Freedom of expression and pluralism of information in the television sector. Political associations and right to freedom to impart political opinions and ideas in the media outside election periods.
Art. 10 ECHR
1. Freedom of political debate is at the core of the notion of a democratic society underlying the entire Convention. A situation in which an economic or political part of society may take a position of control over the media, and therefore exert pressure on broadcasters so as to limit their editorial freedom, undermines the fundamental role that freedom of expression plays in a democratic society, particularly when it comes to disseminating information and ideas of general interest, which the public has the right to receive.
2. In matters of political debate, freedom of expression is one of the conditions that ensure the free manifestation of the electoral body’s view on the choice of legislative body. During pre-election periods, it is particularly important to allow opinions and information of any kind to circulate freely.
3. When the State decides to establish a public broadcasting system, national law and practice must ensure that such system will provide a pluralistic service.
4. The State, as ultimate guarantor of pluralism, on the one hand has the duty to guarantee public access, through television and radio, to impartial and correct information, as well as to a plurality of opinions which reflect particularly the diversity of political opinions existing in the country; on the other hand, it is required to ensure the protection of journalists and other media professionals against any obstacles to the dissemination of such information.
5. Unlike political communication programmes, political news programmes are not subject to a strict requirement of proportional representation of the views of each political formation but simply to a duty to represent different political opinions in a balanced manner. However, the practice employed by domestic authorities concerning the application of the general principles on pluralism indicates that “political subjects” enjoy increased protection of their access to a specific category of political news programmes, which are subject to an “independent assessment” as regards their compliance with the principle of pluralism in respect of a particular “political subject”. This means that similar situations have to be treated in a similar manner in accordance with the principle of equality, the aim being to ensure the proper conduct of political debate and hence pluralism of information.
(In the present case, the Court unanimously found that the failure to invite the applicant association’s representatives to appear on the most important news programmes broadcast by State television, in which representatives of other political formations had taken part in, corresponds to a violation of article 10 ECHR).