YPC Weekly Newsletter

2007


MEDIA ETHICS OBSERVATORY MAKES ITS FIRST JUDGMENTS

On September 12 at Yerevan Press Club an ordinary session of the Media Ethics
Observatory was held. As it has been reported, the Media Ethics Observatory
was elected on March 10 2007 at a meeting of heads of media and journalistic
associations, who supported the YPC initiative to jointly develop the main norms
of professional ethics and further follow them in their day-to-day activities.
The Media Ethics Observatory lists 7 members: Hagop Avedikian (Chief Editor
of “Azg” daily), Levon Barseghian (Chairman of the Board of “Asparez” Journalist’s
Club of Gyumri), Astghik Gevorgian (Chairwoman of the Union of Journalists of
Armenia), Emmanuil Mkrtchian (General Director of “Arminfo” news agency), Mesrop
Movsesian (President of “Meltex” LLC), Boris Navasardian (Yerevan Press Club
President), Lilit Simonian (lawyer, Head of the Center of Right and Information).
The mission of the MEO consists in considering the complaints-appeals regarding
the violation of the Code of Conduct and presenting its opinion on them. The
Code of Conduct and its appendix, the Declaration on Election and Referendum
Coverage Principles, was signed by 20 media of Armenia (see the texts of the
documents in the YPC Weekly Newsletter, March
9-15, 2007
).

At the session of September 12 the MEO adopted its first judgments. One of
them referred to the media activities during elections to the RA National Аssembly,
held on May 12, 2007 (published below).

JUDGMENT OF THE MEDIA ETHICS OBSERVATORY
REGARDING THE ARMENIAN MEDIA COVERAGE OF PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS OF 2007

The Media Ethics Observatory, elected on March 10 at the meeting of the heads
of media and journalistic associations, who joined the YPC self-regulation initiative,
having discussed the activities of Armenian media during parliamentary elections
of 2007, arrived at the following conclusions:

1. During the parliamentary elections of 2007 the media work displayed both
positive and negative trends. It is noted as positive that during the coverage
of this promotion campaign the media made fewer insulting remarks to the address
of candidates and parties and were less engaged in political labeling. The negative
trend was the lack of regulated approach to provision of airtime/newspaper space
to election participants, i.e., in most media one candidate or party received
several times more coverage than others, with no due reasoning behind that.
This is primarily true to the broadcast media that did not develop and were
not guided by transparent democratic principles of inviting representatives
of different parties to take part in the programs.

2. On March 10, 2007 18 media (who were later joined by two other media) signed
a common Code of Conduct and appendix to it, the Declaration on Election and
Referendum Coverage Principles. The media, who signed the Code of Conduct, strove
to follow the requirements of the Declaration, as well as the election reporting
legislation.

3. At the same time none of the Armenian media developed its own open policy
to cover the elections. This refers primarily to the TV companies that failed
to define the norms of reporting the pre-election events, official meetings
during the election runup, the activities of officials, running for seats at
the NA, the access to the air of the media owners, heads and journalists running
in elections. At the same time there are grounds to suppose that many broadcast
media were guided by hidden agenda that conditioned in some cases the biased
coverage and unequal opportunities for candidates and parties. In essence, only
the Public TV and Radio Company of Armenia had a schedule of provision of free
and paid airtime, approved by the RA Central Election Commission in accordance
with the requirements of the RA Election Code.

4. None of the TV companies made restrictions on the production and broadcasting
of entertaining TV shows with the participation of politicians. Thus, some politicians,
taking part in entertaining shows, received an additional opportunities to gain
the likes of the voters during the campaign, and hence – enjoyed an advantage
over their rivals.

5. For the reasons, described in the two preceding clauses, the principle of
equal opportunities for all candidates and parties was breached, situations
arose that give serious reasons to speak about the use of administrative resource.

6. In late June 2007 on the initiative of the MEO a poll was made among all
23 parties/bloc running in elections to find out their opinions and assessments
regarding the election campaign coverage in Armenian media.

According to the findings of the survey, only one party assessed the work of
the media as “excellent”, 5 – as “good”, 11 – as “mediocre”, 6 – as “unsatisfactory”.
The respondents were also offered to name three media that were most successful
in providing objective information about the election participants to their
audience. Here the list was headed by “Aravot” daily (12 votes) and the Armenian
Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (10 votes). The third place was shared
by the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia, the Public Radio of
Armenia and “Yerkir Media” TV company (6 votes). The respondents were also asked
to name three media that were most biased in covering the campaign. Most negative
assessments were received by “ALM” TV company (9 parties), followed by “Haikakan
Zhamanak” daily (6). The third ranking was taken by “Golos Armenii” newspaper
and the PTA First Channel (5 votes each). Out of the media, involved in the
self-regulation initiative, three negative assessments were received by the
Second Armenian TV channels and “Aravot” daily each. In the course of the survey
representatives of 5 parties quoted one example each of journalistic ethics
violation by media in pieces dealing with elections. Two of them referred to
the media involved in the self-regulation initiative, the Lragir.am web-site
and “Azg” daily. In both cases the MEO, having studied the appeals, did not
reveal violations of the Code of Conduct and the Declaration.

7. Proceeding from the fact that in just a few months presidential elections
await Armenia, the MEO – as a step ahead towards to the formation of an effective
self-regulation system – calls on all media to develop their own transparent
rules and in the process of elections coverage to be guided by the principles
of objectiveness and impartiality.

THE SECOND JUDGMENT was adopted by the MEO after the consideration of the appeal
of “Cooperation for Democracy” Center versus “Azg” daily. The appeal of the
NGO referred to a number of publications of the daily that, in the opinion of
the applicant, contributed to the incitement of religious intolerance and contained
inaccurate information. This referred to the following pieces, published in
“Azg” in 2007: “Thou Shalt Not Lie, Particularly When Your Legs Are Shorter
Than Your Tongue” (February 9), “Regardless of Dink’s Religion, Manipulating
the Murder Is Vicious” (February 22), “Heretic the ‘Evangelist’” (May 15) and
“Sect Members and Globalists Against the National Church” (February 3).

“Any private medium can have a direction of its own and express a viewpoint
on any public issue. In this regard the focus of “Azg” daily on religious matters
and its consistent coverage are acceptable; however, when presenting facts and
giving opinions (particularly in case of such subject matter), the daily should
be more sensitive”, the judgment of the Media Ethics Observatory said in particular.
Further the MEO noted a number of shortcomings of the publications above and
stressed that the statements in the pieces, “if considered in isolation, could
have been regarded as acceptable as a journalistic observation or a conclusion,
but together they leave an impression of bias”. While emphasizing the right
of “Azg” to consider religious subjects and to express its own point of view
the MEO thought it necessary to remind some of the provisions of the Code of
Conduct to the daily.

On September 19 “Azg” published the full text of the judgment.