YPC Weekly Newsletter

2007


INTERIM REPORT ON MONITORING BROADCAST MEDIA AHEAD OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

On November 22 at “Urbat” club “TEAM” Research Center and Yerevan Press Club
presented the interim report (October 2007) on monitoring broadcast media ahead
of presidential elections 2008. The monitoring is implemented from October 1
to December 15, 2007 by “TEAM” Research Center with the support of Open Society
Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia and with expert and resource assistance
of Yerevan Press Club.

Monitoring covers prime time programs (18.00-24.00) of 8 broadcast media: 4
national TV companies
– the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia,
“ALM”, “Armenia”, Second Armenian TV Channel; 3 TV companies in Yerevan
– “Yerkir Media”, “Kentron”, “Shant”; 1 national radio company – Public
Radio of Armenia.

The monitoring object were the politicians that have somehow announced their
intention to run in presidential elections of 2008, or politicians that were
most frequently viewed by media to be potential candidates, as well as leaders
of parties that gained over 1% of votes at parliamentary elections 2007, except
those who are disallowed by the law to run for presidency. Thus, 19 politicians
are the objects of the research.

“TEAM” Research Center and Yerevan Press Club have made the following main
conclusions:

DURING THE PERIOD that precedes the official pre-election promotion for the
presidential elections of 2008 a number of trends that the monitoring group
had recorded before the parliamentary elections of 2007 was manifest.

The most “politicized” (in terms of the attention paid to politics) of the
channels studied was “ALM” again; it is followed, at a significant distance,
by “Kentron” and “Yerkir Media”. This time these two are divided by the Second
Armenian TV Channel, which is a little ahead of “Yerkir Media”. Of the two public
broadcasters studied, similarly to spring 2007, the radio paid a bit more attention
to the politics than television. It is interesting to compare this fact with
the findings of the poll, administered in Armenia by the International Republican
Institute (USA) in July 2007, according to which 99% of respondents named the
television to be a source of political information, while only 46% thought radio
to be one.

The least attention to political processes is still paid by “Armenia” TV channel.
The airtime it allocated to politicians is 26 times less than that on “ALM”,
is almost 11 times less than that on “Kentron” and twice less than that on “Shant”
that has the second smallest figure.

THE ATTENTION of “ALM” to politicians is mostly concentrated on the owner of
this TV company, the leader of the Popular Party Tigran Karapetian – he got
over 82% of the airtime, allocated by this TV channels to politicians that were
the object of the study. It is solely due to his own TV channel that accounts
for 99.2% of the total airtime Tigran Karapetian received on 7 TV channels,
his cumulative coverage was twice as much than that of the RA Prime Minister,
the expected (as of October 2007) presidency candidate of Republican Party of
Armenia Serge Sargsian. Of other broadcast channels apparent attention to one
of the politicians was displayed by “Armenia”, “Shant” and Second Armenian TV
Channel: at each of them over half of the airtime was accounted for by Serge
Sargsian.

However, in case of Serge Sargsian it is important to note that the vast majority
of coverage at all TV channels (91%) and on Public Radio (85%) was received
by him as the Prime Minister, that is, in the line of his official/professional
duty. In case of Tigran Karapetian it is extremely difficult to differentiate
programs in which he acts as a journalist (i.e., within the present study this
is interpreted as appearance in the line of official/professional duty), and
those in which he appears as an invited politician. In both cases on “ALM” TV
company his views, opinions, assessments of various aspects of politics and
public life prevail.

Coming back to Serge Sargsian, it is important to note that his frequent and
lengthy appearances on the air as an official are undoubtedly influencing the
voters. The monitoring group thinks it appropriate to compare the figures of
the Prime Minister with the cumulative airtime of another high-ranked official,
whose activities in the line of duty are also a subject of much public interest
and who is also an object of the present research – the RA Minister of Foreign
Affairs Vartan Oskanian, who received over 4 times less attention from the TV
channels than the Prime Minister in October. This gap allows supposing that
the difference in the attention of the broadcasters is linked to the expected
nomination of Serge Sargsian as a presidency candidate, in other words to his
purely political activities, not related directly to his position.

The third place in terms of cumulative coverage is taken by the First President
of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosian. On most of the channels studied this politician
was the second, falling only behind Serge Sargsian and (on “Kentron”) the leader
of “Prosperous Armenia” party Gagik Tsarukian, and on “Yerkir Media” – even
the first. So, if the airtime indicators of “ALM” are excluded from the picture,
it can be said that in October the attention of broadcast media was concentrated
on two potential candidates for presidency – Serge Sargsian and Levon Ter-Petrosian.
However, the content of the coverage is essentially different. If the Prime
Minister on all the channels received much more positive than negative references
(56 versus 2), the First President – on the contrary (6 and 111, respectively).
The share of negative references in their total number for Ter-Petrosian (389)
is very high, almost one third. And overall, when describing the air in October
one can state an extremely high share of connotational references to some politicians,
in particular, Gagik Tsarukian (see below) and Tigran Karapetian (with an obvious
prevalence of positive references in both cases).
The nature of media addresses to Ter-Petrosian in October went through three
stages. In the first half of the months the broadcasters displayed interest
to the fact that the First President is returning to politics and were more
or less reticent in assessing him. The negative statements were also made in
the comments of other politicians, and less so in the assessments of the journalists.

