YPC Weekly Newsletter

2007


PRELIMINARY REPORT ON MONITORING OF MEDIA COVERAGE OF PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS

On May 14 at “Urbat” club “TEAM” Research Center and the Yerevan Press Club
presented preliminary report (April 8 – May 10, 2007) on monitoring the media
coverage of parliamentary elections in 2007. The study was administered by “TEAM”
Research Center 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 were 18 broadcast and print media of Armenia, namely,
their coverage of the pre-election promotion campaign waged by the parties/bloc,
taking part in elections to the RA National Assembly (see below
for more detailed information about the study).

The preliminary report (April 8 – May 10, 2007) presented to the journalistic
community noted that in the “election period”, as defined by the RA legislation
(for the current parliamentary elections this started in February 2007), the
monitoring group recorded a higher level of political plurality than during
the preceding months. The most balanced was the coverage of parties during the
pre-election promotion of April 8 – May 10. Most parties, running in elections
and displaying relevant activeness of promotion campaign, received an opportunity
to present their platforms, approaches, opinions to the public. None of the
parties encountered any obstacles in using the paid and free airtime, allocated
by the law on the public radio and television.

At the same time, the access of parties to the air directly before elections,
primarily on TV, which is the main source of information for public in Armenia,
could not fully compensate for the rather restricted attention of broadcast
media to opposition politicians throughout quite a lengthy prior period. The
pre-election level of political awareness of the voters was affected by the
reduction of the number and volume of news, analytical, discussion programs
in broadcast media that would present various perspectives regarding the most
urgent issues, faced by the country.

In the two months that preceded pre-election promotion most of opposition parties
that had problems accessing TV air in 2006 did already gain the attention of
the leading TV channels. An exception to this were three parties, “Republic”,
“Heritage”, “New Times”, regarding which the discrimination by all seven TV
channels studied at that stage of monitoring was retained. The first of the
parties named was one of the two main founders of the biggest opposition bloc
and parliamentary faction “Ardarutiun”, involving a number of former high-ranked
officials. The second was headed by the first Minister of Foreign Affairs of
the Republic of Armenia who scored rather high political rating, as Gallup polls
in 2006 showed. The leader of the third party ran for presidency in the elections
of 2003, coming the fourth by votes gained. All the three parties were actively
involved in the pre-election race of 2007 and had all the reasons to expect
media attention.

It was only in the third decade of March that the attitude of television towards
these parties changed, they were more frequently mentioned in the news and their
leaders started to be invited for an interview. There are grounds to suppose
that both before and after this change a coordinated policy was exercised towards
opposition parties, and the weakening of their information isolation occurred
as the international observers became more active before the elections.

The period of the actual pre-election promotion can be divided into two almost
equal halves (see the interim reports on monitoring in YPC Weekly Newsletter,
April 20-26, 2007, April
27 – May 3, 2007
and May 4-10,
2007
). The first was characterized by the aspiration of most TV channels
to give attention to all parties/bloc, running for elections, to avoid connotational
references. If some political forces were out of the broadcast media attention
scope, this was due to their own passiveness. This is true primarily of “Christian
People Renaissance” party, which, during the first days of pre-election promotion,
did not use even the free airtime on public TV and radio.

In the second half, as the voting day drew nearer and the political competition
got tougher, the share of connotational coverage increased significantly. For
three parties, the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), “Dashnaktsutiun”, “Prosperous
Armenia”, that have certain levers of influencing TV channels, the reference
balance was overwhelmingly positive, whereas the opposition “Orinats Yerkir”
had its balance strongly negative. Three other opposition parties/bloc – “Republic”,
“New Times” and “Impeachment” – received several dozen times less coverage than
RPA, “Dashnaktsutiun” and “Prosperous Armenia”, despite their active campaigning.
Similarly to “Orinats Yerkir”, these political forces had a negative balance
of connotational references. And if in the case of “Orinats Yerkir” this balance
was due to the scandal of publishing a secret transcript of the conversation
the party leader had with a British diplomat, the three others were covered
negatively mostly due to the clashes with the police that occurred after their
rally on May 9.

The advantage that the three parties, leading in terms of the airtime allocated,
the frequency of appearing in TV pieces and in terms of invitations to the programs
of “guest in studio” format, had was particularly evident on the last day of
pre-election promotion, May 10. While at some TV channels half of the parties,
running in elections, did not receive any coverage at all, the Republican Party
of Armenia received 13,788 sec., “Prosperous Armenia” – 9,675 sec. and “Dashnaktsutiun”
– 9,044 sec. Thus, on the last day these parties were allocated about 1.5-2
times as much airtime that on an “average” day of pre-election promotion. The
fourth, by the results on May 10, was the United Labour Party – 4,558 sec.,
exceeding its “average” figures more than four times. On the final day of promotion
these very four parties had more opportunities than others to take part in “guest
in studio” programs in the broadcast media studied: “Prosperous Armenia” and
RPA – 5 times each, “Dashnaktsutiun” – 3, United Labour Party – 2. It is noteworthy
that the RA President Robert Kocharian stressed that it would be desirable to
have these parties, enjoying the chance of “last impression” effect, in the
parliament – in his interview to three Armenian TV channels, also broadcast
on May 10.

