The law provides the opportunity for paid advertising without any limitation, apart from those imposed by the overall campaign expenditure limit.
I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
While the campaign was low-key, candidates were generally able to campaign freely. State-funded media made efforts to meet requirements for equal access, but analysis and political debate were largely absent, and the blurring of the distinction with the State benefited the ruling party.
Positively, state-funded media showed a noticeable effort to meet formal time and space requirements to provide contestants with equal access. However, one contesting party was discernibly disadvantaged in terms of coverage of its platform and leaders.
B. LEGAL FRAMEWORK
The Election Law obliges media to present objective campaign coverage and guarantees political parties equal access. Before the official start of the campaign, the CEC issued two sets of guidelines on how to interpret various provisions of the Election Law, one of which was partly and another entirely devoted to the campaign in the media. In addition, the CEC declared that its 2007 regulation on rules of election campaign coverage in the media remains valid. Based on the latter, the CEC reiterated that any contestant-related campaign information outside of daily news reports and their weekly summaries was to be paid for from the party’s campaign fund. With a view to safeguard editorial independence, the legal framework could be revised to allow broadcasters to decide on the format and conditions of election-related programming and to achieve a better balance between the contestant-related information that is to be paid from the campaign fund and a comprehensive and meaningful election media reporting.
The law provides the opportunity for paid advertising without any limitation, apart from those imposed by the overall campaign expenditure limit. While there is no free airtime or space provided to contestants, the law obliges the CEC to organize free of charge debates for parties that put forward their party lists. The obligation to organize pre-election debates could be placed on state-funded channels instead of the CEC. The legal framework should be amended to guarantee contestants additional free of charge coverage by the state-funded media to ensure a more level playing field and more substantial voter information.
The CEC was responsible for overseeing media compliance and performed this task in co-operation with the Media Committee. Its analytical department monitored the quantitative coverage of contesting parties across traditional media outlets (47 television channels, 12 radio stations and 237 newspapers and magazines) and numerous online sources (162 political and social websites). The monitoring did not carry out analysis of the content or the tone of the coverage. As publicly reported by the CEC prior to election day, no serious media violations were found. However, there was no report issued for the last week of the campaign, nor was there a final, summarizing report.
C. MEDIA MONITORING FINDINGS
According to the OSCE/ODIHR EOM media monitoring results, the campaign’s was visible in the nationwide media and on social networks while the local media largely dedicated its attention to the Maslikhat contests. Contestants were provided equal access to the state-funded media. At the same time, the President was extensively covered in his official capacity, thus benefiting the ruling party. The OSCE/ODIHR EOM learned about the Media Plan provided by the Media Committee to major media on a regular basis with a list of important political events. Such practice raises doubts about the editorial independence of state-funded media and was manifested by the very similar manner in which they presented political and campaign related events. Based on the CEC’s narrow interpretation of the law concerning equal access, contestants used paid political advertisement, however journalistic coverage of the campaign was limited to factual news reports and articles. As a result, an editorial, in-depth, comprehensive analysis that would provide voters with a meaningful opportunity to learn about parties and concrete policy proposals within news or in different types of programmes was absent. On 16 March, the CEC organized one televised debate aired by Khabar TV with the participation of all contesting parties. Yet, the formalistic format of the debate did not provide for an interactive exchange of views which reduced its informational value. The lack of opportunity to address questions and comments to decision-makers, including to the ruling party on its performance while in office, contributed to the general absence of critical and analytical media reporting. During the campaign period, media covered all contending parties, with a noticeable effort of statefunded outlets to meet formal requirements to provide equal access. However, extensive reporting of the President’s activities, including regular work and ceremonial occasions, dominated most of the media. Altogether, the amount of coverage received by the President on each channel was approximately three times as much as the coverage provided to each contesting party. The statefunded broadcasters dedicated between 27 and 43 per cent of their political prime time news to the President.
(OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report, Republic of Kazakhstan, Early Parliamentary Elections 20 March 2016, available at http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/kazakhstan/248781?download=true accessed January 2018).
3. The state shall guarantee an equal allocation of funds to the candidates to come out with their programs in mass media. Each candidate shall be granted with funds for a fifteen minutes speech on TV, ten-minutes broadcasting by the radio as well as for publication of two articles in the press in the volume that does not exceed 0.1 of a printed sheet.
The political parties that have nominated their party lists shall be eligible to participate in the political debates on TV, organized by the Central Election Commission within the time limit fixed by the Central Election Commission.
Mass media shall provide time for broadcasting and the space to print for the registered candidates and political parties that have nominated their party lists on a contractual basis. The terms and conditions of the contract for the provision of broadcasting and the printed space in mass media to the candidates and political parties that have nominated the party lists should not create advantages in favor of a certain candidate and a political party. The data about the size of payment, conditions and order of granting of on-air broadcasting time and the printed area shall be declared and published by the corresponding organization of the TV-radio broadcasting, the editorial staff of the periodic press not later than on the tenth day after an official publication of the decision on appointment an election. The named information needs to be presented to the Central and oblast (regional) election commissions during Elections of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, to other territorial as well as region election commissions during election of deputies of the Parliament, Maslikhats and members of other local self-government bodies.
The consent for allocation of time for broadcasting and a printed area given by mass media to one of the candidates or a political party which has nominated its party list shall be considered as consent to allocate time for on-air broadcasting and a printed area to other candidates or political parties that have nominated their party lists.
The sequence of appearance of candidates and the political parties which have nominated their party lists in mass media shall be established in the course of reception of written applications or through casting lots if applications were received at one and the same time.
It shall be prohibited to interrupt and comment on speeches of the candidates on television and radio immediately after the speech as well as in press in the same issue.
(Constitutional Act of the Republic of Kazakhstan, On Elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan, 1995 available at https://www.election.gov.kz/rus/normativno-pravovaya-baza-vyborov/zakon-respubliki-kazakhstan/zakon-o-vyborakh-v-respublike-kazakhstan.php accessed January 2018).