YPC Weekly Newsletter

2003
March 1-7
PRELIMINARY REPORT OF YEREVAN PRESS CLUB ON MONITORING RESULTS FOR ARMENIAN MEDIA COVERAGE OF CAMPAIGNING FOR RA PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS IN 2003 (SECOND ROUND)

On March 6 at the International Press Center "Elections-2003" at the Journalists Union of Armenia the results of the monitoring of Armenian media coverage of RA presidential elections (second round) were publicized. Yerevan Press Club presented to the journalists the preliminary results of the quantitative monitoring. The Caucasus Media Institute introduced the findings of the qualitative monitoring.

Yerevan Press Club monitoring was made under the project supported by the Open Society Institute. Assistance in monitoring was provided by "Asparez" Journalists' Club of Gyumri.

The YPC preliminary report presented below sums up the quantitative monitoring findings for the period of official pre-election campaign on February 26 - March 3, 2003. The quantitative monitoring covered 5 TV and 1 radio channels, as well as 9 newspapers. It was aimed at calculation of the volume (air time/newspaper space), allocated to the presidency candidates to express attitudes, opinions and judgments, as well as for narrations about them made by other individuals in the pieces pertaining to editorial coverage. Along with this, the mentionings of candidates were counted, with a specification of the contexts - positive, negative and neutral. The newspapers were studied in full, while for the broadcast media the monitoring centered on the main newscasts and the weekly information and analysis programs.

The final and complete results of the monitoring will be presented to the public within the coming month.

The monitoring group, making a preliminary summary of the research, notes the following:

1. The methodology of the quantitative monitoring of the editorial coverage does not allow to definitely reveal the possible law infringements during the election campaign coverage. At the same time, the findings at hand give grounds to believe that Public Television of Armenia, in particular, might have violated the provision of the RA Law "On Television and Radio", prohibiting the domination of any political position in the programs aired.

2. In the main newscasts of two (PTA, "Prometheus") out of five TV channels both in terms of air time allocated and with regard to the connotationally colored (positive and negative) mentionings the obvious advantage rested with the incumbent RA President Robert Kocharyan. On "Shant" (Yerevan), "Kentron" and "Tsayg" the balance was mostly maintained, the proportion of connotationally colored mentionings being somewhat more favorable for Robert Kocharyan on "Shant" and "Kentron", and on "Tsayg" - for the leader of the People's Party of Armenia Stepan Demirchyan.

3. One of the distinguishing features of the second round was the replacement of positive promotion with anti-advertising by a number of media. For quantitative monitoring this change in broadcasters' tactics is signaled by a combination of a greater air time allocated to a candidate, his balance of connotationally colored mentionings being negative. This, in particular, was manifest in the "Orakarg" ("Agenda") information and analysis program of Public Television of Armenia on March 2, where the time allocated to Stepan Demirchyan was almost three times as much as that allocated to Robert Kocharyan. In five out of six stories and reports where Demirchyan was mentioned the context was negative, and only in one - neutral. While the situation is reverse for Robert Kocharyan: in five stories the context is positive and in one - neutral.

4. In the newscasts and analytical programs of "Tsayg", PTA and "Prometheus" the share of the connotationally colored mentionings turned out to be quite high: about 80, 70 and 65%, respectively. This is a very high indicator proving the excessive evaluative coloring of the pieces by these broadcasters. The pieces of "Shant", "Kentron" and Public Radio of Armenia were more neutral.

5. Public Radio of Armenia, similarly to the first round, displayed the greatest degree of impartiality in its main newscasts: not a single connotationally colored mentioning of a candidate was recorded. At the same time, in terms of the air time volume allocated to the candidates, the incumbent enjoyed a far greater advantage: 395 seconds versus 30 seconds of Stepan Demirchyan.

6. In general, the work of the broadcast media in the second round (that is, the programs monitored) made a dubious impression. On the one hand, the news coverage on the majority of the channels was more balanced. On the other, the use of anti-advertising as a method against the opposition candidate and the big share of connotationally colored mentionings on a number of TV channels do not allow to state there is a progress in the coverage of the second round campaign as compared to the first one.

Although this time, unlike the first round, the political advertisements were not studied, the monitoring group reiterates its doubt with regard to the correctness of the decision of five leading private TV companies to restrict the volume and quote high tariffs on promotional materials in the first round, and to completely exclude such materials in the second one. This approach restricted the opportunities of the candidates (mostly, the opposition) to compensate the greater attention paid to the incumbent in the editorial coverage of the broadcasters. Thus, one of the possibilities, most actively used in post-Soviet space to improve the financial situation of the private broadcasters by legal means, was missed.