In the subsequent decade the interest of broadcast media to Ter-Petrosian decreased.
It is at this very stage, October 19, that a number of Armenian NGOs made a
statement of concern over that fact that the correspondents of broadcast media
have stopped coming to press conferences at various press clubs, and also regarding
the alarming reports about the heads of private TV companies being invited to
various agencies and being “persuaded” to ignore the public appearances of some
opposition representatives, not to have them in studios, not to interview and
not to show on air. In particular, as the statement noted, the TV companies
were “recommended” not to cover (either positively or negatively) the rally
of several political forces, scheduled for October 26. And on October 22 the
statement of the founder of “GALA” TV company of Gyumri Vahan Khachatrian was
released – prompted by the attempts of various power structures to exert pressure
on the TV company to the same effect.
Finally, the start of the third stage coincided with the day of the rally on
October 26 where Ter-Petrosian made his first, practically pre-election, speech.
From this point and till the end of the month the First President again found
himself in the center of attention, but, as a rule, he was mentioned by the
media studied, at this point including also the journalistic comment, in negative
context. To compare: in the first half of October 15% of the negative references
to Ter-Petrosian were made, while in the second – 85% (and their lion share
was made during the last week, October 26-31).

The trend observed by the monitoring group was characteristic of all media
studied in October. A certain exception was made here for “Armenia” TV channel,
where the gap between the number of negative references to Ter-Petrosian in
the first and second halves of October was not that obvious. This allows to
conclude there an “invisible hand” (using the wording of the statement of NGOs
mentioned above) present that regulates the content of the current affairs programs
of the leading Armenian broadcasters.

The attention, allocated by the broadcasters studied to the leader of “Prosperous
Armenia” party Gagik Tsarukian, is comparable to that of the three leaders of
the Armenian political air. His significant advantage over other politicians
that the study focused on and that held 5th rank and below, was ensured mostly
by “Kentron” TV channel where Tsarukian received most of the coverage. The leader
of “Prosperous Armenia” is also ahead of everyone else in terms of positive
references. Over half of these references (and the cumulative airtime) was received
by him on “Kentron”.

The leading five is concluded by the RA Minister of Foreign Affairs Vartan
Oskanian whom the media have most probably ceased from viewing as a possible
presidency candidate. The head of the foreign office appeared in the newscasts
solely as an official. And all the 657 seconds of airtime where Oskanian has
a different role are accounted for by the cartoon comedy show of the Second
Armenian TV Channel “Another Voice”.

THE AGGREGATE findings of monitoring in October allow to easily single out
those potential candidates and their most influential supporters that are seen
to be opposition (Levon Ter-Petrosian, Artur Baghdasarian, Artashes Geghamian,
Aram Karapetian, Raffi Hovannisian, Stepan Demirchian, Aram Z. Sargsian) from
those who are to greater or smaller extent identified with the authorities (Serge
Sargsian, Gagik Tsarukian, Vartan Oskanian, Armen Rustamian, Vahan Hovhannesian):
the former ones have a negative balance of connotational references, the latter
ones – positive.

A comparatively broad coverage of political spectrum (both in terms of references,
airtime, and in terms of the invitees to “guest in studio” programs) is recorded
on “Yerkir Media” and “Kentron” TV channels. The smallest coverage has been
observed on “Armenia” and “Shant” TV channels, which is natural, taking into
account the least attention that these TV channels pay to politics.

Speaking about the lack of diversity on the Armenian air, it is also important
to note that a significant group of politicians from both pro-governmental and
opposition camps are closed for media. They often avoid interviews, refuse to
answer the journalists’ questions that raise issues uncomfortable for them.
This “style” – at least, at this stage of pre-election race – is typical of,
in particular, the governing group of “Prosperous Armenia” party, a member of
the ruling coalition, and the First President Levon Ter-Petrosian. The communication
with the public in the mode of monologue (at rallies, through promotional materials),
the lack of discussions and dialogue are a sign of purely promotional, populist
forms of waging political campaign that do not enable the voters to find answers
to many of their questions, to make an informed choice.

IN OCTOBER the monitoring group recorded a number of advertising materials
that were directly or indirectly contributing to the image of politicians monitored.
Thus, “Yerkir Media” aired an announcement about an IT event, patronaged by
the Prime Minister Serge Sargsian. On the same the meetings with voters of two
presidency candidates from “Dashnaktsutiun” party, Vahan Hovhannesian and Amen
Rustamian, were advertised. On “Kentron” and PTA First Channel repeatedly an
advertisement was aired, dedicated to the 130th anniversary of “Ararat” Yerevan
brandy and spirits factory. The main character in the advertisement was the
enterprise owner Gagik Tsarukian.

The monitoring group also singles out the materials aired as editorial coverage
but having certain signs of advertising. On “Kentron”, “ALM” and the Second
Armenian TV Channel the same program was repeatedly broadcast – telling about
the problems the peasants have in marketing their grapes crops and the initiative
of “Multi Group” concern and its head, Gagik Tsarukian, to purchase this grapes.
The frequency of the program’s appearance on the air and its broadcasting on
three TV channels at the same time raise certain questions.