Communist Party of Russia and Others v. Russia
European Court of Human Rights
TV coverage during 2003 parliamentary elections provided
Russian opposition sufficient public visibility
In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Communist Party of Russia and Others
v. Russia (application no. 29400/05), which is not final1, the European Court of Human
Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
no violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European
Convention on Human Rights; and,
no violation of Article 3 of Protocol No 1 (right to free elections) to the
The case concerned the complaints by Russian political opposition parties and politicians
that the 2003 parliamentary elections had not been free as a result of unequal media
coverage of the electoral campaign by the five major TV companies.
The Court found that laws and procedures existing at the relevant time guaranteed the
opposition minimum access to TV as well as well as provided for the neutrality of the
State-controlled media. While equality in TV coverage had not in reality been achieved
during the 2003 elections, that had not been sufficient to find that the elections were not
“free” within the meaning of the Convention.
A Factsheet on the Right to Free Elections, which comprises selected Court’s case-law
and pending cases, can be found on this link.
The applicants are two political parties registered in Russia, namely the “Communist
Party of Russia” and the Russian democratic party “Yabloko”, and six Russian nationals,
Sergey Ivanenko, Yevgeniy Kiselyev, Dmitriy Muratov, Vladimir Ryzhkov, Vadim
Solovyev and Irina Khakamada. The applicants participated in the December 2003
Parliamentary elections as candidates; the individual applicants also participated as
voters. All of them were in opposition to the government. The pro-government forces
during those elections were represented essentially by the “United Russia” party.
All major television companies in Russia covered the elections in question. Among them
were the five main nationwide broadcasting companies, three of which were directly
controlled by the State. The remaining two TV channels were affiliated with the State
During the electoral campaign all candidate parties received the same amount of free
air-time on national and regional TV, namely seven and a half hours for electoral
1 Under Articles 43 and 44 of the Convention, this Chamber judgment is not final. During the three-month
period following its delivery, any party may request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the
Court. If such a request is made, a panel of five judges considers whether the case deserves further
examination. In that event, the Grand Chamber will hear the case and deliver a final judgment. If the referral
request is refused, the Chamber judgment will become final on that day.
Once a judgment becomes final, it is transmitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for
supervision of its execution. Further information about the execution process can be found here:
campaigning (direct political advertisement). The time schedule for distribution of free
air-time was allocated following the drawing of lots. All political parties used the free airtime
provided to them by the broadcasting companies.
In addition, all parties could buy some air-time for political campaigning. The
“Communist Party” did not use that opportunity, while “Yabloko” bought time from
“Channel One” to show two video clips each lasting one minute.
Besides direct political advertisement, TV companies provided media coverage of both
the elections as well as its candidates. The applicants claimed that media coverage of the
December 2003 electoral campaign was unfair to opposition parties and candidates and
that the TV channels effectively campaigned for the ruling party under the pretext of
media coverage. The applicants submitted in particular that while United Russia had 642
minutes of coverage during that campaign, the “Communist Party” had 316 minutes and
“Yabloko” 197 minutes. The applicants also argued that information broadcast during
that campaign had not been neutral, and that the “Communist Party”’s coverage had
almost exclusively been negative. They submitted data on media coverage which showed
bias of TV companies in favour of “United Russia”.
The OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) criticised the 2003
parliamentary elections for unequal access of the candidates to the media, and so did a
Moscow-based research affiliate of Transparency International (an international nongovernmental
organisation) in 2004.
The then deputy chairperson of “Yabloko” complained to the Central Electoral
Commission (CEC) about unfair media coverage of the 2003 campaign. The CEC
chairperson replied in September 2003, acknowledging that several TV broadcasts and
press reports contained elements of unlawful electoral campaigning against “Yabloko”.
Subsequently, some of the other applicants complained to various public authorities,
including CEC, the prosecution service and the CEC Working Group on Information
Disputes (Working Group), about the media coverage of the 2003 elections. The Working
Group concluded that some of the five major broadcasters had displayed a tendency
towards deliberate and systematic neutral or positive coverage of “United Russia” while
providing mainly negative coverage of the “Communist Party” activities. In November
2003, CEC wrote to four of the major broadcasters signalling their observations and
asking the State broadcasting companies to comply with the relevant legislation as
interpreted by the Constitutional Court.
In the December 2003 elections the “United Russia” party obtained a majority of the
votes (over 37 %) and formed the biggest group in Parliament (224 seats). The
Communist Party obtained 52 seats, thus forming the second biggest group in the
Duma. “Yabloko” did not get any seats in Parliament. Mr Ryzhkov was elected as an
individual member of Parliament, while Mr Ivanenko and Ms Khakamada were not
In 2004 the applicants complained to the Supreme Court asking it to invalidate the
December 2003 parliamentary election results. They produced a large amount of
material (reports, transcripts of TV programmes etc.) in support of their claim that TV
media coverage had been biased. The Supreme Court, sitting as a first instance court,
dismissed their claim in December 2004 finding that no violation of the electoral law
capable of undermining the genuine will of voters had occurred. In particular, it observed
that it was difficult to distinguish “positive” media coverage, that Russian electoral law
did not limit the number of election-related events during campaigns, that in addition to
the TV coverage there had been other mass media coverage of the 2003 Parliamentary
election, that voters had received information from other sources, and that there was no
direct correlation between the amount of TV media coverage and the number of votes a
party would receive. The Supreme Court also recalled the Constitutional Court’s finding
of October 2003 that media coverage without a special intention to persuade the voters
in favour or against a party or a candidate was not electoral campaigning. In all, the
Supreme Court examined evidence submitted by the applicants which amounted to 14
days of transcripts of election-related news and TV programmes.
