VILNIUS - Members of the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) have decided to postpone the prohibition of political advertising on television until after the upcoming parliamentary elections in October, concluding that a pre-election ban would be impracticable.
The Seimas' committee on legal affairs shelved conservative Andrius Kubilius' prohibition proposal on Aug. 23, just a week after approving it.
"Generally we approve the proposal to amend the law; however, it is impossible to accomplish it in such a short period of time," said Julius Sabatauskas, chairman of the committee.
"In addition to the law regulating political advertising, we would also be required to amend an endless amount of other laws, including the law of budget and every law regulating television practice. Changing the conception [of political advertising] cannot happen overnight," he added.
Kubilius' original proposal, intended to restrict political advertising on television, aimed to establish a watershed in combating campaign-related corruption.
Studies on political party spending showed that the largest percentage of a party's budget goes to television advertising. Conservatives believe that by limiting spending on advertising, the need for political parties to search for alternative funds would diminish.
"Only restricting the control on political parties' account-books is not enough to improve the situation," said Kubilius.
Kubilius suggested that the Central Election Committee should also organize special programs to cover political campaigns. For instance, television inflows from advertising could be compensated from the national budget.
The conservatives, however, claimed that this "logic" has already been tested in other countries. Commercial political advertising has been prohibited in Great Britain since 1990, and research conducted last year showed that both political parties and media outlets were content with the practice.
However, the Lithuanian branch of Transparency International and the Lithuanian Journalists' Union officially described a move to prohibit political advertising as hasty and failing to secure transparency of political financing.
Having previously called for a "maximal limit" of political advertising on television, President Valdas Adamkus also voiced disapproval of the ban.
"Obviously, this is a drastic step. Flouncing from one extreme to another would raise a louder uproar in society but would not solve the problem," said Adamkus to the news radio station Ziniu radijas.
The president emphasized the need to give more televised time to present candidates and their ideas.
Complaints from national broadcasters also helped postpone the amendment. While attending the meeting of the committee on legal affairs, Paulius Kovas, director general of the commercial station LNK, claimed that four political parties have already signed advertising contracts with the broadcaster, therefore forcing it to violate contracts and lose a large share of its anticipated income.
Moreover, Kovas warned parliamentarians that it is too late to distribute the money among television channels for special political programs, since production requires two or three months of preparation.
Following the Aug. 23 vote, the Seimas asked the government to conceptualize and present to the Seimas how the prohibition would work in practice before Jan 1.
"We ought to remember that a political campaign begins when the election date is officially announced. In this case, it was announced in April, therefore we are too late, and we have to respect the given preparation time for the parties," said Sabatauskas.