[page-number of print-ed.: 35]
A transitional phase leading from authoritarian rule and/or a conflict situation to a democratic dispensation and stability, usually includes negotiations between various political players. For these to succeed, there must be a level playing field. The political force in power with its total or substantial control over the media must not be allowed to continue to enjoy an undue advantage over the other side.
The ultimate goal of negotiations being the creation of a democratic state and an open society, the process itself should be as democratic and open as possible.
Negotiations are meant to culminate in the holding of democratic elections. Such elections must be free and fair.
Only a free media can provide a level playing field, a democratic and open forum for debate, and contribute to free and fair elections. From the outset, the political force in power must give up its control over state-owned or state-controlled media.
The following basic regulatory requirements need to be met to achieve these objectives:
The state controlled broadcasting corporation must be transformed into a truly public broadcaster, controlled by and accountable to the public at large. Party-political agreements on equal air time on radio/TV, balanced news and/or monitoring procedures alone will not achieve the goal of non-partisan broadcasting. Other programming could still be used in a multitude of ways to provide one-sided information.
For this reason, concrete steps to be taken towards the transformation of the state broadcaster need to be part of the early phases of negotiations. These will include the establishment of an independent board to supervise the activities of the broadcaster and, at the same time, shield it from undue outside influence.
Ideally, an independent panel (e.g. judges, magistrates, lawyers) should appoint members of such a board in a process which must be transparent throughout: with an invitation for nominations or applications of candidates in advertisements, publication of a shortlist drawn up by the panel, publication of shortlisted names and a call on the public to comment, as well as public hearings.
[page-number of print-ed.: 36]
An alternative approach is to ask civil society organisations and/or clusters of NGOs to nominate members of the board, e.g. universities, media institutes, chambers of commerce and other employers' associations, trade unions, cultural institutions, associations of journalists, NGOs working in the fields of human rights, sports, tourism, ecology, children, youth and family rights, education, health and social care, or the promotion of rights of minority groups.
Whichever option is chosen, the state authority which needs to officially sanction the appointments must only ratify the names forwarded by the selection panel or institutions, without having the right to change or reject them.
The first task of the independent board will be to develop editorial and programming policies, including rules for election coverage, which will give journalists and producers editorial independence and oblige them at the same time to report in a balanced and fair manner.
If and where necessary, top management posts need to be filled in the interim by people with no political baggage. The same goes for journalists, producers and presenters with a highly partisan party political profile.
If it is not possible to pass a Public Broadcasting Act before elections, negotiators must at least agree on some basic principles. These will include the mandate of the Public Broadcaster (PB), the composition and method of appointment of an independent board representative of society at large (excluding office bearers with the state and political parties), a list of rights and duties of the board, the obligations of the PB in regard to basic professional standards (e.g. balanced and impartial news and current affairs coverage), the funding of the PB in a way that does not restrict its independence.
It should be agreed that such an Act will be passed by parliament according to the consensus achieved at the negotiation table regardless of the balance of power in the new legislature.
State-owned and/or controlled print media and news services must be put under a supervisory mechanism which ensures non-partisan editing. For this purpose, an independent media commission should be established along the lines of the PB board. Agreement must be reached that this commission will later be in charge of privatising these publications under an appropriate act.
[page-number of print-ed.: 37]
Where there is a state authority in place in charge of information, media policies, broadcasting and the control of print media and news services (a ministry, the office of a state secretary in the Presidency or the like), this should be abolished. With its task taken over by independent bodies, such an authority is no longer necessary. Government (including any form of transitional government) should restrict itself to a public relations department which will disseminate information on its activities to the media. Such information must not be of a party political nature.
© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Oktober 2003