YPC Weekly Newsletter

2007


OSCE/ODIHR FINAL REPORT ON PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN ARMENIA

The OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission published its final report on the
parliamentary elections in Armenia, held on May 12, 2007. Among other aspects
of the election campaign the observers assessed the work of media.

The report notes in particular the high rates for political advertising as
established by broadcasters. As a result, few election contestants used paid
advertising. Besides, in some cases political advertising was aired without
a due title, and sometimes – was broadcast within commercial breaks. “Neither
of these breaches of the broadcasting law prompted any reaction from the oversight
bodies”, the document says. The allegations that the Mission received regarding
the unbalanced coverage of political forces of the country, in the opinion of
the observers, are due to the absence of provisions, regulating the media work
before the official campaign. The situation, as the report noted, changed with
the start of the pre-election campaign: there was a noticeable increase of media
attention to campaign events and election contestants in their newscasts, current
affairs programs and talk shows. In particular, the observers mention the pre-election
TV debate series, organized by Yerevan Press Club on “Yerkir Media” TV channel.

“Overall, many national media (both in Yerevan and in other parts of the country)
made a visible effort to cover a broad range of political subjects and thus
to comply with legal provisions requiring equal conditions”, observers of OSCE/ODIHR
believe.

At the same time, as media monitoring of OSCE/ODIHR showed, most of the TV
channels devoted the highest portion of coverage in the newscasts to activities
of the government and three political parties – the Republican Party of Armenia,
“Prosperous Armenia” and ARF “Dashnaktsutiun”. The TV coverage of government
activities included a main focus on Prime Minister Serge Sargsian. In the opinion
of the observers, the not clear distinguishing of the public appearances of
Serge Sargsian as a Prime Minister and as an election contestant is a reflection
of a “broader issue that legal provisions concerning campaigning by officials
and its presentation by the media are difficult to apply and enforce”.

When reporting about election contestants the media paid attention principally
to the positions of leading political personalities towards actual issues and
questions, as well as to their previous achievements, rather than to the political
perspectives or platforms of the political forces they represented, the OSCE/ODIHR
observers believe. At the same time, TV channels in their main newscasts presented
positive and neutral information, limiting to a minimum critical remarks. The
observers also noted that the media respected the silence period that started
24 hours before the election day; with the exception for “Hayots Ashkhar”
daily that published materials bearing promotional signs of the Republican Party
of Armenia on May 11.

The First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia and the Public Radio
of Armenia “tried to purse an editorial line that would guarantee equal conditions
for contestants”, covering predominantly major parties, those represented in
the parliament and those carrying out an active campaign, the report says. The
coverage in the main evening newscast of the Public Radio was balanced, and
its highest portion was accounted for by Republican Party, “Orinats Yerkir”
and People’s Party of Armenia.

In the opinion of the report authors, the PTA First Channel mostly ensured
the representation of political subjects on its air, yet its coverage of “Orinats
Yerkir” “called into question whether the channel’s qualitative approach towards
that party was really unbiased” (this refers to the almost verbatim presentation
on the air of the article from “Golos Armenii” newspaper of April 21, 2007,
containing the secret recording of the conversation the leader of “Orinats Yerkir”
Artur Baghdasarian had with a British diplomat). Not withstanding the editorial
freedom to inform the public about important events, the observers think that
the First Channel “did not uphold journalistic standard by not presenting any
response from ‘Orinats Yerkir’”. The report also notes that the pre-election
as well as post-election coverage by First Channel of some opposition forces,
such as “Heritage” party, “Republic” party, “Impeachment” bloc and “New Times”
party, raises ”concern about the channel’s objectivity and impartiality in presenting
different views in an unbiased manner”.

Having studied the work of private broadcasters, the OSCE/ODIHR observers arrived
at the conclusion that in the news programs of all nationwide private television
channels the government was given the highest share of coverage – almost exclusively
positive and neutral in tone. Apart from the authorities the largest part of
the attention of private broadcasters was focused on three parties – Republican
Party, “Prosperous Armenia” and “Dashnaktsutiun”. Critical information about
these parties was almost completely absent. Critical viewpoints were aired only
by radio stations, mainly the programs of the Armenian Service of Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty.

As to print media, they offered readers a diversity of views, including critical
comments and presented a diversity of political forces and majoritarian candidates.
However, they often displayed an unbalanced approach. More balanced and analytical
reporting was noticed in “Aravot” daily, the final report of the OSCE/ODIHR
Election Observation Mission says.