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Media in Election Time: Guide for journalists

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has published a brochure entitled “Media in Election Time: A Guide for Journalists”. The publication informs media people how to deal with the legal issues most commonly affecting news organisations in the run-up to elections, for instance during the upcoming local government elections.

“In particular over the period of local elections the HFHR receives numerous accounts of violations of the freedom of speech, principally from journalists of local press outlets”, says Dorota Głowacka, a lawyer working for the HFHR. “At this time, the media need to be even more resilient to pressures or attacks by politicians, and also to their spin doctoring tricks. Media sources also have to deliver information in a politically-neutral way, so as to avoid allegations of partisan political campaigning”, adds Ms Głowacka.

In the election period, journalists play a particularly important role. Their job is to relay information to the public, which enables members of the public to vote consciously and thoughtfully. “This is precisely why the journalists covering election topics should be robustly protected. At the same time, they need to maintain a high standard of reliability because inaccurate reporting may affect the outcome of elections”, emphasises Dorota Głowacka.

The brochure contains practical guidance for journalists, which is to help them to cover elections accurately and with integrity. “Our guide explains, among other things, how to prepare a newspaper’s web portal for elections. It answers such questions as ‘do I need to close down the online forum for the period of electoral silence?’ or ‘who is responsible for derogatory comments by users?’, and so on. We also tell the readers in what circumstances journalists may be sued under the electoral fast-track procedure or advise them on the rules of publishing electoral ads. We hope that thanks to this information journalists will find it easier to perform the “public watchdog” function during elections”, says Adam Ploszka, a lawyer working with the HFHR.

The brochure was co-financed by Switzerland under the heading of the Swiss Programme for Cooperation with New EU Member States. The law firm Wardyński i Wspólnicy also supported the guide development.

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