Following the applicants’ appeal, the Supreme Court, sitting as a court of appeal,
dismissed their claim accepting the reasoning of the first-instance bench.
Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court
Relying on Article 3 of Protocol No 1 to the Convention, as well as on Articles 13, 6 § 1
(right to a fair trial) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination), the applicants complained
that the media coverage of the 2003 Parliamentary election had been biased to the
detriment of the opposition parties and candidates.
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 1 August 2005.
Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:
Nina Vajić (Croatia), President,
Anatoly Kovler (Russia),
Elisabeth Steiner (Austria),
Khanlar Hajiyev (Azerbaijan),
Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska (“the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”),
Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos (Greece),
Erik Møse (Norway),
and also Søren Nielsen, Section Registrar.
Decision of the Court
The Court found it necessary to examine at the same time the questions of admissibility
of the complaints and their substance.
Right to an effective remedy (Article 13)
The Court accepted that the remedies which existed during the election campaign to
complain about the bias of TV companies could have been insufficient. However, the
applicants had had the possibility of requesting invalidation of the results after the
elections, which they had used. The Supreme Court had had the powers to annul election
results; it had examined the applicants’ claims and delivered a reasoned judgment. The
independence of the Supreme Court had not been questioned, and the Court did not
consider that its impartiality was an issue. The fact that the Supreme Court had
examined only part of the TV transcripts produced by the applicants (“the sampling
method”) did not make that remedy ineffective. Furthermore, the Court did not find any
procedural flaws before the Supreme Court which would have made them ineffective. It
therefore concluded that the proceedings before the Supreme Court had to be
considered an effective remedy in accordance with the Convention.
Accordingly, there had been no violation of Article 13.
Right to free election (Article 3 of Protocol No 1)
The Court observed that the right to free elections was a fundamental principle of any
effective democracy. It was particularly important in the period preceding an election
that opinions and information of all kinds were permitted to circulate freely.
That said, the Court observed that there were many ways of organising and running
electoral systems, and Article 3 of Protocol No 1 had not been conceived as a code on
electoral matters. Thus, States enjoyed considerable discretion to adopt rules on
parliamentary elections in accordance with their specific historical or political factors.
It had been undisputed that the applicable Russian law had guaranteed neutrality of the
broadcasting companies making no distinction between pro-governmental and opposition
parties. The applicants had claimed, however, that the law had not been complied with
in practice. In particular, they argued that the TV coverage had been mostly hostile to
opposition parties and candidates, that United Russia had influenced the TV companies
so as to obtain favourable reporting, and that biased media coverage on TV had critically
affected public opinion and therefore the election had not been free.
The Court first addressed the applicants’ claim that the TV companies had been
manipulated by the government. It examined the findings of the Supreme Court in that
respect and concluded that they had been not been irrational. Thus, the applicants had
not presented any direct proof that there had been abuse by the Government of their
dominant position in the TV companies concerned. The TV journalists themselves had
not complained of undue pressure by the Government or their superiors during the
elections. Indeed, formally speaking, the journalists covering elections had been
independent and, under Article 10 of the Convention, had had wide discretion to
comment on political events. The Court accepted, referring to the Supreme Court’s
findings, as well as to the opinions of the OSCE and the CEC Working Group, that media
coverage had been unfavourable to the opposition. It noted, however, that in the
circumstances it was difficult to distinguish between Government-induced propaganda
and genuine political journalism or routine reporting on the activities of State officials.
The Court also agreed with the Supreme Court that it was very difficult, if not
impossible, to determine a causal link between “excessive” political publicity and the
number of votes obtained by a party or a candidate. The Court emphasised once again
its subsidiary role in assessing primary evidence and concluded that it did not have
sufficient reasons to discard the Supreme Court’s findings. It concluded that the
applicants’ allegation of political manipulation was not sufficiently proven.
Furthermore, it concluded that Russia had complied with its obligation to act in order to
ensure that elections were free both in procedural as well as in substantive terms. More
specifically, the applicants’ complaint about unequal media coverage had been examined
by an independent judicial body providing procedural guarantees and had resulted in a
reasoned judgment. Also, opposition parties had been able to convey their message on
TV by using the free and paid airtime provided without distinction to them and to the
other political forces. The OSCE reports had confirmed that while the main country-wide
State broadcasters had displayed favouritism towards United Russia, voters who sought
information had been able to obtain it from other available sources. Finally, the Court
recalled that imposing prior restraints on free speech of the journalists had to be
avoided, especially in the sphere of political debate. The Court stressed that the Russian
legislation proclaimed the vprinciples of neutrality and editorial independence of public
media and prohibited journalists from taking part in political campaigning, and the
applicants did not produce sufficient evidence that those principles were not complied
with in practice.
The Court concluded that Russia had taken measures which guaranteed some visibility of
opposition parties on Russian TV and ensured editorial independence and neutrality of
the media. While equality among all political forces during those elections might not
have been achieved, the State, in the light of its broad discretion to decide (wide margin
of appreciation) on such matters, had not failed to meet its obligation to ensure free
There had therefore been no violation of Article 3 of Protocol No 1.
The Court found that the applicants’ other complaints concerning the electoral campaign
of 2003 were inadmissible.
The judgment is available only in English.
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