YPC Weekly Newsletter

2008


YPC PRESENTED THE FINAL REPORT ON MONITORING THE COVERAGE OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS 2008 BY BROADCAST MEDIA OF ARMENIA

On February 25 at “Urbat” club Yerevan Press Club presented the findings of
monitoring the coverage of the presidential elections 2008 by broadcast media
of Armenia. Yerevan Press Club and “TEAM” Research Center with the support of
Open Society Institute have undertaken two stages of monitoring the coverage
of presidential elections 2008 by broadcast media of Armenia. The first stage
covered October-December 2007, and the second involved the period, defined legislatively
as pre-election promotion period for RA presidency candidates (January 21 –
February 17, 2008). At both stages similar methodology was applied, reflecting,
however, the specifics of each stage, conditioned by differing legal and normative
regulation of media activities. Appropriately, the object and subject of the
monitoring were modified, too. (See the interim reports in the YPC Weekly Newsletter,
February 8-14, 2008, February
1-7, 2008
, January 18-24,
2008
, December 7-13, 2007,
and November 16-22, 2007.)

The monitoring objectives were to determine and define through analysis of
data obtained:

– the effectiveness of the legislative regulation of media during and ahead
of elections;

– the level of attention of broadcast media of Armenia to presidential elections
2008;

– the adequacy of the broadcast media in informing the electorate about politicians,
presidency candidates;

– the accessibility of the TV and radio air for the politicians, candidates
to express views and opinions.

To achieve this, methods of qualitative and quantitative monitoring were applied.
The qualitative monitoring included study of the legislation and other official
documents, related to the election process in Armenia, conversations with media
heads, journalists, politicians and the public, as well as analysis of their
public statements regarding media activities during pre-election period. The
quantitative monitoring included direct measurement of media programs.

The monitoring covered 8 broadcast media: 4 national
TV companies
– First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia, “ALM”,
“Armenia”, Second Armenian TV Channel; 3 TV companies of Yerevan
“Yerkir Media”, “Kentron”, “Shant”; 1 national radio company – Public
Radio of Armenia.

Other broadcast as well as print media were not studied under this research
for a number of reasons: firstly, due to the limited resource and the necessity
to select the media that are most focused on political processes in the country
and have the biggest audience; secondly, out of the need to guarantee proper
quality of research that calls for a sufficient number of qualified monitors;
thirdly – and this is the most important factor – due to the circumstance that
broadcast media, use a public resource, the frequency, and hence have certain
commitment to the society for providing impartial coverage. This approach lies
at the heart of international documents and the national legislation of Armenia.

SUMMING UP THE FINDINGS OF THE RESEARCH, the monitoring group notes the following:

– the amendments, made to the electoral legislation in 2007, introduced greater
clarity in the legal framework of media activities during elections;

– in terms of airtime distribution the 28-day period of pre-election promotion
was characterized by a generally balanced coverage of the election campaigns
of presidential candidates;

– the contestants did not encounter obstacles when placing their promotional
materials in paid and free air of media studied;

– most of presidential candidates have repeatedly stated their satisfaction
with the coverage of the election campaign by the broadcast media.

AT THE SAME TIME, this research has revealed a number of serious problems and
shortcomings that have had certain influence on the pre-election situation and
the course of elections. In certain cases the analysis of these problems enabled
Yerevan Press Club and ”TEAM” Research Center to come up with a number of recommendations:

1. The problem of legislative regulation of media activities
during the period, preceding the elections, remains urgent. The definition of
this period, previously causing serious misinterpretations, in November 2007
was removed from the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, and only the period of
“pre-election promotion” remained regulated. This period at the presidential
elections 2008 lasted only 28 days (January 21 – February 17, 2008). Till that
time the activities of broadcast channels, related to the upcoming elections,
was not regulated in any way. Meanwhile, the pre-election struggle at both current
and parliamentary elections of 2007 started long before the official, legally
defined “pre-election promotion”, yet the absence of any legal regulation brought
about unequal conditions for potential candidates, which could not be adequately
compensated for during 28 days of pre-election promotion. In October-December
2007 the monitoring group recorded a significant change in the nature and volume
of the coverage of politicians viewed to be potential presidential candidates.
Thus, the leader in terms of aggregate (on all 8 channels studied) airtime received
35 times more coverage than one of his future rivals at presidential elections.

2. A legislative gap remains in the body, regulating the broadcast
media activities, having no specific legal mechanisms for regulating the activities
of the Public TV and Radio Company. The amendments to the RA Constitution, made
in 2005, defined that the National Commission on Television and Radio is the
regulatory body for both private and public broadcasters. This clause was further
reflected in the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, yet no specific mechanisms
were spelled out. As a result, the Public TV and Radio Company has actually
turned out to be an institute, unaccountable to anyone, and this could not but
tell on its coverage of the election campaign.

