On October 5, the Central Election Commission held its first meeting and elected the head, two deputy heads, and Commission's secretary. The meeting was closed for the media, violating their rights.

Mass media faced the conditions where they had no chance to cover the election of CEC's executive staff. A few days before the meeting, a number of channels (particularly UA: First) asked for accreditation to cover the election of CEC's executives live, but didn't manage to get into the meeting hall. The Commission not only imposed illegal restrictions, but also didn't guarantee proper announcement of the planned meeting to mass media.

OPORA draws attention of the newly-formed CEC to the fact that it acted against the law when restricted access to its meetings for mass media, and violated the principles of openness and publicity, the principles it must strictly adhere to. The first meeting of the CEC was supposed to become a sign of restoring stability and legitimacy of the highest election administration body. However, newly-appointed CEC members had failed to demonstrate this sign to the public on its first meeting. 

We believe that commission members must make public conclusions on the inadmissibility of restricting legitimate activities of mass media or any other subjects. Social and political challenges before national election campaigns in 2019 require election administrators to demonstrate the highest standards in their activities. If the CEC continues to ignore such standards, it will build a foundation for conflicts in the election process.

OPORA would like to emphasize that the Central Election Commission is a collegial body. Thus, the Law on Access to Public Information guarantees the citizens with access to meetings of collegial bodies. Information managers are obliged to publish the schedule of open meetings and their agenda. Article 25 (2) of the Law of Ukraine on Information guarantees unrestricted access to the premises of government officers, as well as to open official events. Besides that, according to the Article 2 of the Law of Ukraine on the Procedures of the Coverage of Activities of the Bodies of State Power and Bodies of Local Self-Government in Ukraine by the Mass Media, journalists have the right to cover any activity of state authorities and local self-government bodies.

According to the Article 4 of the Law of Ukraine on the Central Election Commission, activities of the CEC shall be realized in an open and public manner. According to the Law, mass media representatives do not need any permit or invitation to attend any meeting.

The regulation establishes a procedure for the election of management officers of the CEC, open procedure for appointment of the counting committee, approval of ballot forms, and consideration of candidates. Only the voting itself shall be secret.

The nomination and consideration of candidates for managing positions belongs to the socially important information. Thus, restricting mass media access to the CEC meeting is against the principles of openness and publicity.

References to the Article 14 of the Rules of the CEC Procedure allowing individuals to enter commission’s meeting only before it’s beginning of during a break, do not withstand any criticism.

Firstly, the Article 4(2) of the Law of Ukraine on the Central Election Commission do not establish any additional restrictions on mass media access to CEC meetings. Secondly, the CEC has had a break before the secret voting.

Thus, the CEC not only failed to follow the openness and publicity principle and violated the standards of access to public information, but also violated the rights of journalists.

We call on the CEC to urgently start realizing its direct responsibilities, including the appointment of first elections in UTCs, to start the internal reform and take a proactive position in raising citizen awareness about their voting rights. The CEC should focus on improvement of scheduling of its meetings and their conduct, as well as on the informing about its draft decisions, and interaction with non-governmental organizations.

We would like to remind that international and domestic organizations (Civil Network OPORA, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), and Reanimation Package of Reforms) have prepared a Road Map for CEC Reform. This document is an invitation to a constructive dialog, and is available here for consideration.

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