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Ten Tips for Elections Reporting Cheat Sheet by

Tips for covering elections
tips     media     news     reporting     election

Introd­uction

How open and fair will parlia­mentary elections be?

That’s the question being asked by Myanmar's people and intern­ational observers alike. They are hoping the media, emerging from decades of government censor­ship, will keep citizens informed by reporting thoroughly and fairly with no personal bias and under no harassment from officials. And they hope journa­lists will report not only on political parties and candidates but also on key voter issues and election transp­arency.

A recent ICFJ electi­on-­rep­orting workshop in Yangon, Myanmar, covered many aspects of fair coverage, and we've rounded up the tips below. The tips apply not only to the Myanmar elections but also to election reporting everyw­here. Some of the tips:

Think citizen

Covering an election is much more than reporting on candidates and their issues. Citizen’s issues matter most. Find out voters’ top concerns, then send their questions to the political parties to address. The reverse shouldn’t happen with only candid­ates’ issues being presented. Citizens are the crucial players in elections: they vote.

Know the election laws

They are the road map for how parties can form, who can run for office, what boundaries make up electoral districts and how election violations will be handled.

Follow the money

Track how the election is being funded, where candidates and parties are getting their support and whether election laws on party and candidate financing are being followed.

Study voter regist­ration procedures

Know how lists of registered voters are being drawn up and if voters left off can get on the list with proper identi­fic­ation. Compare procedures to intern­ational standards. Invest­igate whether restri­ctions have been placed because of a citizen’s gender, race, family or religion, and whether a fee is required to register.

Fact check everything

In campaigns, candidates and parties spew all kinds of statis­tics. Take nothing at face value; check every statement, such as how a candid­ate's promises today correspond with what he or she said in the past. Develop a contact list of trusted experts and instit­utions early in the game -- domestic and intern­ational -- with whom to check candidate and party assert­ions.
 

Election Ready

Treat polls with caution

Public opinion polls are a staple of campaign coverage, but reporters must ask many questions when reporting on surveys, including: who commis­sioned and paid for the survey, what polling group did it, when and how was it conducted, how many and who were surveyed, what was asked and what is the polling margin of error? Reporters should also question news value and ask whether all responses are included and if the new results are different from other polls.

Examine the ballot

Is it simple to unders­tand? Do voters who cannot read have ballots with party logos or candidate pictures to help them vote? Show the ballot days or even weeks before the election so voters will be familiar with it.

Be especially alert on election day

Talk to citizens waiting to vote or coming from polling stations. Ask if they were pressured to vote a certain way. Question whether there are enough ballots, ballot boxes and officials to observe the voting and ballot counting. Look for sealed voting boxes, unscreened voting booths, and people with valid voting papers being turned away. Know how ballots are being tallied and transp­orted and if this is being monitored by nonpar­tisan election monitors. If voting projec­tions are made, question by whom they are done and how.

Start early

Don’t wait until the campaign period to plan election coverage. Much research and reporting can be done in advance of the frenzied campaign period. Analyze and compare parties’ platforms, start candid­ates’ profiles, begin citizen surveys of key issues and plan for questi­onn­aires on those issues to go to candid­ates. Map out story schedules for running election features, plan for election specials or sections, and decide who will cover what and whom.

Know you are crucial

The media has an irrepl­aceable role in the election process. Voters must have enough inform­ation about candid­ates, political parties and the election process to make informed and respon­sible choices in the ballot booth. They get much of that from you: journa­lists. Always be balanced, unbiased and truthful.

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