3. There are serious grounds to maintain that the Public TV
and Radio Company violated the broadcasting legislation of Armenia. According
to the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, the PTRC programs “are prohibited from
having a political stance prevail”. This ban holds for the whole activities
of the Public TV and Radio Company, and not only for the elections period. In
the number of programs of the public broadcaster, and primarily, in the Sunday
current affairs program “360 degrees” of the First Channel of the Public Television
of Armenia displayed obvious signs of political bias. As in October-December
2007 it, in particular, reflected the consistently negative attitude of the
authors to the RA First President and candidate at the elections Levon Ter-Petrosian,
this can be interpreted as a “prevalence of a political stance”.

4. The PTRC management throughout the several months, preceding
the elections, has repeatedly publicly demonstrated the negligence of the public
opinion regarding the work of the company. This attitude was in particular manifest
regarding the December 2007 statement of a number of leading professors of the
Yerevan State University, well-known Armenian academics, who called on the TV
companies of the country, including the Public Television of Armenia, “not to
forget their commitment to the society and to put an end to the policy of information
blockade of the public at large“. In February 2008 in response to the discontent
with the activities of the Public Television during elections, expressed by
the RA Human Rights Defender, not even a negligent but an insulting response
from PTRC Council Chairman ensued. The reluctance to acknowledge any criticism
from the public, expressed in a defying manner, is becoming traditional behavior
line of the head of the company, contrary to its status and mission.

5. Despite the fact that the present monitoring does not give
sufficient grounds to speak about obvious violations of legislation by private
broadcast media, the coverage of the electoral campaign by them did not correspond
to the commonly accepted international standards by a number of indicators.
Thus, in particular the Recommendation R (99)15 of the Committee of Ministers
of the Council of Europe notes: “(…) With due respect for the editorial independence
of broadcasters, regulatory frameworks should also provide for the obligation
to cover election campaigns in a fair, balanced and impartial manner in the
overall programme services of broadcasters. Such an obligation should apply
to both public service media and private broadcasters in their relevant transmission
areas.” Meanwhile, not all the programs of the private TV channels monitored
followed the principles, defined by the Recommendation. A most vivid example
of this is the program “What Newspapers Write About” of “Kentron” TV channel.
In this press review during January 21 – February 17 71 negative references
to presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian were recorded, and no positive,
while the presidency candidate of the Republican Party of Armenia, the RA Prime
Minister Sargsian was mentioned in the positive or neutral context. As it is
noted in numerous researches of the Armenian media market, most print media
in Armenia have open and diverse (often radical) political stance. In particular,
in the course of the current election campaign the newspaper stances diverge
dramatically, primarily as concerns the candidacies of the Prime Minister and
the First President. In this regard the indicator of references to Serge Sargsian
and Levon Ter-Petrosian, as quoted above, proves that when addressing the press
coverage of these two politicians, the authors of “What Newspapers Write About”
program display extreme bias.

6. It was also a violation the common international standards
to have elements of promotion of a candidate in programs that cannot be classed
as either pre-election promotional materials or news and current affairs. Such
elements were recorded in the broadcasting of a concert, devoted to the 16th
anniversary of the Armenian army on the First Channel of the Public Television
of Armenia on January 28, 2008, as well as series, “Unhappy Happiness” (“Armenia”
TV channel) and “Topsy-Turvers” (“Shant” TV company), both on February 13, 2008.

7. While there were numerous occasions when it was reasonable
to expect a response from the structures, whose mission is to control the law
compliance during election – in this case, the National Commission on Television
and Radio and the Central Election Commission, these bodies confined themselves
to written enquiries to respective media in some of the cases and were satisfied
with the explanations received. Meanwhile, apart from the obvious problem, related
to the Public TV and Radio Company, the monitoring group recorded a number of
materials, aired as editorial, but having signs of advertisement of certain
politicians, including the presidential candidates. Thus, on November 4, 2007
on the air of “ALM” TV “Ten Years of ‘Orinats Yerkir’” film was shown, dealing
with the activities of “Orinats Yerkir” party and its leader Artur Baghdasarian.
Shortly before that, on October 25, being the guest of “Stance” program, the
leader of “Orinats Yerkir” and presidential candidate Artur Baghdasarian mentioned
the film, asking the program host Tigran Karapetian to show it on its TV channel
for payment, and received Karapetian’s consent. However, during the show of
the film no marking was made to say this was paid air. In November 2007 “Kentron”,
“ALM” and the Second Armenian TV Channel repeatedly showed a film about the
celebration of the 130th anniversary of “Ararat” Yerevan Brandy, Wine and Spirits
Factory and the international judo tournament in Yerevan, contributing to the
formation of the positive image of the company owner and the leader of “Prosperous
Armenia” party Gagik Tsarukian. On the three mentioned TV channels in October-November
2007 the same reports featuring the same Gagik Tsarukian were aired. Questions
arise as to the frequency of appearance of these materials on air and their
show on three TV channels simultaneously. It would be reasonable to expect at
least the study of these programs from the stand of their compliance with the
law, which however did not occur. This is a sign of an insufficiently consistent
attitude towards the media law observance in Armenia, which tells, in particular,
also on the coverage of election campaigns.

