ukraine, in force since 21 March 2014,include detailed provisions on the televised candidate debates that we assessas imperfect for mass media.

According to the Law, a provision on holding ofthe televised candidate debates at the expense of the state budget in case ofrepeated voting – before the second round – remains from the previous versionof the Law (Article 62 (1)). TV and radio organizations may organise the televiseddebates also before the first round of voting, still this is possible on a paidbasis only, at the expense of the candidate`s campaign fund, and in the form ofcycle of TV programs. In practice, Ukrainian audio-visual media appear deprivedof the possibility to produce their own programs with candidate debates withoutthe required payment.

Moreover, a media outlet can organized only onecycle during the election period and has to broadcast it in live air only(Article 62 (6)).  

As stipulated in the Law, in one cycle of theTV debates can participate simultaneously up to two candidates for the Presidentof Ukraine, whereas the number of broadcasting cycle shall be such to ensurethat every the candidate participates in them not more than once (Article 62(9) and (12)).In fact, it implies that debates with theuneven number of candidates cannot take place.

These rules seem restrictive and quitecumbersome for the media outlets to arrange TV debates under the describedconditions.

Therefore, we consider that the amended Law remains imperfect and needs some further refining.

For the time being, mass media may practically holdsome sort of candidate discussions, quite awaited in the Ukrainian society, withoutlabelling them as “the TV debates”. In addition, such media outlets asHromadske TV cannot be formally considered to be the electronic (audio-visual)mass media in the meaning of the national legislation, thus, the above-mentionedrestrictions do not extend to it or other online broadcasters.