The Commission on Elections has admitted it cannot include Internet advertising by poll candidates in the guidelines regulating the campaigns.

It released Resolution 8758 containing campaign guidelines for candidates that restricted their mass media exposure.

National candidates will be allowed only 120 minutes broadcast advertising on local and cable television and 180 minutes on radio, regardless if these were paid for by the candidate or by supporters.

Candidates to local positions can have only 60 minutes of advertisements on television and 90 minutes on radio. These limits will take effect during the campaign period that runs from Feb. 9 to May 8 for national candidates and March 26 to May 8 for local candidates, under the Fair Elections Act.

The poll body tasked with governing the May 10 elections admitted it cannot monitor Internet advertising and political parties and candidates posting ads on websites, blogs and social networking sites like Facebook or through advertising affiliate partners like Google. The Sun.Star website at www.sunstar.com.ph is one such Philippine news website that carries political ads.

The commission didn’t say why it would be unable to restrict campaign ads on the Internet. But it is safe to assume it would have no way or not enough technology resources and personnel to limit such form of advertising. Even in this time of electronic voting and automated processes, web advertising is one area still to be studied by the poll body.

The reason lies in the features of web advertising.

Television and radio plugs or newspaper ad placements would be counted as the media organizations are required to declare the amount of airtime or page sizes paid for by candidates and supporters. In the case of websites, the count would come in the form of ad types like images, flash, video or links; ad sizes like banners, leaderboards or rectangles; and impressions like the number of times the ad appears when a website or blog is viewed.

There are programs that allow one to count all these, but there are ways too of getting away with underexposure or overexposure especially if the poll body does not have access to the programs.

Then there is the question also of where to pin the blame should violations be committed. Should it be the website owner, the host provider, the affiliate advertising partner, Google?

The poll body has more pressing concerns such as catching candidates with campaign posters on public walls and trees, guarding the sanctity of the electronic vote and ensuring order during election day. It has its hand full, it does not need to add Internet advertising in its list of headaches.

For now, Internet advertising will remain unrestricted in election campaigns. The positive thing about this is that Internet advertising is relatively cheap or sometimes free; candidates with fewer resources could tap it to their advantage.

(ninicab@sunstar.com.ph)