It is normal practice in most democracies that, during an election period, particular attention is paid to ensuring that government communication structures and officers do not act in a way that advantages or disadvantages participants in the electoral contest.
In this regard, in its presentation to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications on 24 February 1999, the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) made it known that it would wind down some of its operations during the formal election period.
On 31 March 1999, Cabinet decided on a possible "framework to be formulated to regulate against the dissemination of government information during election periods" in a way that is to the advantage of one political party and to the disadvantage of others. It adopted the Guidelines on 28 April 1999.
The Guidelines are meant to assist government communicators and other relevant public servants in determining the specific parameters within which they should conduct their work in the election period. The Guidelines have been decided upon at the initiative of Government. The IEC may, independently take whatever relevant steps it deems necessary on this matter.
Public Service Act
In accordance with the Public Service Act, public servants are prohibited from acting in a manner that is intended to promote or prejudice any political party. In particular, Section 36 (c) stipulates that "an officer or employee may not draw up or publish any writing or deliver a public speech to promote or prejudice the interests of any political party".
According to Section 20 (g) of the Act, "an officer, other than a member of the services or an educator or a member of the National Intelligence Services shall be guilty of misconduct and may be dealt with in accordance" with public service regulations "if he or she makes use of his or her position in the public service to promote or to prejudice the interests of any political party". This includes the use of government resources.
During an election period, these and other provisions of the Act continue to apply to all public servants. Communication agencies and components of government and their employees have to exercise special care to ensure that their media products, statements and public events for which they are responsible, do not promote or prejudice any political party.
Scope of Application
According to the IEC, an election period is the period during which the IEC's Code of Conduct and Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) regulations apply. In the current election, this period starts immediately after the submission of party lists and confirmation of parties that will take part in the elections. The election period should therefore start on the 3rd of May 1999 and end when election results are certified and announced.
Strictly formulated, during an election period:
"State-financed media shall not be used for the purpose of promoting or prejudicing the interests of any political party".
What is state-financed media?
"'State-financed media' means any newspaper, book, periodical, pamphlet, poster, media release or other printed matter, or statement, or any audio and video material, or any information in electronic format such as CD-Rom, internet or e-mail which is produced and disseminated to the public, and which is financed by, and directly under the control of, government".
These regulations apply to communicators and other relevant public servants. In so far as Ministers and other political representatives, contractual workers and employees in role-playing posts are concerned, the parameters of their political work in government are regulated by the Ministerial Handbook; and they are not the subject of these Guidelines.
Constitutional Rights and Obligations
Communication officers and their agencies should continue meeting the obligation of government to provide information to the citizenry.
Communication officers should continue exercising their responsibility to promote and defend the policies, programmes and actions of the government.
Like all other citizens, communication officers have the freedom of association: to belong to any party of their choice. Subject to provisions of the Public Service Act quoted above, any political activities that individual public servants, including communicators, may wish to undertake, in their own private time, is their own private matter.
These guidelines shall be brought to the attention of all communication officers in government departments and services as well as other public servants whose work may relate to the matters!aised herein. The responsibility for this will lie with the Heads of Department and Heads of Communication. However, ignorance of the guidelines shall not be taken as legitimate reason to justify their violation.
Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)