The Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC) has put in place rules governing media coverage for political parties and independent candidates ahead of the January 18 elections.
According to one rule, no local radio or television station or print media “shall prevent or cause to be prevented” any duly nominated political party or independent candidate that is nominated to run from broadcasting or publishing print material that is necessary to promote their candidacy.
Additionally, no media house – whether print or electronic – should distort or cause any promotion material it receives to be altered.
ABEC adds that radio and television stations, and their management, must not charge more than the ordinary or hourly rate for campaign advertisement, or prevent candidates from being able to broadcast or advertise their material at an affordable rate.
Any contravention to the rules laid down by ABEC will result in the organizations being guilty of an offence. Upon summary conviction, the offender will be subjected to a fine of $10,000, or imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year.
Authority for these rules is contained in the Representation of the People Act, Cap 379 of the Revised Edition, 1992 of the laws of Antigua and Barbuda. Provision for making rules by the Electoral Commission is to be found in Section 36 (1) of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, No. 17 of 2001.
In recent weeks, complaints have come not only from the candidates participating in the elections. Concerned citizens and residents have grumbled that State media – which is funded by taxpayers – were deliberately preventing political parties and candidates – except those of the governing administration – from getting their political messages across.
However, during this political cycle, ABS Television appears to have adopted a different approach. It has staged interviews with the independent candidates and at least one opposition party, to date.