Media and other information sources, including online, should enable the audience to clearly distinguish between paid and editorial or user-generated content.
- Paid advertising on public media was identified as such, and the costs and conditions involved were reasonable and equally applied to all candidates and parties
- Paid content in media and other information sources, including online, was clearly marked and distinguishable from editorial and user-generated content
- Accordingly, the Assembly calls on member States to review, where necessary, their regulatory frameworks governing media coverage of election campaigns, in order to bring them into line with Council of Europe standards, ensuring in particular that they: (...) 8.6. clearly distinguish between the campaign activities and information activities of public and private media to ensure equity among political competitors, as well as a conscious and free choice for voters.
- Accordingly, the Assembly calls on member States to review, where necessary, their regulatory frameworks governing media coverage of election campaigns, in order to bring them into line with Council of Europe standards, ensuring in particular that they: (...) 8.8. guarantee, where political parties and candidates have the right to purchase advertising space for election purposes, equal treatment in terms of conditions and rates charged; in this context, there should be a requirement for paid political advertising to be readily recognisable as such.
- Concerning more specifically the risks posed by disinformation and undue propaganda on the internet and social media for the smooth conduct of the electoral process, the Assembly calls on member States to: (…) 9.2. develop specific regulatory frameworks for internet content at election times and include in these frameworks provisions on transparency in relation to sponsored content published on social media, so that the public can be aware of the source that funds electoral advertising or any other information or opinion.
- Diversity of media content can only be properly gauged when there are high levels of transparency about editorial and commercial content: media and other actors should adhere to the highest standards of transparency regarding the source of their content and always indicate clearly when content is provided by political sources or involves advertising or other forms of commercial communications, such as sponsoring and product placement. This also applies to hybrid forms of content, including branded content, native advertising, advertorials and infotainment.
- Regulations must subject online platforms – and not only authorised advertisers – to the highest standards of transparency so that voters can distinguish paid and user-generated content. Platforms must publicly disclose information at both ad and aggregated levels in regard to who places ads, who pays for them, the ad generation methods, the targeting criteria, the profiling data sources, reach, duration, and average rates charged. Infringements by platforms must be penalised.
- Signatories commit to keep complying with the requirement set by EU and national laws, and outlined in self-regulatory Codes, that all advertisements should be clearly distinguishable from editorial content, including news, whatever their form and whatever the medium used. When an advertisement appears in a medium containing news or editorial matter, it should be presented in such a way as to be readily recognisable as a paid-for communication or labelled as such.
- These [paid] ads should be clearly and effectively labelled and distinguishable as paid-for content, and users should be able to understand that the content displayed contains advertising related to political or societal issues.
- Against this background, the responsibility of social media platforms within the framework of current political / campaign finance regimes to ensure transparency and accountability of ad placement, expenditure and attribution in order to better inform citizens of the context in which electoral choices are being made, gains critical importance.
- The obligations to promote the enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression require that States guarantee the transparency of all aspects of political and electoral processes, and should particularly put in place measures to: (...) (b) Put in place measures to ensure that, in all circumstances, paid political advertising is identified as such and not disguised as news or editorial coverage, and that the origin of its financial backing is evident.
- Therefore, the Venice Commission has issued two recommendations which remain highly relevant and need to be implemented: - Ensuring accountability of internet intermediaries, in terms of transparency and access to data enhancing transparency of spending, specifically for political advertising. In particular, internet intermediaries should provide access to data on paid political advertising, so as to avoid facilitating illegal (foreign) involvement in elections, and to identify the categories of target audiences.
- Governments, electoral management bodies and relevant oversight agencies must act swiftly to bring legal definitions of political advertising up to date, thereby grounding in law essential responsibilities on content, financing and placement of online political ads that correspond to online platforms, political activists, sponsors and other intermediaries.
- Online platforms must conduct identity verification protocols to ensure that only legally authorised advertisers place ads and should be responsible for removing inauthentic online communications. Regulations should ban inauthentic production and dissemination of online political advertisement, such as machine-generated ads and targeting.