8. The issue of the coverage of official activities of persons,
running for presidency, remains underregulated in Armenia. As a consequence,
the candidates of power, as a rule, gets an advantage. In particular, the candidate
of the Republican Party of Armenia, Prime Minister Serge Sargsian in October-December
2007 had a great advantage over the rest of the candidates in terms of coverage
volume and nature. The fact that about 80% of the aggregate airtime, allocated
to him by the channels studied, are accounted for by his coverage in the capacity
of the head of the Government cannot be considered a sufficient explanation.
During this time Serge Sargsian as a Prime Minister (even not taking into account
the airtime, allocated to him as a politician) received several times more attention
than two other most covered representatives of the country leadership, the RA
President Robert Kocharian and the RA Minister of Foreign Affairs Vardan Oskanian.
This allows speaking about the use of administrative resource in an election
campaign. The frequent and continuous appearances of Serge Sargsian on the air
as an official have undisputedly influenced the voter.

9. With the relatively balanced attention of the broadcast
channels studied to the candidates during the pre-election promotion, the monitoring
group recorded the polarized – in terms of reference connotation – coverage
of two candidates who ultimately became the main contesters for the presidential
office. The greatest contrast in their coverage was observed in the period,
preceding the pre-election promotion, in October-December 2007, when Serge Sargsian
got 297 positive references and 28 negative references (with the rest being
neutral), and Levon Ter-Petrosian – 20 positive references and 507 negative
ones (the rest being neutral). In that period the monitoring group recorded
an unprecedented large share of connotational references to the politicians.
For example, in November 2007 79% of references to Levon Ter-Petrosian on the
air of the Public Radio were negative and none were positive. During the pre-election
promotion on the air of media studied the share of connotational references
and the polarized coverage of the two main contestants reduced, even through
the trend retained. Serge Sargsian during 28 days was positively mentioned 264
times and negatively – 60 times (overall, the connotational references account
for 23.4% of the total number of references to this candidate on 8 channels),
and Levon Ter-Petrosian – 22 times positively and 406 times negatively (34.7%).
To a certain extent the big number of negative references to Ter-Petrosian is
due to the criticism made to his address by other presidential candidates (156
out of 406). But even the remaining number of negative references is a convincing
sign of skewed coverage of this candidate. Besides, the channels studied intentionally
quoted those fragments of public statements of other candidates that contained
criticism to the address of Levon Ter-Petrosian.

10. One of the reasons of extensive coverage of the officials,
nominated to run in the elections, the significant share of connotational references
and other deviations from the international standards is the lack of developed
and transparent rules of media conduct during elections. The legislation cannot
be so detailed as to guarantee maximally effective information flow to the voters
during elections. Hence there is a need for professional self-regulation, the
formation of codes of conduct, editorial policy of election coverage. Unfortunately,
none of the channels studied had defined norms of professional conduct, and
the development of such in the context of the general development of media self-regulation
institutes in Armenia should be seen as an important task to be targeted in
future.

11. Once again the unacceptability of a situation when a broadcast
channel is owned by a person, who uses it in his direct political interest,
in particular, running in elections as a candidate, was confirmed. Thus, a public
resource, which is a frequency, is considered to be solely a tool for achieving
personal political goals. This collision is observed in case of several Armenian
TV channels, but the most obvious example is that of “ALM”, the owner of which
is the leader of Popular Party and a candidate at presidential elections 2008
Tigran Karapetian. In October-December 2007 Tigran Karapetian received 78.4%
of the whole airtime of “ALM”, allocated to politicians at focus of
the monitoring. During the pre-election campaign (January 21 – February 17,
2008) the activeness of Tigran Karapetian on the air of “ALM” has somewhat reduced
(the law prohibits the candidates from hosting programs during that period),
and as a “guest” and main character of TV pieces on his channel he was offered
49.8% of the total airtime, allocated to all presidential candidates. The solution
of this problem is seen both in making the legal provisions on the matter more
specific, as well as closer observance of the letter of the law in force and
the licensing conditions.