Overall, during the 33 days of pre-election promotion the aggregate figure
of RPA on the evening TV air made 279,637 sec. and 2,447 references, “Dashnaktsutiun”
– 217,885 sec. and 1,220 references, “Prosperous Armenia” – 175,947 sec. and
981 references. They are followed at a notable distance by “Orinats Yerkir”
(82,842 sec. and 751 references) and the Popular Party (78,030 sec. and 277
references) that in their turn are quite ahead of the next group. Yet, the Popular
Party received 92% of its airtime on “ALM” TV channel, owned by the leader of
the party Tigran Karapetian. In terms of the number of invitations to “guest
in studio” programs almost all the same parties are the leaders, albeit in a
somewhat different order: RPA – 74 times, “Prosperous Armenia” – 73, “Dashnaktsutiun”
– 66. With a significant gap, the fourth in this category was “Orinats Yerkir”
– 31 times.

It is important to note that from the start of a pre-election promotion, April
8, the monitors recorded any media appearance of politicians who take the first
three lines in the electoral party lists as attention to the respective party
– even if they were presented as appearing in the line of their non-party work
or position held. This was conditioned, firstly, by a common unwritten norm
– the individuals, running in elections, must restrict their public activeness
as officials during the pre-election campaign (otherwise this activeness can
be considered as a use of administrative resource), and, secondly, by the circumstance
that at election times the audience associates political leaders with the parties
they head, regardless of whether their party affiliation is stressed or not.

The First Channel of the Public Television and the Public Radio displayed the
greatest balance in covering the parties/bloc. This refers primarily to the
attention distribution among the competing political forces, and in case of
the radio – also to the minimal number of connotational references. Both public
broadcasters aspired to observe the letter of the law and were generally successful
in meeting this target. At the same time, in some of the TV pieces, dealing
with the pre-election events held by the opposition parties, elements of irony
were present – which did not find its reflection in the quantitative findings
of the monitoring, even though it influenced the perception of information by
the audience.

The broadest coverage of the political spectrum during the pre-election promotion
was ensured by “Yerkir Media” and “Kentron” TV channels. They both, along with
“ALM” and the Second Armenian TV Channel, were among the leaders in terms of
the editorial coverage of parties.

“Yerkir Media” gave a substantial advantage to “Dashnaktsutiun” both in terms
of airtime (89,425 sec. – almost 7 times as much as the Republican Party of
Armenia, gaining the second place) and in terms of the number of references
(526 versus 264 of RPA), as well as in terms of invitations to “guest in studio”
programs (11 versus 6 of “Orinats Yerkir” and “Prosperous Armenia” each). “Yerkir
Media” displayed quite level attitude to other parties, running in elections.
This was manifest along all dimensions, including the list of “guests in studio”:
only 5 parties did not take part in the programs of this format, even though
they had been duly invited.

“Kentron”, as compared to the period prior to pre-election promotion, somewhat
narrowed the circle of parties it was interested in. This affected, in particular,
the list of “guests in studio”: thus, if in March this year in the 32 programs
of this format, where politicians took part, 13 parties were represented, on
April 8 – May 10 in 73 programs of the kind 9 parties appeared.

The two other TV channels that were most active in covering elections had their
attention to parties distributed less evenly than “Yerkir Media” and “Kentron”.
This is particularly true for “ALM” where 68% of the “party” airtime was given
to the Popular Party and RPA. On the Second Armenian TV Channel 83% of the “party”
airtime was allocated to four parties – “Dashnaktsutiun”, RPA, United Liberal
National Party (ULNP) and “Prosperous Armenia”. It should be noted that the
airtime of ULNP was partly due to the broadcasting of the entertaining shows
with the participation of Garik Martirosian, the number two candidate of the
party till May 2. In these shows background advertising of ULNP was made as
well.

Approximately equal level of attention to elections and of balance in covering
the pre-election campaign out of the Yerevan TV channels studied was displayed
by “Shant”, “TV-5” and “AR”. Of these, the former two were more frequent than
the last in using the “guest in studio” genre. Besides, “AR” had a significant
gap (more than fivefold) between the first (RPA) and the second (“Dashnaktsutiun”)
places by airtime allocation.

