YPC Weekly Newsletter

2007
April 27 - May 3
WINNER OF “THE TIME FOR FREEDOM OF PRESS”-2007

On May 3 at the Journalists Union of Armenia the ceremony of presenting “The Time for Freedom of Press” award was held in celebration of the World Press Freedom Day. The award was established in 2006 by the four journalistic associations - Yerevan Press Club, Internews, Journalists Union of Armenia and the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, April 28 - May 4, 2006).

In 2007, the winner of “The Time for Freedom of Press” award became Tigran Paskevichian - for the series of the articles “Non-Election” in “168 Zham” newspaper. Tigran Paskevichian received a certificate and a gift of watch.

"FACE OF THE COUNTRY": SIX MORE PARTIES IN PRE-ELECTION DEBATES

The “Face of the Country” program cycle continues on the evening air of “Yerkir-Media” TV company. The cycle is produced under Yerevan Press Club project supported by the Public Affairs Section of the US Department of State. As it has been reported, the TV debate cycle between the representatives of parties/bloc, running for seats at the RA National Assembly, was launched on April 11 and will be aired by “Yerkir-Media” throughout the official promotion campaign (till May 9). The debates also involve 10 members from each party, asking questions to their opponent, and the audience. The program is hosted by the Chief Editor of “Aravot” daily Aram Abrahamian (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, April 6-12, 2007, April 13-19, 2007 and April 20-26, 2007).

On April 27, the debates were held between the Board member of the “Heritage” party Vardan Khachatrian and Secretary of the People’s Party of Armenia, deputy of RA National Assembly Grigor Harutiunian.

On April 30, the debate participants were Chairman of the “New Times” party Aram Karapetian and the leader of the party “Christian People Renaissance” Mkrtich (Sos) Gimishian.

On May 2, the debates were between the member of the Political Council of the United Labour Party, RA NA deputy Grigor Ghonjeyan and Vice-Chairman of the “National Unity”, Secretary of the party’s parliamentary faction Alexan Karapetian.

The next “Face of the Country” program will be aired on “Yerkir-Media” on Friday, May 4, at 21.00.

SECOND INTERIM REPORT OF MONITORING THE MEDIA COVERAGE OF PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS

On April 27 at “Urbat” club “TEAM” Research Center and the Yerevan Press Club presented another interim report (April 16-23, 2007) on monitoring the media coverage of parliamentary elections in 2007. The study was administered by “TEAM” with the financial support of the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia, and the resource and methodology support of the Yerevan Press Club. Assistance to its implementation was provided by Internews Armenia and “Asparez” Journalist’s Club of Gyumri.

The monitoring object are 18 broadcast and print media of Armenia, namely, their coverage of the pre-election promotion campaign waged by the 25 parties/bloc, taking part in elections to the RA National Assembly (for more detailed information about the study see in YPC Weekly Newsletter, April 20-26, 2007).

The interim report (April 16-23, 2007) presented to the journalistic community emphasizes that at this stage of research as well, the media coverage of the election campaign preserves the main trends mentioned in the report of April 8-15 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, April 20-26, 2007). Among the positive phenomena the prevalence of neutral comment on the air of most broadcast media should be classed, cases of negative promotion are very rare.

At the same time, the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) keeps “augmenting” its advantage on the TV air. The aggregate time, allocated to it on the evening air of the 13 channels studied, made 67,394 sec. In terms of references, RPA has nearly twice as much as “Dashnaktsutiun” party that comes the second - 613 versus 344. The advantage of RPA in most cases cannot be explained by passive campaigning by other parties. The aggregate airtime, allocated to the “Republicans”, is 10-30 times more than the same indicator of, say, “Heritage” party (5,325 sec.), People’s Party of Armenia (4,466 sec.), United Labour Party (3,548 sec.), “Impeachment” bloc (3,117 sec.), “Democratic Way” (2,434 sec.), “Republic” party (2,377 sec.), that are quite often holding pre-election events.

Particular attention to RPA on behalf of the majority of the TV channels studied is manifest in a more regular (nearly daily) coverage of its events and the activities of its leader, the greater duration of the stories dealing with it, the priority in demonstration succession for the party. This to a less extent is true for “Dashnaktsutiun” (54,462 sec.) and “Prosperous Armenia” (30,817 sec.). The Popular Party (17,844 sec.), following right after them (by aggregate airtime at 13 TV channels), just like before, received the “lion share” of its airtime (93%) on “ALM” TV channel, owned by the PP leader Tigran Karapetian. The four parties named are also the undisputed leaders in terms of positive references (33, 39, 35 and 10, respectively). A comparable number of connotational references is held by “Orinats Yerkir” party, but in this case the references are only negative (10). Six of these references are the stories dealing with the publication in “Golos Armenii” newspaper on April 21, 2007 of the secretly recorded conversation that the leader of “Orinats Yerkir” Arthur Baghdasarian had with a British diplomat.

