Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Comelec: No rules on online political campaign


MANILA, Philippines - Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesperson James Jimenez dispelled notions that the poll body has been monitoring every tweet and Facebook post of the May elections candidates.
Saying Comelec is mainly interested in how much money political hopefuls spend for their online publicity, Jimenez insisted that limits for Internet campaigns are rather minimal.
"There are no rules for digital campaigning or online campaigning, but [what] we have are rules for how much a candidate has spent and how they will report it even if they have spent it online," Jimenez said in a forum on Wednesday.

Jimenez, who is also the director of the Comelec's Education and Information Department, added that the agency does not regulate online campaigning but does put a cap on candidates' spending.

"We are treating the online environment as just another platform for spending money ... How creative they are with their online campaign, that’s really up to them, as long as they report to us how much they’ve spent for it," he said.

The Internet by nature, he said, does not need much regulation unlike television, print and radio where consumers can be "bombarded" with candidates' publicity materials.
"With the Internet, as with SMS, you can actually go offline and it will not affect you," he said.

'Personal opinions'

If personal opinions expressed via blogs, websites and microblogs are not paid for by the candidates, these do not fall under political advertising and election rules.

"This means that we will not be monitoring Twitter, we will not be monitoring Facebook. Candidates can have their own Facebook accounts, can have their own Twitter accounts," Jimenez said.

He added that national and local bets can well upload a video on YouTube to go "viral" without earning the ire of Comelec officials.

"Our only problem really is when these things start to cost significant amounts of money such as, for instance, if the candidate were to get a celebrity to star in a video they have made, then that would have cost implications," Jimenez explained.

Advertising limits

Limits for political advertisements on websites, however, are more less adapted from caps placed on print, radio and television advertisements, he said.

Candidates are bound, for example, to only have their advertisement published thrice a week on any website.

This means that a campaign poster that appears four times a day on a website's sidebar is only counted as one as long as it's within the same 24-hour period, Jimenez explained.

At the same time, such political ads have to be labeled with corresponding notices reflecting who footed the bill for the particular post.

"The owner or administrator of any website that shows these political ads without the required are in violation of these rules and shall be criminally liable [along] with the candidates," Jimenez said, citing Republic Act 9005 or newly issued Fair Elections Act.

Facebook as HQs

As a general rule, the candidates' Facebook pages are seen by the poll body as their "virtual headquarters" akin their physical, geographical offices where they can post as many promotional materials as they want.
"The only thing Comelec prohibits is limiting the number of headquarters in a geographical area. They can actually put posters of any size in their headquarters," Jimenez said.

He added that since Facebook as well as candidates' own websites are treated as their online spaces, such are "beyond the pail of Comelec rules."


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