Worldwide: Media And Political Campaigns: From The Era Of Free Air Time To That Of Free Online Advertising

Last Updated: November 17 2015
Article by Orestis Omran and Stefan Passantino

The increasing influence of mass media in political campaigns has been an issue of concern for campaign finance regulators worldwide during the past decades. The role of media often goes beyond merely informing the citizens of the positions of competing political parties and candidates; it often extends to shaping the electorate's views on certain subjects and can even determine election results. Many take the position that the potentially corrupting influence of the close relationship between "big money" and the media in politics constitute a dangerous mixture of dependencies and give rise to a need for effective regulation. While others do not espouse this view, there is no doubt that the issue of whether, and how, to regulate the influence money has on political discourse is one that is currently being debated on both sides of the Atlantic.

The purpose of this post is to provide a comprehensive comparative assessment of how national regulators try to curtail the influence of media during political campaigns by regulating the costs associated with air time by radio and television stations for political advertisements during election periods. This post will focus on some of the different approaches national regulators apply and anticipate some relevant upcoming developments in campaign finance regulation throughout the world.

Various approaches

United States

Federal campaign finance law in the United States does not provide for free air time to candidates for federal office. Repeated efforts to introduce legislation allowing the provision of free or discounted airtime date back to 1968, when Senator E. William Henry suggested the first proposal for free air time. This effort continued with the recent enactment of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, introduced by Senators McCain and Feingold, which originally contained a proposal addressing the rising costs of television in presidential campaigns. That language, however, was subsequently removed to ensure passage for the entire Act. Many legal scholars in the United States take the position that such a mandate would not pass constitutional muster because it would violate the First Amendment rights of broadcasters by intruding on broadcasters' editorial discretion and forcing stations to air (and pay for) political speech and views that they otherwise would not broadcast or support. Given the current United States Supreme Court's articulated views in Citizens United, McCutcheon and other cases that have associated strong First Amendment protections to issues of political speech, it is difficult to anticipate that free broadcast time will be provided for candidates or parties for federal office in the United States in the near future.

The United Kingdom

Lacking a system of direct public campaign financing, the United Kingdom has passed legislation allowing for various forms of indirect funding of political parties and candidates. The most important of these is a provision offering political parties a certain amount of free broadcasting time on national television and radio during an elections period. The United Kingdom also bans paid political advertising; the relevant legislation has been upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in Animal Defenders International v. UK in 2013.

Allocation, length and frequency of political advertisements are decided by an independent regulator called the Office of Communications. Apart from major parties that are commonly entitled to receive free air time, other registered parties are eligible to receive free broadcasting on the condition that their total number of candidates equals 1/6 or more of the seats up for election.


In France, the general rule is that all forms of paid commercial advertisement through the press or by any audiovisual means during the three months preceding an election are prohibited. The state, in order to secure candidates' access to the electorate, provides free access to public radio and television for political advertisement for a certain amount of time during the official election campaigns. During presidential elections, each presidential candidate is entitled to an equal amount of time for public television and radio broadcast advertisement during the official campaign. The total minimum air time set forth by law is fifteen minutes per television channel and radio station for each candidate on the first ballot and one hour on the second ballot. The Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel in France, an independent regulator, has been assigned with dealing with making sure that the relevant provisions are complied with.


In Germany, the Law on Political Parties prohibits political parties from purchasing public television or radio airtime. This prohibition is constantly valid and extends beyond the campaign period. However, political messages by political parties reach the electorate through free air time in public and private radio and television broadcasting. Allocation of the free time is processed by state regulatory authorities and not by an independent one as in France and the UK.


The specific national examples discussed above indicate that major democracies have adopted different methods of regulating the role media, and thus big money, play in elections. From a total ban on paid political advertisement to partial or complete permission, the dichotomy is evident: American-style politics, closely linked to private campaign financing, treat paid television and radio air time as an inextricable part of the political game. Media, as big corporations, may editorialize to take sides and promote the candidates or parties they wish, however the overall system is subject to disclosure requirements and the electorate's judgment. Nevertheless, the Free Speech argument should not be underestimated considering, in particular, the relevant constitutional tradition of the United States.

In Europe, the provision of free air time, especially during election periods, is considered, among others, as a remedy to the potentially corrupting influence of big money on politics. Regulatory frameworks and independent authorities are tasked with distributing free broadcast time to parties and candidates while setting out conditions for such broadcasts. Controlled exposure of the public to political messages during campaigns is thought to restrict big interests from monopolizing television or radio time in promoting their preferred candidates while the provision of free air time to parties and candidates proportionately to their electoral influence secures media coverage to smaller players, creating a level playing field. A different understanding of the freedom of speech and its restrictions in many European jurisdictions has helped legislation banning, or thoroughly regulating, paid political advertisement survive judicial scrutiny.

Future developments

It is difficult to imagine Facebook or Twitter being forced by law to publish free political advertisements on behalf of political parties or candidates. The massive expansion of the internet and social media the past years has not only decreased the role of television and radio in the political game but has also opened a new campaign field for candidates and parties.

Efficiently regulating this new field is definitely a challenge for regulators around the world. If we accept that creating a level playing field for political parties and candidates is a common goal of modern campaign finance systems, the expansion of free access to the media is arguably one of the ways to achieve that.

Evidently, the internet and the social media cannot be left out of a common understanding that all political messages need to reach the widest possible audience. We are not that far from the era where political battles will be exclusively held online and effective use of the internet will be determinative of election victory. The challenge for regulators is to first perceive the change and then to contemplate whether to mandate equal access to social media and the internet. What is certain is that political campaigns will never be the same.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Events from this Firm
24 Oct 2017, Seminar, Washington, DC, United States

The Dentons Forum for Women Executives invites you to join us for a luncheon featuring guest speaker Liza Mundy, journalist and author. Ms. Mundy recently released her latest book, Code Girls, the riveting untold story of more than 10,000 spirited young American women who cracked German and Japanese codes to help win World War II.

27 Oct 2017, Seminar, New York, United States

Please join us for a milestone event, our 10th annual CLE Seminar for In-House Counsel.

1 Nov 2017, Seminar, Washington, DC, United States

Celebrate the 58th anniversary of Dentons' Government Contracts practice

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.