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Monday 16.09.2019 | Name days: Dārgs, Asja, Asnate, Dāgs

Pre-election Campaign Law has holes but no changes are proposed, politicians say

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

Latvian politicians are aware there are holes in the Pre-election Campaign Law but they have no plans to initiate any changes to it.

Currently there are only two sections of the law that cover promotional campaigns on the internet. The law dictates that it is not allowed to engage in promotion of politicians and parties on the internet two days prior and on Election Day. On top of that, legislation only applies to paid promotional services. The law details advertisement service providers, equating procedures with publication of advertisements on the internet. It is important for promotional materials to contain clear references to the ones who pay for it.

Although Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) performs careful and intense monitoring of promotional materials on social media, accounts of political parties and complaints from residents, the law does not have clear definitions for forms of promotions on social media. This opens the way for not only interpretations but also entire loopholes in legislation.

Saeima deputies interviewed by LETA admit that the law should develop alongside technologies; otherwise dishonest players could try lifting the ceiling for promotional expenditures. However, political parties represented in the parliament do not have plans to propose any legislative changes.

Harmony’s Saeima faction chairman Jānis Urbanovičs stressed that «there is nothing that cannot be improved; only practice can help reveal weak spots in laws».

According to him, there are loopholes in the Pre-election Campaign Law and the Law on Financing of Political Organisations, which open the way for parties to compete dishonestly. «There are also oddities with advertisers, PR companies that service politicians, price drops for services in one company and price jumps in others. They should at least provide some indications to the people who govern compliance with both laws. There is a lot of work there,» said the politician, adding that it is only logical that every other election reveals new loopholes and policy-makers, financiers, and PR agencies get in the lead over authors and inspectors of legislation.

Attīstībai/Par! political party leader Daniels Pavļuts admits that regulations should undergo regular improvements. New Conservative Party politician Juta Strīķe said that social networks are the most accessible environment for parties that do not rely on sponsors – political parties not represented in the parliament or parties that do not receive state funding can explain their views using social media. Political effort and ability to reach an audience play a major role on social networks.

Because of that, NCP does not support strict restrictions. On top of that, Facebook cooperates with KNAB, said Strīķe. She believes KNAB requires tools to supervise promotional campaigns on the internet.

KNAB does not urge Saeima to regularly change regulations.

Parliamentarian Kaspars Ģirģens from KPV LV stressed that when it comes to improvements to legislation, it is necessary to cooperate with social media in order to better understand how to better control pre-election campaigns on the internet. Ģirģens is also interested in controlling anti-advertisements spread using other media. He also said that it is necessary to think about resolving the matter regarding debts left from unpaid penalties for violations of promotion campaign regulations.

Chairman of National Alliance «All for Latvia-For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK» Raivis Dzintars believes this topic can be resolved by studying experience of other countries. He adds that it is hard to find a good recipe that would provide a balanced solution without limiting people’s freedom to voice their opinion.

Dzintars admits that there are risks associated with controlling internet promotion, adding that this topic is not topical just for Latvia. He also asks:

«At the same time, if a person voices an opinion on the internet about some party or politician – where do you draw the line between promotion and opinion?»

Union of Greens and Farmers Saeima faction deputy chairman Raimonds Bergmanis admits that technologies change very quickly, but that is no reason to rush law amendments – it is first necessary to consider the results provided by previous amendments to the law.

Official statistics prove the importance of social media for pre-election campaigns, as promotional campaigns in this environment increase with every passing election.

New Unity Saeima faction chairman Ainars Latkovskis said that when it comes to legislation improvements, it is necessary to look at developments in social media. «It is fairly clear what is happening on social network platforms. KNAB had previously said that cooperation with social network platforms continues. However, it is important to consider just how beneficial it has been so far,» said the deputy.

«Social network platforms are used more and more often to weigh opinions of voters and affect their choices in elections,’ said Latkovskis, adding that the question as to how well supervisors can see it remains unanswered.

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