YPC Weekly Newsletter

2007


LEADING PRIVATE TV COMPANIES WERE UNANIMOUS AND IDENTICAL IN RESTRICTING POLITICAL ADVERTISING DURATION

By February 11, 2007 TV and radio companies of Armenia had to publicize their
tariffs for political advertising during the official pre-election campaign
for the RA National Assembly (elections to be held on May 12, 2007). According
to Article 20 of the RA Electoral Code, the price per minute of paid air time,
assigned to pre-election promotion, must be announced within 10 days after the
national ballot day is defined. As the law provides, the tariff announced cannot
be changed throughout the whole election campaign.

By other provisions of the Electoral Code public and private broadcasters are
required to ensure equal access to air for all parties/party blocs taking part
in elections by proportionate representation system. Fair and equal terms should
also be observed in news TV and radio programs, informing about election campaigns
of candidates, parties/blocs. This coverage must be impartial and devoid of
comment. TV and radio programs, devoted to pre-election promotion, are not to
be interrupted by commercial advertising.

The control over the procedure for pre-election promotion on TV and radio channels
is implemented by the National Commission on Television and Radio that has the
competency of starting litigation when a violation is revealed. On its behalf,
the Central Elections Commission is competent to present its opinion on the
violations in court.

Article 11 of the RA Law “On Television and Radio” stipulates that during the
period, preceding to pre-election campaign, and during the elections the transmission
of political and other promotional materials must have a permanent subtitle
of “political advertising” or “pre-election promotion program”,
and on radio air at least three remindings during a program must be made.

In accordance with the Electoral Code, each party/bloc, registered by proportionate
lists, is entitled to 60 minutes of free and 120 minutes of paid airtime on
the Public Television of Armenia. On Public Radio of Armenia the free airtime
limit for each party/bloc makes 120 minutes, the paid airtime is 180 minutes.

According to the tariffs, defined by the Public TV and Radio Company, 1 minute
of paid political advertising on the PTA First Channel costs 80,000 AMD, on
Public Radio – 20,000 AMD ($ 1 is equal to about 360 AMD). At the same time,
the promotional pieces aired by the First Channel will also be broadcast on
the air of “Shirak” (part of Public TV and Radio Company) as well as through
PTA satellite connection. As to the other public TV channel, “Nor Alik”, it
will have no political advertising.

The tariffs of private national and Yerevan TV companies are higher. Thus,
on the Second Armenian TV Channel and “Kentron” TV company the price of one
airtime minute for parties/blocs makes 108,000 AMD, for candidates running for
seats in the parliament by majoritarian system – 60,000 AMD. On “Shant” TV company
one minute of airtime will cost 108,000 for parties and blocs, for majoritarian
candidates – 84,000. On “ALM” the price of one minute for parties and blocs
is defined to be 120,000 AMD, for majoritarian candidates – 80,000 AMD. On “Armenia”
TV channel the price for parties/blocs and majoritarian candidates is the same,
130,000 AMD.

Notably, all the TV companies listed above restricted the political advertising
to 180 minutes (not more than 6 minutes per day) for each party/bloc and to
60 minutes (not more than 2 minutes per day) for every majoritarian candidate,
even though the Electoral Code only imposes such restrictions on the public
broadcasters. Unlike them, “Yerkir-Media” TV did not introduce time limits,
defining only tariffs – 80,000 AMD for parties/blocs and 45,000 for majoritarian
candidates (VAT excluded).

The tariffs for political advertising defined by the TV companies were criticized
by a number of politicians, who announced the election funds are not sufficient
to realize their right to paid political promotion on the air of national and
Yerevan TV companies. The Electoral Code stipulates that throughout the pre-election
campaign the candidate can spend an amount that does not exceed 5,000 minimal
salaries, and parties – not more than 60,000 minimal salaries (i.e., not more
than 5 million and 60 million AMD, respectively). Whereas to use only the paid
minutes on the PTA First Channel a party/bloc would have to spend 9,600,000
AMD.

The tariffs of regional companies are much lower. The most expensive price
for one minute of airtime is set by “Ijevan” TV channel (Ijevan, Tavush region)
– 48,000 AMD. One minute on “Last” TV (Goris, Syunik region) is priced at 20,000
AMD, and TV companies “Anna” (Artashat, Ararat region) and STV-1 (Sevan, Gegharkunik
region) – 10,000 AMD each. “Zangak” TV channel (Martuni, Gegharkunik region)
is ready to provide one minute of airtime for 7,000, “Sosi” (Kapan, Syunik region)
– for 5,000 AMD. “Lori” TV company (Vanadzor, Lori region) decided to provide
air only to majoritarian candidates for 15,000 AMD.

Meanwhile, all private broadcasters of Shirak region completely refused from
placing political advertising on their air at election time. A similar decision
was made by Yerevan TV companies “Dar 21”, “Shoghakat”, “Yerevan”, “Hay TV”,
“Hayrenik”, “ARMENAKOB”, as well as the Yerevan radio companies Hai FM 105.5,
”HAY”, “Van” and ”Ardzagank”.

The repeated attempts of Yerevan Press Club to inquire at “AR”, “ArmNews” and
“TV5” TV companies whether they are going to provide air for political advertising,
and if yes, what the prices will be, remained futile: the TV companies refused
answering the question. The Central Elections Commission, where we tried to
find out whether they have the list of TV companies that have official announced
their tariffs, advised us to address the National Commission on Television and
Radio with this question. As noted above, it is this very regulating body that
has the legislative duty to supervise the pre-election promotion on TV and radio
channels. The Head of Control Division of the Department of Program Monitoring
and Control of NCTR Valeriy Stepanian did not even want to hear the question,
demanding to make a written inquiry to him. In this regard we would like to
remind the representative of the National Commission on Television and Radio
that, according to Clause 6 of Article 9 of the RA Law “On Freedom of Information”,
the reply to an oral inquiry is made orally, immediately or within the shortest
time possible, after the inquiry is heard.

The fact that the sources, able to provide information, supposedly accessible
to everyone by definition, are so intransparent only comes to confirm the common
suspicions that the tariffs for paid air and the identical time limits for political
advertising for candidates are in many ways a result of political game, played
by the authorities.

As to print media, the Electoral Code requires the newspapers and magazines,
regardless of their founders, to ensure equal opportunities in publishing pre-election
promotional materials (area, tariffs, etc.) to all candidates and parties/blocs.
Exception is made only for party organs.

The Electoral Code prohibits the journalists of public radio and television,
other TV and radio companies, employees of editorial staffs, registered as candidates,
from covering elections and hosting TV and radio programs.

According to Electoral Code, while publishing the findings of sociological
surveys on candidate, parties/blocs ratings, the media, citizens and organizations
must name the organization, administering the survey, the timeframes, the sample
size and type, the method and place of data collection, the precise question,
the statistical error margin as well as the client and the funding source. The
publication of survey findings is prohibited one week prior to the ballot day.