YPC Weekly Newsletter

2008


ARMENIAN OFFICIALS DO NOT AGREE WITH THE ASSESSMENT OF MEDIA SITUATION AHEAD OF ELECTIONS

On December 18, 2007 the web-site of the Armenian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio
Liberty published the interview of the Council of Europe Secretary General Terry
Davis to the New York correspondent of RFE/RL. In the interview Terry Davis
disclosed some details of his meeting with the RA Prime Minister Serge Sargsian,
held during the visit of the Armenian delegation to Brussels and Strasbourg
on December 9-11. During the meeting the upcoming presidential elections in
Armenia were discussed, in particular, the media activities, including the positive
coverage of Serge Sargsian and the negative – of his opponents. “Of course,
I agree that any acting Prime Minister (…) will receive much more publicity
than people who are not prime minister. You have to take that into account.
As I was explaining to the Prime Minister of Armenia, it’s not the number of
references to him or to his political opponents that matters; it was the overwhelming
analysis which showed that the comments were favorable to the Prime Minister
and unfavorable for his opponents. And that’s wrong, that’s biased, and that’s
what’s wrong in a democracy”, Terry Davis noted. Summing up his impressions
about the meeting with the Armenian Prime Minister, the CoE Secretary General
made the following assessment: “I think the situation, as it is analyzed today
with the media in Armenia, does not meet the standards of the Council of Europe
to a large extent. There is evidence, done not by the Council of Europe, but
by people on the ground there, in Yerevan. There’s a very good nongovernmental
organization called the Press Club of Yerevan – they have done the analysis
and I referred to their analysis when I was talking to the Prime Minister.”

On December 20 the statement of the co-rapporteur of the Monitoring Committee
of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Georges Colombier on
the visit to Armenia on December 3-5, 2007, was published. As regards the role
of media, Georges Colombier noted that according to the Armenian law and the
assurances received from the Armenian authorities, there should be equal coverage
of the presidential candidates during the official electoral campaign of Armenia,
that is only as of 21 January, 2008. However, at present, according to media
monitoring conducted by the Yerevan Press Club, there is excessive coverage
of the Prime Minister, who accumulates this capacity with that of presidential
candidate, and very negative coverage of another candidate, Levon Ter-Petrosian.
“I insisted that a more balanced access to the public television should be guaranteed
for all 9 presidential candidates, at least as of 7 December 2007, when all
of them officially submitted their nomination documents to the CEC”, the statement
of co-rapporteur of PACE Monitoring Committee noted.

On his behalf, on December 19 the RA Prime Minister Serge Sargsian spoke about
the media situation during the meeting in Yerevan with the EU Special Representative
for the South Caucasus Peter Semneby. “When a European official expresses an
opinion on the partial media coverage, it should be born in mind that this opinion
is based on unobjective materials presented to him. If this structure or representative
is interested in real situation, they can contract a specialized organization
that would undertake a complete monitoring, including both electronic and print
media. In that case no one would have any objections regarding impartiality”,
Serge Sargsian said, noting that “today it is necessary to have negotiations
with a reputable international organization to ensure a full-scale monitoring
of media coverage of elections with high professional quality” (quoted by the
communication of December 19, 2007, placed on the RA Government’s web-site).

On December 26 Yerevan Press Club and “TEAM” Research Center disseminated the
following statement.

“During the meeting with Peter Semneby, the EU Special Representative for the
South Caucasus, the Prime Minister of Armenia Serge Sargsian qualified the information
about the situation in Armenian media ahead of presidential elections 20008
that “some European officials” take into account as not objective, as well as
proposed that a “specialized organization” should undertake a “complete monitoring”
that includes both broadcast and print media.

Because the day before this meeting critical remarks on Armenian media with
a reference to Yerevan Press Club were made by the Council of Europe Secretary
General Terry Davis in his interview to Radio Liberty, we think it reasonable
to take that the RA Prime Minister implied the reports of “TEAM” Research Center
and Yerevan Press Club about the monitoring of 8 broadcast channels in October
and November 2007 to be the “unobjective information”. At least this was the
interpretation that a number of media gave to the words of the head of the Government.

Assessments similar to the one made by the Prime Minister were also voiced
by some other high-ranked officials; however, it is unclear what the basis for
their statements is. If relevant research had been undertaken, it would be of
public value to know what their findings are and what methodology was used.
If the accusations of our “unobjectiveness” are not substantiated by specific
facts we urge to abstain from such categorical statements.

With all due responsibility we announce that the doubts of our objectiveness
are completely groundless. “TEAM” has been engaged in media research since 1996,
and Yerevan Press Club since the same time monitored the coverage of all national
elections or took part in similar researches in partnership with other local
and foreign organizations. The technology of these researches was constantly
improved and is currently as valid as possible. It is based on the methodology,
developed by the leading international organizations, on our many-year experience,
as well as profound knowledge of the subject due to our permanent focus on Armenian
media. What else is necessary to be considered a “specialized organization”?

YPC and “TEAM” never gave any reason to be suspected of political bias. Being
independent non-governmental organizations with mission to support the free
expression, we repeatedly criticized the official structures of Armenia, but
in all cases this criticism followed from principled stance, commitments to
democratic values, but not from bias. Neither through activities nor through
public statements did our organizations ever support a certain candidate or
political force. Unfortunately, in modern Armenia the responsible professional
stance is not viewed as an advantage.

In this regard we on our behalf suggest that European structures, within their
observation of RA presidential elections, make an assessment of the methodology
and the findings of the monitoring implemented by “TEAM” and Yerevan Press Club.
Our work has always been transparent, and its principles have invariably been
explained to public at length: all reports are presented at press-conferences
and are accompanied by a detailed description of the methodology of the study.
Any independent expert, proposed by international organizations observing the
elections, can step into the monitoring we implement and be convinced of the
impartiality of our data and analysis.

