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Understanding democracy and elections

The media’s role during elections

Summary

Free and independent media are an essential component of any democratic society. They enjoy significant freedom under electoral legislation.

Freedom of the press

Throughout the election period and even on election day, the media are free to cover political issues, candidates and political parties as they see fit. They can do so in a variety of ways:

  • Articles
  • Editorials
  • News reports
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • News, commentary or public affairs programs, such as a leaders’ debate

Electoral legislation does not require the media to give equal coverage to all political parties or candidates. Nor does it regulate how the media cover political parties or candidates.

Leaders’ debates organized by the media are considered public affairs programs. As a result, they are not governed by electoral legislation. However, certain rules apply to debates that are not organized by the media.

Media oversight

Nevertheless, electoral legislation does set out some rules for journalists to follow. For example, a media outlet may not accept payment, reward, or a promise of payment or reward in exchange for publishing or broadcasting an item during an election period. Such a payment could constitute an election expense.

Aside from electoral legislation, there are other journalistic checks and balances. For example, radio and television stations are subject to the provisions of the Broadcasting Act. Specific guidelines to follow during election periods are available on the website of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. The Conseil de presse du Québec has published an ethics guide that explains the rights and responsibilities of the press in Québec. Finally, the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec has developed an ethics guide for its members.

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