No political adverts, campaign, polls from midnight Dec 27
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY Observer senior reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, December 15, 2011
THERE will be a full day free of election campaigning on the ground and without partisan political advertising in the media, following a voluntary agreement brokered with the Electoral Commission, the country's political parties, the Broadcasting Commission and media owners.
Chairman of the Broadcasting Commission Professor Hopeton Dunn, making the announcement at the commission's offices in New Kingston yesterday, said the arrangement which introduces new cut-off timelines for election campaigning, political advertising and the release of public opinion poll results represented one aspect of a series of voluntary agreements by the main political parties and all major media organisations relating to campaigning and political broadcasts in Jamaica.
"They, therefore, create for the first time in Jamaica a campaign-free period of at least one full day ahead of voting in the December 29 general elections," Dunn told reporters. The agreement, said Dunn, will allow citizens to contemplate their electoral choices without the intensity and pressure of last-minute campaign messages or new opinion polls results.
As part of their voluntary undertaking the political parties have agreed to cease political broadcasts and campaign advertising from midnight on December 27 on radio and television and to provide no new campaign adverts on the Internet.
This means that all electronic media organisations will stop carrying political campaign adverts from midnight on December 27 through to the opening of the polls at 7:00 am on December 29.
Also, for national daily newspapers, no campaign political adverts will appear in the December 28 and December 29 editions.
"In considering this commitment, both print and electronic media have voluntarily decided to also discontinue disseminating political broadcasts and media campaign advertising in the same timeframe ahead of the start of polling," Professor Dunn explained.
Regarding opinion polls, the Broadcasting Commission chairman said the parties have agreed that no results from any new opinion polls or of any unscientific opinion surveys will be released to the public within 48 hours of the start of voting in the general elections.
For their part, the media organisations have agreed that the results of such public opinion polls or unscientific opinion surveys would not be released to the public in the 24-hour period prior to the start of polling in the elections.
Dunn said the voluntary decisions were the result of successive rounds of consultations by the Electoral Commission with the political parties and by the Broadcasting Commission with the operators of electronic, cable and print media, but pointed out that there were no sanctions for entities who reneged on the arrangement.
"It is an honour agreement and we expect it to be implemented in the spirit in which it was agreed to," he emphasised.
The Broadcasting Commission chairman said the different timelines agreed do not represent any significant conflict in attaining the shared goal of securing a quiet period for citizens before the start of voting.
The other provisions in the agreement include the requirements for fair play in airtime allocation and the awarding of equivalent concessions in financial arrangements for advertising and other broadcasts.
Yesterday, Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) Professor Errol Miller said the voluntary arrangement represented "one small step for the two commissions and one giant step for the country".
The ECJ chairman suggested that political party donors could adopt the principle of a voluntary declaration rather than waiting on the requirement to be made law. He said it was not a "general call to all donors" but an example which could be followed by persons or entities who make donations to both political parties — the Jamaica Labour Party and the People's National Party.
"It is possible also to voluntarily agree and to my mind this giant step for the country would be consummated if some of the donors would voluntarily choose to disclose their donations because what we are really about is the beginning of the process of changing culture in Jamaica," Professor Miller said.
The cessation order, however, does not extend to editorials, interviews or cartoons. The affiliate groups of the parties such as Generation 2000 (G2K) — the professional affiliate group of the Jamaica Labour Party -- should not submit adverts during the cut-off period either.
In the 2007 general elections, radio and television stations were given up to midnight before the day of the polls to continue airing political ads. But there is nothing in the law to prevent media houses from doing so if they chose otherwise.
At the same time, under the law all meetings, marches, motorcades and rallies are restricted 24 hours before the election and must end 24 hours before the day.
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