We also support the idea of parallel media monitoring by a specialized international
organization, selected by the structures, invited to observe the elections.
Similar research was undertaken at all RA elections, starting from 1995, and
their data never ran contrary to ours. If anything could have created certain
technical difficulties of media monitoring this time, it is the rather belated
– only a month before the start of the official pre-election promotion – invitation
of the international observation missions by the RA National Assembly. If our
authorities were truly interested in monitoring, it would have been reasonable
to attend to the matter in advance, not waiting to be criticized by high-ranked
international officials. The involvement of competent foreign partners in this
work will allow eliminating all doubt regarding the objectiveness of this or
that study.

The broader the coverage of media monitoring is, the fuller the picture to
be obtained. In this regard the suggestion of the RA Prime Minister to include
print media in monitoring effort is quite justified. At this stage “TEAM” and
YPC restricted the scope of media studied by 8 broadcasters for several reasons:
firstly, due to the limited resource and the appropriateness of focus on those
media that pay the greatest attention to political process in the country and
have the broadest audience; secondly, due to the need to guarantee the high
quality of research that calls for availability of sufficient number of competent
monitors; thirdly – and most importantly – due to the obvious circumstance that
broadcast media, using a public resource, the frequency, have a certain commitment
to the public to have impartial reporting. The approach lies at the heart of
international documents and the national legislation of Armenia.

The appropriate principles of the Council of Europe are reflected in Recommendation
No.R (99)15 of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on Measures Concerning
Media Coverage of Election Campaigns. “(…) Aware of the need to take account
of the significant differences which exist between the print and the broadcast
media”, the Committee of Ministers recommends: “(…) Regulatory frameworks
on media coverage of elections should not interfere with the editorial independence
of newspapers or magazines or with their right to express any political preference
(…).” At the same time, “(…) with due respect for the editorial independence
of broadcasters, regulatory frameworks should also provide for the obligation
to cover electoral campaigns in a fair, balanced and impartial manner in the
overall programme services of broadcasters. Such an obligation should apply
to both public service broadcasters as well as private broadcasters in their
relevant transmission areas”.

The RA legislation, even though not fully, reflects the provisions of this and
other recommendations of the CoE Committee of Ministers, but also imposes on
broadcast media far greater responsibility than on print press. Firstly and
foremostly, this refers to the public broadcaster, in the programs of which,
according to the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, “it is prohibited to have
a predominant political stance”. This prohibition is valid for all activities
of the Public TV and Radio Company, and not only for the period has that preceded
the elections. The specifics of broadcast media and importance of overseeing
their compliance with laws and license terms are emphasized by a setup of a
special regulatory body, the National Commission on Television and Radio, whereas
our legislation stipulates no licensing or special regulation of print media
activities.

Hence, should monitoring of print – and hopefully also the online – media be
undertaken, it is necessary to make a clear distinction between its results
and the findings for broadcast media. The work of television and radio during
elections, the level of their objectiveness are a direct characteristic of how
compliant the state is with its political commitments to international partners.
Apparently, this very circumstance shaped the opinion of the EU Special Representative
for the South Caucasus Peter Semneby about the responsibility of the authorities
for the pre-election tone of media that caused another dissatisfied comment
from the official Yerevan.

In this regard we urge the RA authorities not to seek reasons of the criticism
by international organizations in the monitoring we implement, which is purely
a mirror, reflecting the extremely unfavorable media situation, but to take
measures to improve it instead. Our distress with statements that negatively
tell on the international image of Armenia is in no way inferior to that of
the country authorities. Yet we are convinced that the best way of not having
“one’s dirty linen washed in public” is to keep it clean”, the statement of
“TEAM” Research Center and YPC said.

“Haikakan Zhamanak” daily on December 22, 2007 informed that, in the opinion
of the RA Central Election Commission Chairman Garegin Azarian, the report of
the Need Assessment Mission of the OSCE/ODIHR on the visit to Armenia on December
4-5 and published on December 13, 2007 is partial. The newspaper went further
to say that “the report presents the climate existing on the Armenian TV air,
in which the TV companies keep endorsing one presidency candidate, Serge Sargsian”,
while an opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian is constantly criticized by
the same broadcasters. According to “Haikakan Zhamanak”, Garegin Azarian answered
negatively the question of whether the CEC Chairman is aware of the findings
of the media monitoring, conducted by Yerevan Press Club, noting at the same
time he has no desire to see them, either.

On December 24 the YPC President Boris Navasardian addressed a letter to the
Chairman of the RA CEC Garegin Azarian. “You have not refuted the report by
‘Haikakan Zhamanak’ daily, so we have every ground to believe that you really
qualify the mentioned report of OSCE/ODIHR as partial”, the letter said in particular.
Noting that the statement by OSCE/ODIHR observers about the bias of the TV companies
was supported also by the findings of the monitoring, implemented by “TEAM”
Research Center and Yerevan Press Club for two months and a half, and that the
CEC Chairman has not expressed a wish to see the results of this study, Boris
Navasardian assumed that CEC itself had administered monitoring and has facts
at its disposal, proving the partiality of OSCE/ODIHR report. In this regard
the letter author asked to explain: whether CEC or – upon its commission – any
other organization has monitored TV air and has come up with different findings;
if such study has been undertaken, what its methodology was, how many TV companies
and how much airtime were studied. Besides, the letter contained a request to
present the results of the monitoring if such has been implemented.

As of the day the YPC Weekly Newsletter was issued, no response from CEC was
received.