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Draft law introduces paid campaign ads

A draft directive jointly prepared by the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) and the Ethiopian Broadcast Authority (EBA) has introduced a provision that allows political parties to run paid campaign advertisements.

The draft directive issued to govern the use of media as well as airtime and page allocation by political parties and independent candidates clearly states that any political party or independent candidate can run campaign advertisements at campaign schedules. But this campaign advertisement should adhere to the provisions of the election proclamation and other respective laws of the land in a manner that respects the electorates’ rights, as well as the rights to be elected.

While the payment for election advertisements should be the same for all political campaign advertisers, this price cannot exceed the amount paid for any commercial advertisement.

Broadcasters that run such advertisements by political parties or individual candidates cannot disrupt the broadcast. The draft directive also provides that media houses should set up election desks.

At the discretion of the media houses that would run the political campaign ads, any message deemed to instigate violence and carry hatred should be immediately notified to the campaigning political party or individual candidate as well as the EBA. However, the political party or the candidate can correct and ask for the advertisement to run.

Grievances in this process should be directed to election desks at media house within 48 hours, in-writing. The election desks should give reply to the grievances within 24 hours to the grieving party or candidate. If this is unsatisfying to the party or candidate, it could go to the EBA which will take five days to decide on the grievances. The EBA is mandated to inform the NEBE of its decisions.

For free broadcast and newspaper campaign advertisements, the Board uses various criteria including the number of candidates the political parties present for the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR) and regional councils, the number of women candidates the parties have, the number of disabled candidates the parties have, as well as the number of seats competing parties hold in the existing HPR and regional councils. Hence, 25 percent of the total airtime and newspaper pages will be equally distributed among political parties, while 40 percent is allocated based on the number of candidates the parties have, 20 percent for their women candidates, 10 percent for their disabled candidates and five percent for their seats at the HPR and regional council.

In another turn, the directive also states that in a situation where a party or an individual candidate does not use the allocated airtime, the media can run its own column or air its own program in that spot. In previous experiences, if a political party or an individual candidate failed to send its message in time or did not send at all, blank pages were printed in newspapers.

Again, while previous election laws mainly required publicly owned media entities to allocate airtime as well as pages for campaigning political parties, the new draft directive states that the EBA is mandated to prepare criteria for the privately owned media on how they allocate airtime, columns and usage.