Editorial: Leveling the field-A A +A
Sunday, January 20, 2013
THE text message was sent by +639162954749, an unregistered number in the recipient’s directory.
The message read: “ALAY BUHAY PARTYLIST-25 taon ngta2guyod s pmayanan at umaalalay s mali2it n negosyante. Slamat s pgsuporta s ming programa.Hangad nmin pgpalain kau ngaung 2013!”
Political advertising or freedom of expression?
Making the distinction would not be a problem unless one happens to be the Comelec, which has stated it will now monitor the political campaigning activities using the new media by candidates, political parties and groups running for the May 2013 elections.
Monitoring social media
According to its Jan. 15 resolution, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will include in its monitoring the use of the Internet, including social networks, blogs and micro-blogging sites, for political advertisements.
The Comelec said that unless one is a government employee, the personal expression of views or preferences for a candidate is not considered as campaigning or partisan political activity.
The monitoring is for the purpose of limiting politicians’ political ad expenses in the traditional and new portals. This is to provide equal opportunity for all to promote their candidacy.
However, most online communications, including the use of Facebook and Twitter and the creation of blogs, are free.
What will the Comelec then monitor? What is there to limit if politicians and their handlers will take advantage of free and unlimited social media?
Blogs can easily be managed by a person. How can the Comelec determine if a blogger is
expressing a personal opinion or election propaganda? Will the Comelec be able to do a background check on Netizens to sift private individuals from media handlers and those hired by candidates?
Has the Comelec the resources to bloghop and surf the Internet 24/7?
At no time in past elections has the Comelec carried out sanctions on politicians violating regulations on expenses for radio and television airtime and printed ads, as well as the size and placement of posters.
How serious is the Comelec stance on online propaganda, given its track record in leveling the field of communication to give all candidates’ equal access to the public?
Once the official campaign period begins on Feb. 12 and until it closes on May 11, the Comelec declared it will “strictly” allow each candidate only 120 minutes of advertising on TV and 180 minutes on radio.
How serious is the Comelec this time? It’s not only in monitoring time and expense limits.
Political advertising resorting to “creative” deviations also requires Comelec intervention.
According to a Jan. 17 report by Rappler, Comelec Resolution 9615 includes under broadcast political ads, “spots, appearances on TV shows and radio programs, live or taped announcements, teasers and other forms of advertising messages or announcements used by commercial advertisers.”
Aside from politicians’ TV and radio guesting, Comelec has to check and count every candidate’s sharing of airtime with party-list groups. In past election ads, party-list groups endorsed presidential and senatorial candidates. Airtime-sharing ads will be counted as part of the party-list’s and the candidate’s airtime limit.
Rappler also reported that the Comelec has banned election propaganda presented as movie biographies or documentaries. However, its resolution is silent on biographies aired in popular TV shows like “Maalaala Mo Kaya.”
The Comelec faces not inconsiderable challenges to ensure all stakeholders observe fair election practices.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 21, 2013.