The parties that on the current stage of pre-election promotion have unequal circumstances in terms of editorial coverage do not have a chance to sufficiently compensate the lack of attention to them through advertising. The prices set for the pre-election promotion by the leading TV channels are too high as compared with the sizes of pre-election party funds. A significant part of the TV channels has not announced its tariffs at all and is not providing paid air to parties. As it has been stressed in the previous monitoring reports, this allows concluding there is a coordinated and manageable policy, adhered to by TV companies.

This problem is particularly crucial for the regions of Armenia, where the majority of the Yerevan TV channels, including the most politically active “Kentron” and “Yerkir-Media”, are not broadcast, and the national PTA First Channel and “Armenia” are not among those most actively reporting elections. Thus, the First Channel allocated as much airtime to all parties together as “ALM” - to Popular Party only. However, on PTA the lack of editorial coverage is compensated by the active use of free and paid advertising time by the parties. The other national channel noted, “Armenia”, has given three times less editorial time to parties than the First Channel, and none of the parties used its paid air (the same happened with another national channel, the Second Armenian TV Channel).

It should be taken into account that regional media display limited interest to elections (mostly by proportionate representation system) and, in particular, most of them do not provide paid airtime to parties for promotion and announcements. When this is augmented by the problem with print press delivery to the regions, the much lower awareness of elections among people outside Yerevan becomes obvious.

The greatest political balance in the coverage of pre-election campaign in the period of April 16-23 among the broadcast media studied was demonstrated by the PTA First Channel, though ironic tone can be heard in some stories about the opposition parties.

The broadest coverage of the political spectrum has been recorded on “Yerkir-Media”, “Kentron” TV channels and Public Radio of Armenia.

In the study period the TV and radio coverage of visits and meetings of people, holding political, discretionary positions, civil servants and representatives of local self-government as well as coverage of their participation in pre-election events raise certain questions in terms of electoral legislation compliance (in particular, Article 22 prime of the RA Electoral Code). These questions are related, mostly, to the coverage of events with the involvement of the representatives of the Republican Party of Armenia.

The four newspapers studied, similarly to the TV channels, show domination of articles on Republican Party of Armenia, followed by “Prosperous Armenia” and “Dashnaktsutiun”.

“FREEDOM HOUSE” REPORT: FIVES YEARS IN NOT FREE CATEGORY

On May 1, “Freedom House” international organization published its annual global survey on freedom of press in 2006. The media situation was assessed by “Freedom House” assigning a numerical score from 1 to 100 by the following categories: free (1-30 points), partly free (31-60 points), not free (61-100) - the lower the score, the higher the freedom. The latter was defined by three dimensions: legal environment in which media operate; political environment - the degree of political control over the content of news media; economic environment in which media operate. The sum of the three dimensions yielded the cumulative rating of the media situation in each country.

Out of 195 countries and territories 74 (38%) were rated free, while 58 (30%) were rated partly free and 63 (32%) were rated not free. 18% of the world's inhabitants live in countries that enjoy free press, 39% have a partly free press and 43% have a not free press. The list is headed by Finland and Iceland - 9 points each, followed by Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Sweden - 11 points each.

The Freedom House’s Executive Director Jennifer Windsor expressed concern at the study’s findings: “Assaults on the media are inevitably followed by assaults on other democratic institutions. The fact that press freedom is in retreat is a deeply troubling sign that democracy itself will come under further assault in critical parts of the world.”

The press of the three Baltic countries was recognized by “Freedom House” to be free. Out of the other post-Soviet countries, similarly to 2004-2005, only two - Ukraine (53 points) and Georgia (57 points) - are classed by “Freedom House” as partly free, the rest remain not free. As compared to 2005, the situation also remained unchanged in Moldova (65 points), Tajikistan (76) and Turkmenistan (96), which still keeps to the last place in the “Freedom House” rating, being followed only by North Korea (97 points). Decline was observed in the ratings of the rest of former USSR countries: Kyrgyzstan - 67 points (versus 64 in 2005), Azerbaijan - 75 (versus 73), Russia - 75 (versus 72), Kazakhstan - 76 (versus 75), Belarus - 89 (versus 88), Uzbekistan - 91 (versus 90).

The rating of Armenia in 2006, similarly to the previous years, did not change - 64 points. Thus, the Armenian media for the fifth year already (since 2002) are classed as not free by the “Freedom House”.

SUIT OF “REPUBLIC” PARTY DECLINED

On April 27 and 28 in the court of primary jurisdiction of the Center and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan, the hearings on the suit of the “Republic” party versus the RA Central Electoral Commission were held. The suit was brought up through non-coverage by the five TV companies - Public Television of Armenia, Second Armenian TV Channel, “Armenia’, “Yerkir-Media” and “ALM” - of the party’s election rally on April 19. The plaintiff holds that it is a violation of the requirements of the RA Electoral Code, in particular, Article 18 (“Basic Principles for Pre-Election Campaign”) on the necessity of ensuring equal conditions for all election participants. In this respect, “Republic” challenged the inaction of the Central Electoral Commission and claimed to oblige the channels mentioned above to cover the event of the party, moreover - in the same volume they covered the election rallies of other parties on that day. At the session of April 28, the court declined the suit of “Republic”.

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Editor of YPC Newsletter - Elina POGHOSBEKIAN