“Armenia” and “ArmNews” were the least active in covering the pre-election
campaign of all the TV channels studied. And while in case of “Armenia” this
can be explained by the new profile of the TV company that has given up a number
of news and current affairs programs in early 2007, replacing them by entertainment,
the small volume of party coverage by “ArmNews” does not correspond to the idea
of a 24-hour news TV channel that it is. In fact, “ArmNews” did little
to contribute to the awareness of the audience about elections, particularly,
if one takes into account the fact that 17,102 sec. of its “party” airtime (ten
times less than that of the most politically active TV channels) were constituted
by the numerous repetitions of the same stories.

On 8 out of 13 TV channels studied, during the pre-election campaign political
advertising was completely absent from the evening air, on three others it was
of sporadic nature (on “Yerkir Media” and “Armenia” each 8 parties used it,
and on “ALM” – 6). The reasons for that were, in some cases, the high tariffs
on political advertising, in others – the prior decision of the TV companies
not to give airtime to pre-election promotion at all. This circumstance influenced
the voters’ awareness, too, and affected, in particular, the public in regions
of Armenia that did not have the assortment of the TV channels and the volume
of elections reporting the audience in Yerevan had.

Even the voters of the second biggest city of Armenia, Gyumri, where it is
possible to receive four national TV channels and where four local TV channels
are broadcast, were quite behind their compatriots in Yerevan in terms of awareness.
Only one of the Gyumri TV channels, “Shirak”, placed political advertising on
its air, and the main figures of the three TV channels studied (“Shirak”, “Tsayg”
and “GALA”) are a sign of their very restricted capacities to familiarize the
audience with parties, running in elections. The residents of other regions,
where only 2-3 national and 1 local TV channel are accessible, were even more
deprived of information. This refers primarily to the awareness about the parties/bloc,
running in elections by proportional representation system, that received less
attention from the local media than the majority candidates.

In the four newspapers studied, similarly to the TV channels, predominance
of pieces on Republican Party of Armenia has been recorded, followed by “Prosperous
Armenia”, “Dashnaktsutiun” and “Orinats Yerkir”. However, in terms of connotational
references, unlike the TV channels, it is not only “Orinats Yerkir”, but also
the three other leading parties that have a negative balance in newspapers.
This balance was formed due to private dailies “Haikakan Zhamanak” and “Aravot”;
in official “Hayastani Hanrapetutiun” and “Respublika Armenia” the three leaders
have either positive or neutral balance.

“Haikakan Zhamanak” was one of the main tribunes of the pre-election promotion
of “Impeachment” bloc, “Republic” and “New Times” parties. Besides
the positive editorial coverage, these political forces were allocated newspaper
space for free pre-election announcements.

“Aravot” daily was the only one among those studied that had its space used
by parties – by “Heritage” more than others – for paid advertising.

The official bodies that are to trace the compliance with electoral legislation
in media recorded only one violation: this was the episode when the Marxist
Party of Armenia “conceded” the time allocated to it for free advertising on
the Public Television to another person, violating Clause 13 of the CEC Resolution
No. 84-a.

Meanwhile, no response came to other episodes that raised certain questions
with regard to compliance with electoral legislation. In particular, the TV
and radio coverage during the study period of a whole number of visits and meetings,
participation in pre-election events of individuals, holding political, discretionary
posts, civil servants and representatives of local self-government can be qualified
as a violation of Article 22 prime of the RA Electoral Code. These episodes
are related, mostly, to the coverage of events where representatives of the
Republican Party of Armenia participated.

The performance on air of the promotional songs of the parties, running in
elections, with no “political advertising” subtitle and appropriate payment
could also be seen as violation of Article 11 of the RA Law “On Television and
Radio”, prohibiting the broadcasting of promotional materials disguised as “news,
editorial, documentary, author or other programs”.

The announcements of pre-election events, placed in commercial advertising
slots, were also questionable, particularly for the TV channels that did not
announce the pre-election promotion tariffs within the timeframes specified
by law and, correspondingly, having no right to such advertising. Meanwhile,
the announcements on pre-election events should be qualified as political and
not commercial advertising.

Finally, the negative reference to the People’s Party of Armenia in a story
of the “Day by Day” newscast of April 13 could be qualified as a law infringement
made by “ALM”, since the author’s text contained assessments of this party,
which is prohibited by the new provision of the electoral legislation (Article
20 of the RA Electoral Code).

