YPC Weekly Newsletter

2008


OSCE/ODIHR ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION: “CANDIDATES RECEIVED MOSTLY POSITIVE OR NEUTRAL COVERAGE WHILE ONE CANDIDATE RECEIVED EXTENSIVE NEGATIVE COVERAGE”

On February 14 the second interim report of OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation
Mission at the RA presidential elections was released. Among other activities,
the report notes that the Mission continued the monitoring of Armenian media
coverage of the presidential elections that commenced on January 11. The study
covers 7 TV channels (First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia, “ALM”,
“Armenia”, the Second Armenian TV Channel, “Kentron”, “Shant”, “Yerkir
Media”); 2 radio channels (Public Radio of Armenia, Armenian Service of Radio
Free Europe/Radio Liberty); 4 daily newspapers (“Hayastani Hanrapetutiun”,
“Aravot”, “Azg”, “Haikakan Zhamanak”). In the
second interim report of the OSCE/ODIHR Observation Mission the findings of
the media monitoring for January 21 -February 5, 2008 were presented (for the
previous report see YPC Weekly Newsletter, January
25-31, 2008
). On February 20 the Mission published its preliminary conclusions
on media activities during the election campaign (see below).

According to the conclusions of the Mission, presented in the second interim
report, “the amount of political and election-related information has increased
significantly from January 21, onwards”. “On most of the media the candidates’
total coverage time was more equitable than in the previous reporting period.
However, the coverage of Levon Ter-Petrosian in various broadcast media contained
many critical remarks, while the other eight candidates were presented in a
generally positive or neutral manner”, the authors of the report stress.

In the media section of the report it is noted that the First Channel of the
Public Television of Armenia and the Public Radio of Armenia have complied with
their legal obligation to provide free time for all contestants. Two candidates
– Tigran Karapetian and Arman Melikian – did not use the free air of the Public
Radio. The latter one and Aram Harutiunian have not yet purchased any advertising
space on either public broadcaster.

The Mission report notes that during this period the PTA First Channel was
reasonably equitable in the coverage time of all nine candidates. The talk show
“Evropolis” aimed to host all presidential candidates, yet Levon Ter-Petrosian
did not participate in its 29 January edition, “ostensibly due to his busy
schedule”. In the opinion of OSCE/ODIHR observers, the news coverage of
Levon Ter-Petrosian mostly contained critical remarks, while the other eight
candidates were presented in a generally positive or neutral manner. As compared
to PTA First Channel, the Public Radio gave Ter-Petrosian less total coverage
but had a similar approach in the tone of its presentation.

Among the six private TV stations monitored, the Second Armenian TV Channel
offered the nine candidates generally equitable airtime. “Armenia” TV granted
eight of the candidates an equitable amount of airtime but has given Serge Sargsian
approximately double the amount of coverage of any other candidate. “Shant”
has covered six candidates equitably while “ALM” has devoted some 75% of its
airtime to three candidates: Serge Sargsian (35%), Tigran Karapetian and Vahan
Hovhannesian (21% each). “Yerkir Media” granted about 36% of the time, devoted
to all candidates, to Vahan Hovhannesian.

Private and public media generally covered Serge Sargsian in his capacity as
a presidential candidate. Almost all broadcast media presented him in more favorable
terms than other candidates. “Private media has been largely devoid of critical
remarks regarding seven of the other eight candidates, whereas the majority
of Levon Ter-Petrosian coverage in three of six private TV stations was mostly
negative in tone”, the OSCE/ODIHR EOM states.

The report also recalls the requirement to public and private media to present
“impartial and non-judgmental” information about the candidates’ campaigns and
to “guarantee equal conditions for access to mass media”. “In part, the
more negative coverage of Levon Ter-Petrosian arises because of the frequency
with which other candidates; in particular Artashes Geghamian, as well as the
incumbent president (who is not a candidate) have criticized Levon Ter-Petrosian.
The news programs of almost all broadcast media (except RFE/RL) have almost
entirely omitted to air Levon Ter-Petrosian’s critical remarks regarding Serge
Sargsian and the incumbent president. Mr. Ter-Petrosian has however on occasions
criticized the incumbent president and Serge Sargsian during free airtime”,
the report authors note.

