On January 30 the first interim report of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation
Mission at the presidential elections in Armenia was released. The report noted
that among other observation activities, since January 11 the Mission has been
monitoring the coverage of presidential elections by Armenian media. The monitoring
covers 7 TV channels (the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia,
“ALM”, “Armenia”, 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 first interim report
of OSCE/ODIHR Observation Mission the findings of media monitoring for January
11-20, 2008 were presented.
According to the conclusions of the Mission, before the start of the official
campaign (which started on January 21 – Ed. Note),
“most of the broadcast media including public television demonstrated a clear
imbalance in their coverage of the prospective candidates”.
In the media section of the report the provisions of the RA Constitution and
legislation dealing with media are presented – including the clauses regulating
their activities during elections. Noting the broadcasting legislation forbids
censorship, the Mission recalled the letter of the OSCE Representative on the
Freedom of the Media Miklos Haraszti, addressed in December 2007 to the RA Minister
of Foreign Affairs Vartan Oskanian to express his view that “recent cases of
harassment and violence against independent and opposition media have contributed
to an atmosphere of intimidation and fear in the journalistic community in Armenia”.
“Television is the most important information source for citizens. Despite
the relatively high number of media outlets in Armenia, the international organizations
dealing with freedom of expression including the OSCE RFoM have previously noted
a lack of diversity of viewpoints presented in the broadcast media”, the report
of the OSCE/ODIHR Mission stresses. Hence, its monitoring inter alia aimed to
assess the diversity of political viewpoints covered by the media in reporting
on the election campaign.
On January 11-20, the report notes, three out of seven TV channels monitored
granted Serge Sargsian a majority of the total time allocated to all nine presidential
candidates in their news broadcasts: on the Second Armenian TV Channel Serge
Sargsian received 66% of the total airtime, on “Kentron” – 56%, on “Shant”
– 53%. At other channels this indicator makes: 48% for “Armenia”, 31% for PTA
First Channel and 29% on “ALM” (figures for “Yerkir Media” are not presented
in the report – Ed. Note). Serge Sargsian was mostly
covered in his capacity of Prime Minister. At the same time, as the report says,
the amount of time received by Mr. Sargsian on privately owned Second Armenian
TV Channel, “Kentron”, “Shant” and “Armenia”, even taking into account the execution
of his official duties, exceeded what could be reasonably considered appropriate.
The other eight candidates received some coverage on most of the TV channels
monitored. However, the report notes, in contrast to the almost exclusively
positive or neutral coverage afforded to Serge Sargsian, the other presidential
candidate, Levon Ter-Petrosian, “was regularly portrayed in a negative light”.
At the Second Armenian TV Channel and “ALM” the volume of “negative” coverage
of Levon Ter-Petrosian exceeded the combined amount of “positive” and “neutral”
coverage, the report says.
As to the two radio channels studied, they presented Serge Sargsian more frequently
as a candidate than in his official role. The monitoring results for January
11-20 reveal that Public Radio of Armenia “was, in general, more balanced in
the amount of time allocated to prospective candidates than TV channels”. The
coverage of candidates by the Armenian Service of RFE/RL “included greater
diversity in their coverage of the nominees, including presenting Serge Sargsian
and Levon Ter-Petrosian in positive, negative and neutral tones”, the first
interim report of OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission says.