7. The print media, similarly to the first round, provided complete diversity in the coverage of the pre-election campaign. At the same time each of them adhered to certain political attitudes.

8. Similarly to the first round the print media monitored can be conventionally subdivided into three major groups: 1) those supporting Robert Kocharyan; 2) those supporting Stepan Demirchyan; 3) those supporting no one, while opposing the incumbent. The classification of the newspapers was based on the proportion of connotationally colored (positive and negative) mentionings of the candidates.

Out of the nine newspapers studied in the second round the first group traditionally includes two official newspapers "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun" and "Respublika Armenia", as well as the private "Azg", "Golos Armenii" and partisan ("Dashnaktsutyun" party) "Yerkir". They all assessed Robert Kocharyan either positively or neutrally, while Stepan Demirchyan received negative or neutral judgments.

The second group among the studied newspapers was composed of the private "Haikakan Zhamanak" and "Orran". In these, the attitude to the candidates was reverse to the attitude of the first group.

Two newspapers - private "Aravot" and partisan ("Constitutional Right" Union) “Iravunk” must apparently be classed into the third group. Notably, the presidency candidate Aram Karapetyan, nominated by the CRU as well as the leader of the party Hrant Khachatrian announced their support to Stepan Demirchyan in the second round. However, the support of the opposition candidate by the organ of the CRU was manifest only in the critical approach to Robert Kocharyan. Stepan Demirchyan was mentioned only in neutral context.

9. The situation with "Iravunk" testifies that in the second round many media made a stake not so much on the promotion of "their" candidates but rather on the anti-advertising against the rival. This was especially vivid in the pro-Kocharyan "Golos Armenii", "Yerkir" and pro-Demirchyan "Haikakan Zhamanak", "Orran". The candidates who received positive coverage in these media enjoyed much less attention (in terms of newspaper space allocated), than their rivals covered in negative context.

10. During the second round open political advertising was completely absent from the print media in question. This leads to a conclusion that if there was anything newspapers tried to sell during the presidential elections of 2003 it was their position rather than the newspaper space.

IN ARMENIA THERE IS STILL A LACK OF STRONG AND INDEPENDENT MEDIA, THE INTERNATIONAL OBSERVATION MISSION OF OSCE/ODIHR AND PACE BELIEVE

On March 6 the press-conference of International Observation Mission of OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) was held. At the meeting with journalists the Observation Mission presented its preliminary conclusions on the elections of the RA president, including the Armenian media activities during the pre-election campaign for the second round.

The preliminary statement notes in particular that during the second round campaign the Public Television of Armenia comprehensively failed to meet its obligation outlined in the RA Law "On Television and Radio" and the RA CEC decision of January 15 to provide voters with unprejudiced and unbiased information. "While Public TV adhered to the legal provisions to provide 15 minutes of free advertising to both candidates during the official campaign period for the second round, its news and analytical programs overtly promoted the incumbent, who continued to receive extensive coverage. Public TV also produced a primetime news item discrediting the opposition candidate", the statement of the observers says. According to the data of OSCE/ODIHR and PACE, Robert Kocharian received 69% of primetime coverage on PTA news and analytical programs, almost all of it positive or neutral (93%). In contrast, Stepan Demirchyan received 31% of the coverage, of which 67% was negative.

The observers viewed to be a positive development the conductance of TV debate between the second round presidency rivals - for the first time in the history of Armenian presidential elections, which was held on PTA and was aired by a number of other TV channels. The initiative of several private TV companies who organized debates and discussions of the supporters of the candidates was also praised.

At the same time, in the opinion of the observers, in the period between the two rounds the private broadcasters “failed to provide a level playing field for the opposition candidate and remained openly biased in favor of the incumbent in their primetime news coverage". The statement of the observers notes that the decision of the five private TV companies not to offer paid political advertising services "further limited the possibility for the opposition candidate to present his views".

As to the print media, in the opinion of the observers, "they continued to show clear bias in favor of their chosen candidate to the extent that that it was almost impossible for a voter to rely on any one source of information to gain an objective view of the campaign". “The state-funded ‘Hayastani Hanrapetutiun’ remained heavily biased in favor of the incumbent by allocating him 57% of its candidate coverage with an exclusively positive tone. In comparison, the opposition candidate received 43% of coverage, of which 67% was negative. The only alternative sources of political information were a limited number of opposition newspapers that showed clear bias against the incumbent and offered a platform to his opponent. The ‘Aravot’ daily, for example, allocated 62% of its coverage to the incumbent, with an overwhelmingly negative tone. However, due to low impact and localized circulation, the few opposition newspapers could not compensate for the lack of balance in the electronic media", the report of the international observes runs.