The Observation Mission notes that due to relatively low circulation rates
the print media have less influence than the broadcasters. The official “Hayastani
Hanrapetutiun” offered Serge Sargsian 38% of space given to all candidates,
in which he is presented in favorable terms. Conversely, the privately-owned
“Haikakan Zhamanak” has offered Levon Ter-Petrosian strong support and 65% of
the space given to all candidates. More balanced reporting has been noted in
“Aravot” daily, the second interim report of OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation
Mission noted.

On February 20 the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission published a statement
of preliminary findings and conclusions on presidential elections in Armenia
held on February 19, 2008. The preliminary conclusions of the Mission note in
particular: “During the official campaign which started on 21 January, the media
overall treated all candidates equitably. Candidates received mostly positive
or neutral coverage while one candidate received extensive negative coverage
across the broadcast media, including on public media. News programmes were
largely devoid of viewpoints critical of the ruling authorities.” The statement
also quotes positive aspects of the election process as well as issues raising
concern. Among these the Mission noted: “The National Commission on Television
and Radio (NCTR) did not adequately fulfill its mandate to monitor compliance
of the media with legal provisions.”

In the media section of the statement, the media situation is characterized
as follows: “Television is the most influential information source but the OSCE
Representative on Freedom of the Media noted that “limited pluralism in the
broadcasting sector remains a major problem”. While there has been significant
progress in improving legislation, in December 2007, the Secretary General of
the Council of Europe pointed out that “the current situation of the Armenian
media in general does not meet the standards of the Council of Europe.”

During the official election campaign, the statement goes on to note, there
was an extensive coverage of election-related events, including speeches of
the President of Armenia – through news, paid and free advertisements and various
talk shows: “Levon Ter-Petrosian declined to appear in the latter and Serge
Sargsian used his right to participate only once. There were no TV debates between
candidates.”

Presidency candidates were able to wage pre-election promotion on the air of
the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia and the Public Radio of
Armenia. In this regard the public media compiled with their legal obligations;
however, the Mission stresses, the Public Television provided paid and free
air starting at 17.15, outside the main viewing hours, despite previous criticism.
In the opinion of the Mission, the PTA First Channel presented reasonable equitable
coverage of all nine candidates in terms of airtime, having given them from
13% and 14% (Artashes Geghamian and Artur Baghdasarian, respectively) to 19%
and 21% (Serge Sargsian and Levon Ter-Petrosian, respectively) of the total
time allocated to all candidates: “Whereas the tone of Mr. Ter-Petrosian’s coverage
mostly contained negative remarks, the other eight candidates were presented
in a generally positive or neutral manner.”

Serge Sargsian received most coverage by five of the six monitored private
TV channels, primarily in his capacity as presidential candidate. In particular,
“Armenia” TV gave him about the double of the coverage of any other candidate.
According to the Mission, Serge Sargsian had more positive coverage than other
candidates and news broadcasts rarely aired critical remarks toward him or government
policy: “His rallies were consistently shown with one day delay and using similar
footage. This gave the impression that specific editorial policies were applied
and questions the editorial independence of media outlets.” The media studied
were largely devoid of critical remarks seven of the other eight candidates,
the Mission statement says.

One candidate, Levon Ter-Petrosian, received extensive negative coverage across
the TV channels monitored, especially on the PTA First Channel, the Second Armenian
TV Channel, “ALM”, “Kentron” and “Yerkir Media”: “In part, the volume of this
coverage arose because President Kocharian and some candidates, in particular
Artashes Geghamian, frequently criticized him. Conversely, almost all broadcast
media in their news programmes ignored Mr. Ter-Petrosian’s comments criticizing
the incumbent authorities.” The PTA First Channel in its newscasts showed selective
coverage of Levon Ter-Petrosian’s campaign messages with distorted footage giving
an impression of unreceptive and small campaign audience, while the footage,
used in the promotional materials of Levon Ter-Petrosian, broadcast on paid
and free air, presented images of enthusiastic support at well-attended rallies,
the Mission statement stressed. While media made efforts to treat all candidates
equitably, these factors raise some concern over the media’s full respect for
the OSCE commitment to provide impartial information for citizens to make a
well-informed choice.

As to the print media, as the OSCE/ODIHR EOM statement notes, they are more
independent and pluralistic, but play a limited role in informing the public
due to low circulation: “The State-funded newspaper “Hayastani Hanrapetutiun”
gave Mr. Sargsian around 45 per cent of print space devoted to candidates with
generally positive tone. The private paper “Haikakan Zhamanak” offered Mr. Ter-Petrosian
56 per cent of its print space devoted to candidates with mostly positive coverage.”