MOSCOW, February 17. /TASS/. Russia’s 2018 presidential election race is entering the phase of campaigning in the mass media on Saturday, February 17 - the most thrilling and intriguing phase of all. Voters will be able to see the opinions of rivals clash in televised debates.
Not all candidates will participate in the debates, though. For instance, the incumbent president, Vladimir Putin, will refrain from using this opportunity.
Any candidate is free to begin the election campaign starting from the moment of submitting the application to the Central Election Commission. It is allowed to arrange for public events, meet with voters and distribute handouts. Electioneering in the mass media is possible only during the period of 28 days before the voting day. Taking part in the campaign will be only the registered candidates whose names feature in the ballot papers, and also the parties that nominated them.
The election period will end one day before the polling date, March 17.
The law establishes certain opportunities for electioneering in the mass media. Free time on the air is provided by five government-run federal television channels - Rossiya 1, Rossiya 24, Channel 1, TV Center and Russia’s public television OTR and three radio stations - Radio Russia, Mayak and Vesti FM. About 60 hours of air time on TV and 36 hours of air time on the radio were distributed by drawing lots at the CEC office.
One-third of the air time is granted to political parties, which are free to use it for telecasting electioneering ads.
As the CEC’s secretary Maya Grishina said earlier, the self-nominees (in this election campaign there is only one such candidate - Vladimir Putin), will have just a quarter of the air time to telecast electioneering ads of the amount a political party’s candidate is entitled to. Two candidates lost this opportunity because they refused to participate in the lots drawing procedure. They are Maksim Suraikin, of the Communists of Russia, and Sergey Baburin, of the Russian All-People Union.
Free time on the air is provided only on weekdays, so the first electioneering ads will begin to be broadcast on the disinterested basis by TV and radio stations on February 19. Starting from February 17 the candidates will be able to publish election ads in the mass media at the expense of their election fund.
The candidates are prohibited from criticizing their opponents, the CEC warned. As Grishina said, the videos "must not contain any information that may incite negative attitude towards rivals." The ban on criticism, she said, was applicable only to election ads and only on television. During debates the candidates are allowed to criticize each other.
The debates will start on February 26, when the campaign will enter a second week. CEC chief Ella Pamfilova explained that the first week would be too short, because Friday would be a public holiday and the Olympic Games were still in progress.
The first debates will take place on Radio Russia on February 26 at 13:10 Moscow time, with Vladimir Zhirinovsky, of the Liberal Democratic Party, Pavel Grudin, of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and Broris Titov, of the Party of Growth taking part.
Most of the debates will be held on the last week before the election.
All candidates, except for Vladimir Putin who will not participate, will appear in the TV studio together: Sergey Babruin, of the Russian All-People’s Union, Pavel Grudinin of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, of the Liberal Democratic Party, Ksenia Sobchak, of the Civil Initiative, Maksim Suraikin, of the Communists of Russia, Boris Titov, of the Party of Growth and Grigory Yavlinsky, of the Yabloko party.
By the law presidential candidates are obliged to participate in debates on federal channels personally. Proxies can represent them only in case of illness or the need to perform official duties.
At the regional level candidates and parties will have free air time on 338 regional TV channels and 280 radio stations.
Print media provide free page space to candidates for electioneering purposes. Page space is to be reserved by fifteen national print media published at least once a week.
Candidates and parties can use free page space for publishing their programs, the more so, since by the law the parties that have nominated their candidates are obliged to do so by March 7.
Also, candidates can acquire air time on television and radio stations and also page space for electioneering for money. Grishina said this service would be offered on the commercial basis by 16 federal TV channels, 37 radio stations, 159 online resources and 94 dailies. All of them have notified the Central Election Commission of their price lists. About one thousand mass media are ready to publish paid electioneering aids in regions.
"The candidates have vast opportunities during the electioneering period. It depends entirely on them if they will be able to tap these resources. It depends on their election teams how successful they will be," Grishina said.