12. Similar attitude of most of the channels studied towards
the candidates (which was primarily manifest in the coverage of Serge Sargsian
and Levon Ter-Petrosian) allowed the monitoring group to conclude there was
a coordinated (or directed) policy. This coordination was shown both ahead of
elections, and during the pre-election promotion. Thus, in October-November
2007 the coverage of Levon Ter-Petrosian was divided on all channels studied
into three stages: the first – a more or less reticent coverage, the second
– almost complete silence, the third – massive criticism. This simultaneous
change of sentiment can hardly be incidental. Judging from the monitoring results,
only “Yerkir Media” TV channel followed its own policy of covering the election
campaign. It turned out to be the only one, where the candidate of the ruling
party, Serge Sargsian, had no positive balance of connotational references,
and the most positively covered candidate here was that of “Dashnaktsutiun”
party, Vahan Hovhannesian (out of 28 days of pre-election promotion 34 positive
references and not a single negative one were made). But “Yerkir Media” was
rather an exception that confirms the rule. An attempt to partially disclose
the mechanisms of getting “coordinated coverage” were made in the statement
of a number of Armenian NGOs of October 19, 2007. The statement expressed concern
over the fact that correspondents of broadcast media stopped attending the press-conferences
at various press clubs, as well as regarding the concerning reports that heads
of private TV companies were invited to various state agencies, where they were
“persuaded” to neglect the public appearances of certain opposition politicians,
not to invite them to studios, not to interview them and not to show them on
the air. In particular, as the statement noted, the TV companies were “recommended”
not to cover (either positively or negatively) the rally of a number of political
forces to be held on October 26, 2007. On October 22 the statement of the founder
of “GALA” TV company of Gyumri Vahan Khachatrian was also disseminated, prompted
by the attempts of various power agencies to exert pressure on the TV company
to the same effect. All this allows speaking about the components of hidden
censorship that played a certain role both during the parliament elections of
2007 and presidential elections 2008 in Armenia.

13. In the present pre-election campaign the unreadiness of
the candidates for open dialogue, discussions, media debate was displayed. Despite
all attempts of broadcast media, no one managed to hold debates on the air between
the candidates themselves. The programs of “guest in studio” genre were infrequent,
too. Levon Ter-Petrosian declined the numerous invitations for an interview
on the air; only in one such program (“Evropolis” on the PTA First Channel)
did Serge Sargsian take part. The problem described can partly be attributed
to the bias that some journalists show towards certain politicians, who, on
their behalf, avoid aggressive interviews not to be presented in negative light.
However, the main reason is still the closeness of certain candidates, the preference
that they have for monologue communications with the voters.

14. On their part, most of the TV companies did not show interest
in inviting independent experts, analysts, representatives of non-governmental
organization, observing various aspects of electoral process to take part in
discussions. This, similarly to the absence of debates, has certainly restricted
the opportunities of the audience to have a better understanding of the situation,
to make an informed choice. Here, too, certain coordinated (directed) policy
of the TV channels can be observed, and here, again, “Yerkir Media” TV channel
was an exception, having displayed interest in expert opinion and cooperation
with civil society.

15. The awareness of the voters was also affected by the time,
given for promotional materials, on public (according to the decision of the
RA CEC of January 21, 2008, on the PTA First Channel this was since 17.15, on
Public Radio – since 13.30) and the studied private channels (between 17.00
and 19.00). In other words, this was the time when most voters on weekdays were
either at work/at school or on their way home.

16. Similarly to all previous elections, the regional population
of Armenia had much fewer information sources. In many parts of the country
people have access only to two or three TV channels, and this situation was
deteriorated by the fact that a number of local broadcasters limited their coverage
of election processes significantly.

17. In the course of the current election campaign the representatives
of Armenian authorities made an attempt to discredit the media monitoring, implemented
by Yerevan Press Club and “TEAM” Research Center. Some high-ranked officials
of Armenia in their conversations with international officials and journalists
indirectly noted the “partiality” of the findings of our research. This was
due to the attention of international organizations to the monitoring findings
and the fears of authorities that the findings of the research can influence
the assessment of the upcoming presidential elections by the observers. On December
26, 2007 YPC and “TEAM” made a statement, rejecting categorically any hints
at their partiality and suggested that all parties in doubt make an open expert
assessment of the monitoring implemented. However, as it turned out, apparently
nobody doubted the objectivity of the monitoring, and therefore the remarks
on the study were of manipulative nature.