Training for Quality Reporting of Elections

By

Paul Pasch

It is the duty and responsibility of all broadcasters – large or small, rich or poor – to contribute to and ensure free, fair and transparent elections in any way they can. The media are usually the most important means by which people find out about a forthcoming election and the political choices before them. The media need to be free to report fairly on the campaigns of all the political parties involved so that people can determine the differences between them and decide which party or candidate to support. The media also need to provide people with information on how to vote. And the media require the freedom to ask questions and get answers about the transparency of an election, and to tell voters if there is something wrong so that it can be fixed.

Democracy and free media have a special relationship. They need each other. Free media will help keep the election honest and democratic. And a democratically elected government will protect the media’s freedoms. It is difficult to achieve the requirements of a democratic election without a free press that operates with professionalism.

Quality Journalism in Election Reporting:
Suggestions for practical training

Free media are essential if citizens are to make well-informed decisions in an election. But the media must be more than free. They must be reliable. They must be trusted. They must have the opportunity to form and present independent and diverse views.

Around the world, journalists have developed principles and standards to help them provide news that people can trust. Unfortunately, there are places where journalists have to work under standards and rules imposed by governments or powerful interests that interfere with professionalism. However, wherever journalists come together freely to consider what they do, and how to guide themselves, they refer to their professional standards. There are more than 150 professional journalists’ associations and media organisations in countries around the world which have drawn up codes of conduct or standards for good journalism. Every journalist would be well advised to read the section on ethics on the website of the International Federation of Journalists (http://www.ifj.org – Quality in Journalism).

Training is required to enhance the professionalism of journalists and broadcasters. Some of the essential issues to be covered are:

  • Democracy and elections
  • Media and elections

      -The importance of election reporting: voter education, watchdog role of
       the media, etc.

      -Media freedom and restrictions during elections

      -Media strategies of political parties

      -Election campaign access

      -Reporting of opinion polls

  • Resources and sources
  • Ethical guidelines and broadcast policy for election coverage
  • Media legislation

In terms of workshop methodology, practical group work and group discussions on particular topics, especially with regard to media laws and ethics, can be useful. Question and answer sessions with experts are also recommended. Participatory tools like World Café provide easy access to the expertise and knowledge of workshop participants.

The following are some suggestions that evolved from reflections on various trainings on the media and elections conducted by the Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in recent years.1

Suggestion 1

Bring workshops in line with the host country’s election schedule, so that journalists can practice real election reporting and are not confined to a solely theoretical setting or, even worse, training takes place after elections have already taken place, but in accordance with current developments. This would make the workshop more adjustable to current settings, more context-related and eventually more up-to-date. This strategy certainly applies to incountry workshops, but it could also prove to be useful with regard to regional workshops. Provided it is professionally produced, the material generated could later be published in the participants’ native countries.

Step 1: Monitoring the election schedule of the Asia-Pacific region.

Step 2: Early planning and scheduling of the workshop.

Step 3: Prior, in-depth research on the country’s political background, including election procedures, party system, legislation and media.

Suggestion 2

Use examples of election reporting (TV or radio clips, articles) as case studies to critically examine their strengths and weaknesses in small working groups. This approach is more likely to create awareness about the importance and necessities of election reporting than a solely theoretical discussion.

Step 4: The organisers of the workshop should find appropriate examples of election

reporting, highlighting particular strengths and weaknesses. Before distributing this

material, it should be thoroughly analysed.

Suggestion 3

Focus on an approach that highlights the importance of journalists addressing topics that are relevant to the voters. This strategy is also known as “voters-voice reporting.” In this context, it is crucial to take into account different social or ethnic communities.

Step 5: Emphasise the significance of getting to know “the public’s mind” by “person-inthe- street” research and by taking a look at blogs, letters to the editor, opinion polls, surveys, etc.

Step 6: Training that enables participants to find starting points for reports rooted in people’s everyday lives.

Suggestion 4

The relationship between the media and politics should be critically discussed. Issues such as agenda setting, manipulation, conflict of interests, campaign financing or “the public relations virus” should be addressed in particular.

Step 7: Provide practice in how to deal professionally with politicians in real-life settings.

Step 8: Compare different election-related media codes of conduct (e.g., developed by the media organisations represented by the workshop participants, journalistic NGOs, international media such as the BBC, etc.) and develop specific guidelines during the workshop.

Suggestion 5

“Elections and new media” is a topic that should be covered in great detail. In most Asian countries, the Internet – news portals and blogs in particular – offer an alternative source of information, which is not bound by the same restrictions that apply to public/state media, which are often directly or indirectly owned by the government, or to private/commercial media. The workshop should critically look into the advantages and challenges related to the rising use and significance of so-called new media.

Step 9: Invite an influential blogger or the editor of an alternative news site to talk about his/her experience.

Suggestion 6

The issue of “The Media and Elections” should be further developed and eventually lead to the drafting of Guidelines and Principles for Broadcast Coverage of Elections in the Asia-Pacific Region.

The core issues that are crucial in order to provide a clear understanding of the media and elections should be the foundation of the training. Furthermore, legal issues should clearly be addressed, since they provide the framework for the journalist’s work. Topics such as defamation/libel legislation do not solely apply to election periods and could be dealt with either briefly or in other workshops.

Regarding methodology, it is essential to provide hands-on experience and interactive tools to ensure that the trainings are not overly conceptual. The methodology should include training in conducting interviews and vox-pop surveys, in studio work and production of  report in text or sound and/or image. In the case of theoretical issues or clarifications regarding the preconditions for election reporting, group discussions on case studies can be useful. It may be worthwhile to invite speakers from various backgrounds, such as civil society organisations, the election commission, academic scholars and members of political parties members, although the number of such guests should not exceed three per workshop. Their experiences, perspectives and expertise can provide valuable context and authenticity.

Paul Pasch


 

1 In-house trainings workshops on election reporting are provided by the AIBD and some other agencies for broadcasters in the Asia-Pacific region – among them ABC Australia, KBS, Deutsche Welle, Radio Netherlands and CFI. So far AIBD is the sole provider of media and elections trainings at a regional level.