About Implementation of Candidates’ Right to Campaign on State TV, Radio and Mass Media
The stage of pre-election campaigning has started and will last from August 22nd through September 22nd. Free time on state TV, radio and free-of-charge publication of candidates’ platforms in mass media determined by the Central Election Commission is one of the forms of campaigning.
As early as in the very beginning of the campaigning stage we have registered facts of censorship of campaign materials of some candidates.
On July 5th, 2012 the Central Election Commission created a Supervisory Council for control over compliance with the rules and regulations of election campaigning in mass media. Members of the Supervisory Council are officials of the Ministry of Information and representatives of the state-owned mass media. The civil society in the Supervisory Council is represented by two members of the pro-governmental Belarusian Union of Journalists. The independent Belarusian Association of Journalists and non-state media are not represented in the Council.
The Supervisory Council is to oversee whether the mass media observe the requirements of the law and whether they provide for equal opportunities for candidates' performances on television, radio and in print. The Council is also in charge of hearing disputes related to the use of mass media during preparation and conduct of elections, upon requests from candidates, and making recommendations and conclusions, which should be considered by media executives.
On August 27th, 2012 the Supervisory Council considered the appeal filed by Channel "Belarus 2", "Capital TV" company and "Mahiliou" TV company about the compliance of speeches of candidates Nina Kaliada, Artsiom Ahafonau, Viktar Malochka and Matsvei Khatary with the Election Code. The candidates, all members of the United Civil Party, called for the boycott of the elections. The Supervisory Council decided that the speeches could not be considered election campaigning.
The Supervisory Council also highlighted that "the right to give free-of-charge speeches on state television and radio is provided to candidates for election campaigning only, as the law does not envisage the use of these opportunities for other purposes; the Supervisory Board believes that the materials meet the requirements of the electoral law but cannot be considered election campaign materials." On August 29th, 2012 the Central Election Commission agreed with the decision of the Supervisory Council.
On August 28th secretary of the Central Election Commission Mikalai Lazavik told the journalists: "The state would not be wise to organize the election, spend a great deal of money on it and provide the opponents with an opportunity to use airtime for campaigning against the state event." According to him, campaigning for the boycott is not prohibited by the legislation of Belarus, but it does not fit with the concept of election campaigning (agitation), as described in paragraph 2 of Article 155 of the Election Code: "activity encouraging or aiming to encourage voters to participate in elections, vote for certain candidates or against them."
On the ground of the decision, television and radio companies began to massively refuse airtime to candidates who call for boycotting the election. On August 28 "Homel" TV-and-radiocompany did not show speech of Vasily Paliakou, UCP candidate in Homel-Savetskaya electoral district # 34. On August 29"Brest" TV-and-radiocompany failed to broadcast speech by Anzhalika Kambalava, UCP candidate in Baranavichy-Zakhodniaya district #5. On the same day, radio "Stalitsa" did not broadcast the speech of UCP candidate in Barysau city district #62 Leu Marholin. TV channel "Belarus-2" failed to show speeches of UCP candidates Adam Varantsou (Homel rural electoral district #37) and Marat Afanasyeu (Buda-Kashaliova district #38), etc. Candidates’ platforms prepared for publication in printed media were censored for the same reason. Thus, the editorial team of Mahiliou newspaper "Prydniaprouskaya Niva" refused to publish the platform of Alexander Shautsou, United Civil Party candidate in Mahiliou-rural district #88. The Mayak newspaper made significant cuts in the article by Alexander Kabanau, UCP candidate in Pruzhany district #9. On 30-31 August we registered reports about some other candidates’ speeches which were supposed but failed to be aired.
At the same time, we have registered cases when such speeches were broadcasted. Belarus-2 TV channel aired calls not to take part in the election from candidates Leanid Autukhou (Vitsebsk-rural election district # 21), Ivan Sheha (Slonim election district # 58), and Alexander Ramanovich (Pinsk city election district #14).
Refusal to provide free-of-charge TV and radio airtime to candidates or to publish their platforms cannot be considered legitimate and justified.
According to paragraph 7.7 of the OSCE Copenhagen Document (1990) , the OSCE Member States ensure that law and public policy work to permit political campaigning to be conducted in a fair and free atmosphere in which neither administrative action, violence nor intimidation bars the parties and the candidates from freely presenting their views and qualifications, or prevents the voters from learning and discussing them or from casting their vote free of fear of retribution.
The law does not prohibit calls to boycott the election, criticism of the election legislation and its practice, as well as any other election campaigning/ Candidates are free in presenting their opinions and platforms, and voters should have maximum opportunity to receive information about candidates, their opinions and their platforms. Any restrictions of these rights with the exception of those envisaged by the law and necessary in a democratic society should be seen as unacceptable restriction of free elections.
Will of the voters in the election is carried out not only with a vote for one candidate or against all candidates. Refusal to vote is also an act of citizenship, and a voter has a right to it. A voter has the right to support or not support the opinion of the candidates, who are calling for boycott of the elections. However, in order to freely form an opinion about candidates and their views and platforms, a voter must be able to obtain information about them. Therefore, candidates’ calls not to participate in the election and exercise the right to take part in the electoral process in a form of non-participation should have equal opportunities to be presented to voters, along with other calls and appeals.
Article 46 of the Election Code provides that candidates to the Chamber of Representatives enjoy equal rights in using state media, and state media are obliged to provide equal opportunities for pre-election presentations of the candidates. There shall be equal conditions for candidates’ presentations.
Article 47 of the Election Code sets an exhaustive list of grounds for restricting candidates’ presentations during the campaign. Only if a candidate violates the indicated requirements, an election commission may undertake various measures up to canceling a candidate’s registration. We should also point out that part 16 of Article 45 of the Election Code prohibits calls to boycott the election, along with other forms of agitation, only on the Election Day. The Law does not have any other restrictions on calls for boycott of the election. The Central Election Commission, as well as other bodies of the election administration, does not have the competence to expand the restrictions established by the Election Code.
Thus, censorship and prohibition of free-of-charge presentations in the state media of the candidates who call for a boycott, do not comply with the Belarusian legislation and the country’s international obligations, violate the principle of equality of candidates and restrict both the rights of candidates to campaign and the rights of voters to receive full and objective information.
 Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE, 29 June, 1990
 Agitation campaign materials, speeches at gatherings and rallies, in print, on television, radio should not contain propaganda of war, calls for a violent change of the constitutional order, violation of territorial integrity of the Republic of Belarus, insults and slander against officials of the Republic of Belarus, against the presidential candidates and candidates for the parliament. Agitation or propaganda of social, racial, national, religious or linguistic supremacy, production and distribution of messages and materials inciting social, racial, national or religious hatred is prohibited.