The representatives of OSCE/ODIHR and PACE noted that they had received reports of intimidation and harassment of journalists, also representing the Public Television of Armenia in the period between two rounds. The statement mentions the interruption of the rebroadcasting of Russian NTV company in Armenia since February 26.

"In general, the media’s biased coverage of the election demonstrated that Armenia still lacks a strong and independent media able to provide sufficient, balanced information to enable the electorate to make a well-informed decision", the report of the observation mission concludes.

Similarly to the first round of the presidential elections, the assessment of Armenian media activities in the second round, as presented by the preliminary reports of the International Observation Mission and Yerevan Press Club generally coincide.

The complete version of the preliminary statement by OSCE/ODIHR and PACE International Observation Mission can be viewed here.

THE RIGHTS OF JOURNALISTS WERE VIOLATED IN THE SECOND ROUND, TOO

On March 5 - the day of RA presidential elections - again, similarly to the first round on February 19 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 15-21, 2003) a number of violations of the rights of journalists covering the voting process were recorded.

Thus, on several polling stations the commission members (and sometimes even unknown persons) impeded the work of the journalists of "Ayb-Feh" daily and the homonymous news agency of "A1+" TV company: in particular, they were prohibited to make shootings, to interview the proxies of the opposition candidate, to be present at the vote count. The representative of a precinct electoral committee refused to provide information to the correspondent of "Noyan Tapan" news agency.

When covering the pre-election campaign for the second round, the TV pieces prepared by the correspondent of "Epikentron" newscast of "Kentron" private TV company Nane Ajemian displeased the campaign staff of the incumbent President Robert Kocharian. After the phone call to the TV company Nane Ajemian was offered to take time off till the end of the election campaign. This was stated by the journalist herself in an interview to "Aniv" program produced by Internews Armenia. Previously, since February 24 the broadcasts of "Point of View" program of the same company were stopped. However, its author Gevorg Altunian denied the media allegations that the program was closed at the insistence of the authorities, saying the interruption was due to his illness and his request to "Kentron" management to give him time off.

LAW AND ORDER BODIES OF ARMENIA ANNOUNCE THE ASSASSINATION OF TIGRAN NAGHDALIAN DISCLOSED

On March 5 the PR and Information Department of the RA Police announced that "as a result of operative investigative measures taken, the assassination of the Chairman of the Council of the RA Public TV and Radio Company Tigran Naghdalian, committed on December 28, 2002, was disclosed". The well-known journalist was killed with a shot at his head as he was leaving the entrance of his parents' home in Yerevan (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, December 29, 2002, and January 1-17, 2003).

According to the press release of the Department, the investigative group arrested six participants in the crime, among them being both the immediate implementers of the crime and other members of the group. "TT" gun # VB-265, from which, as the ballistic study showed, the murder was committed, was confiscated. The law and order bodies also inform that the other persons involved in the crime are announced wanted. The RA General Prosecutor's Office is in charge of the investigation.

At the same time the law and order bodies refuse to provide more detailed information as to the identities of the arrested persons and the motives of this crime which has shaken the public of the country and is subject for close attention of the Armenian media.

TV DEBATES ON THE AIR OF PTA AND

On March 1 on the night air of "Prometheus" TV company TV debates of the supporters of RA presidency candidates Robert Kocharian and Stepan Demirchian participating in the second round were held. The TV debates gave floor to RA National Assembly deputy, the Representative of the Supreme Body of "Dashnaktsutyun" party of Armenia Armen Rustamian and RA National Assembly deputy, the head of Stepan Demirchian's campaign staff Grigor Harutiunian.

On March 3 on the evening air of Public Television of Armenia the two candidates for RA presidency came together, themselves. Robert Kocharian and Stepan Demirchian answered the questions of journalists representing in the studio six TV companies of the country - PTA and the private TV companies "Prometheus", "Armenia", "Shant", "Kentron", "ALM". Held two days prior to elections, these debates were simultaneously broadcast by all six TV companies.

As it has been reported, in late February "Prometheus" and PTA announced their readiness to provide free live air to both the candidates and their supporters (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 22-28, 2003).

