Pre-election ads by public agencies may be perceived as endorsements of the ruling party
Public agencies frequently advertise their and the government’s achievements and future plans through video ads and other visual materials on TV and social media. During the pre-election period, this information may be perceived by voters as an endorsement of the political party currently in power. This perception suggests that the use of such ads contain signs of abuse of administrative resources for campaign purposes. The problem is made worse when such ads are aired as social advertisements.
Previous years also saw this problem, when all videos depicting government achievements were being aired on TV as social advertising. As a result, in the spring of 2013, the Interagency Commission for Free and Fair Elections recommended the government and the Georgian Public Broadcaster stop airing social ads for government projects that could be perceived as campaign advertising during the pre-election period. Currently, the social ad status is no longer being used to air government ads, however, the problem remains that publicly funded ads prepared by public agencies are being perceived as campaign ads.
The following are examples of infographics distributed by the government for advertising purposes over the past few weeks:
This is an incomplete list of promotional video and photo material that is being distributed by the government and various ministries through social media.
In order to safeguard a competitive election environment, administrative resources must not be used for campaign advertising, regardless of whether such actions directly contradict the law. The Georgian Election Code fails to properly regulate this issue and prohibits the distribution of only those budget-funded videos and other promotional material that depict election subjects and their numbers. Even though the above examples do not contain any party symbols, their content is not too different in voter’s eyes from the standard campaign ads of the ruling party. By blurring the line between the government and the ruling party, such actions, in their essence, constitute the abuse of administrative resources, which is a violation of commitments undertaken by Georgia within the framework of the OSCE Copenhagen Document. Therefore, we call on the:
• Government – to refrain from distributing advertisements on its planned or implemented projects during the pre-election period, except for truly social advertisements (without abusing this status).
• Georgian National Communications Commission – to examine the compliance of the use of social advertising by the Public Broadcaster with the law.
• Interagency Commission for Free and Fair Elections – to update its 2013 recommendation that urged the government to refrain from airing social ads for government projects that could be perceived as campaign advertising.