THE MONITORING OBJECTIVES were to determine and define by
analyzing quantitative data:

– how free and impartial the Armenian print and broadcast media were in informing
the voters of the parties/blocs running in elections to the RA National Assembly
by proportionate representation system;

– to what extent the media legislative framework and the state structures assisted
the performance by media (primarily, the public/official ones) of their mission
to ensure free, fair and transparent elections;

– how compliant the media were with the legislative provisions, regulating
the coverage of the official promotion campaign for RA National Assembly elections;

– to what extent the media ensured the compliance of Armenia with its international
commitments in terms of media coverage of elections.

To meet these objectives, methodologies of qualitative and quantitative monitoring
were applied. The qualitative monitoring included studying legislation and other
official documents, relevant for the elections process in Armenia, conversations
with media heads, journalists, politicians, representatives of the public, as
well as the analysis of public statements, opinions voiced regarding the media
activities at election time. Quantitative monitoring included counting and measuring
of publications/programs in media directly.

THE MONITORING OBJECT were 18 broadcast and print media of
Armenia:

4 national TV companies – First Channel of the Public Television of
Armenia, “ALM”, “Armenia”, Second Armenian TV Channel;

6 TV companies of Yerevan – “AR”, “ArmNews”, “Yerkir Media”, TV-5,
“Kentron”, “Shant”;

3 TV companies of Gyumri (Shirak region) – “Shirak” public TV channel,
“GALA”, “Tsayg” (28th UHF);

1 national radio company – Public Radio of Armenia;

4 national newspapers – the official “Hayastani Hanrapetutiun” and
“Respublika Armenia”, private “Aravot” and “Haikakan Zhamanak”.

On the TV and radio channels above all programs (including
political advertising) were studied as broadcast on their daily air from 18.00
till 24.00. The programs that start but do not end before 18.00 were not studied.
The programs that start but do not end before 24.00 were studied completely.

The only exception was “Shirak” TV channel (part of the structure of the Public
TV and Radio Company of Armenia) being monitored in its full broadcast volume,
from 16.00 till 20.00, i.e., the whole daily four-hour airtime.

Besides, since the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia, in accordance
with the resolution of the RA CEC of April 8, 2007, aired the pre-election promotion
of parties/blocs from 17.15 till 21.00, political advertising on this channel
was monitored starting at 17.15.

The newspapers above were studied in full.

MONITORING METHODOLOGY:

1. The main unit of the research was the TV/radio/newspaper
piece.

2. Monitors recorded the references, their connotations/nature
(positive, negative, neutral), as well as the airtime/newspaper space (in sec./sq.cm),
allocated to parties/bloc, running in the elections to the RA NA by a proportionate
representation system. The party/bloc “accounts” also received the portion of
references (their connotations) and the airtime/newspaper space given to the
representatives of these parties/bloc (their statements, speeches, quotations,
as well as descriptions of their activities, opinion, and comment about them
by other persons). The references, airtime/newspaper space dealing with the
leaders of the parties/bloc (the first three in the election list) were recorded
regardless of the capacity these persons appeared in. In the cases with other
representatives of parties/bloc, the references, airtime/newspaper space were
only recorded when their party affiliation was somehow stressed in the piece.

Connotation (positive, negative) references were understood to be the ones,
contained in the pieces, making an unequivocally positive or negative overall
impression on the audience about the party/bloc or its leaders/representatives.
Whenever the tone was not that unequivocal, the reference was recorded as neutral.
All the doubts of the monitor were also interpreted in favor of a neutral record.

Each piece marked only one reference and only one tone of attitude to each
party/bloc (in units).

A reference was also understood to be any appearance of the leaders (the first
three of the election list) of parties/bloc in the TV shot or on a photo/other
graphic material, which was not a part of a piece. If the appearance in the
shot was a part of the piece, where this party/bloc, its leaders were mentioned,
this was not recorded as an additional reference.

3. The airtime/newspaper space (in sec./sq. cm), allocated
to the parties/bloc for pre-election promotion and distinguished in the newspapers
as advertising and marked as “political advertising” or ”pre-election promotion
program” on TV and radio channels, was measured separately. The volume of paid
and free advertising was measured separately.

4. A separate list recorded the cases of the TV/radio channel
monitored addressing the facts of electoral process violations in the newscasts
of the channel (from 18.00 till 24.00, for “Shirak” – 16.00-20.00).

5. The persons, invited for discussion programs during the
monitoring period (the genre of interview, “guest in studio”, “talk-show”) of
the TV, radio channels studied, were also listed separately.

The findings of the study, similarly to the monitoring of seven TV channels
of Armenia, implemented ahead of the official promotion campaign (February-March
2007) for elections to the RA National Assembly (see YPC Weekly Newsletter,
March 2-8, 2007 and April
6-12, 2007
), will be published as a brochure in Armenian, English and Russian
languages.