MEDIA AND JOURNALISM: THE SURVEY BY INTERNEWS ARMENIA

Internews Armenia public organization has announced the results of the research "Mass Media and Journalism, Their Function and Part in the Public Life of Armenia". The survey was held on December 10-25, 2002 and was aimed at determining to what extent the Armenian media implement their functions and what is their role and significance in the society. In the research, conducted by in-depth interview method, experts working in various media and engaged in related activities were surveyed.

The respondents noted a whole complex of intertwined problems, obstructing the media development, that can be classed into four major groups. As an undesirable political factor the strong dependence of media on political and economic elites was named, as the latter finance the media and therefore decide their policy. In the opinion of experts, this results in excessive politicized and polarized nature of media, whose dependence is invariable revealed as any conflict of interests arises and impedes the objective reporting of facts. Thus, 40% of the respondents believe that the Armenian media are completely dependent on the authorities, political and economic elites, 45% maintain they are mostly dependent, and 7.5% think they are independent only in some cases. By the expert assessment, the media space of the country does not only lack independent media, but also has them divided into two opposing, unbending wings (position-opposition), which, in the struggle for their clan, political and sometimes even economic interests resort to any means and pretexts, up to misinformation, lies and fact substitution.

Among the economic factors impeding the work of the media, the respondents named the advertising market of Armenia, strictly controlled by certain structures, resulting in the absence of free choice and the distribution of advertising funds in accordance with political interests again. Besides, the scarcity of resources and the lack of self-sustainability of media do not set grounds for free competition, media development into business.

The experts qualified the following as the social shortcomings: the reflection of various clan interests by the media instead of the interest of society in general, negligence towards the problems of people from the street. This contributes to the disruption of confidence towards media as a social institute, diminishing their social role.

Finally, the last group consists in professional problems, namely, the absence of traditions, "the school of journalism" and the staking - under the circumstances of political dependence - not on professional qualities, but on the loyalty, "serving to the masters' interests", due to which a number of professionals left the stage, the quality journalism ceased to be in demand. Among other problems the experts also mentioned the lack of narrow specialization, stimulus and finance for the use of the whole journalistic toolbox, outer pressure and self-censorship (induced not so much by moral and ethical considerations but rather the wish to avoid unnecessary problems and retain the job), the lack of general knowledge and learning. In the opinion of respondents, these qualities, necessary for a journalist, are often restricted by the narrow-mindedness of some media: such genres as publicism, analysis, investigations, etc., have practically vanished from the pages and the screens.

The research also touched upon the issue of taboos. The restricted access to information, as experts think, is typical for both the state and private structures of Armenia. The cases when media do get information for journalistic investigations, are able to disclose the negative phenomena in the society are rather an exception. The cases of pressure and harassment of journalists are not rare, either. Thus, 35% of respondents admitted they had encountered direct pressure when performing their professional duties.

In the opinion of the respondents, "the closed subjects" can be subdivided into the following categories:

1. Those pertaining to the state structures and elite. The state structures for these or those reasons are reluctant to provide information, motivating this by the existence of PR departments which are supposed to provide information. Any additional information is concealed by the phrases such as "not authorized", "busy with important state matters", etc. Besides, there are also "zones", where the majority of journalists try not "to enter" at all, and subjects which "are not to be raised". The subjects most closed for the media are the army-related issues, the force and penitentiary structures - these themes, with a rare exception, are either not spoken about or spoken about positively. Little coverage is given to corruption and bribery, the activities of political and economic elites.

2. Those pertaining to economy. As experts noted, a number of economic indicators are inaccessible - either because no appropriate research is conducted and no exact data are known, or else because the economic sphere is not transparent. The data at hand are mostly fictitious, too.

3. Those related to Mountainous Karabagh, conflict resolution and the true state of affairs in MK, to financial resource flow in MK, budget expenses.

4. Those pertaining to society. No profound coverage is given to poverty issues, unemployment, emigration and its consequences, prostitution, national minorities, problems of education, youth, family and marriage, sexual education, refugees, regions of the country, AIDS, adaptation mechanisms, sports and healthy life style. The issues of privacy and the public interest to a person also remain in the information shade. The problems of the village and the daily life of villagers is another white spot in Armenian media. The experts noted that the events covered rarely go beyond the "smaller center" of the capital.

The research can be viewed in full on the web site of Internews: www.internews.am

When reprinting or using the information above, reference to the Yerevan Press Club is required.

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Editor of YPC Newsletter - Elina POGHOSBEKIAN