YPC Weekly Newsletter

2008


FINAL REPORT OF OSCE/ODIHR ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION

On May 30 the final report of OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission on the
RA presidential elections of February 19, 2008 was released (for previous reports
of the Mission see YPC Weekly Newsletter, March
7-13, 2008
, February 15-21,
2008
and January 25-31,
2008
).

As a conclusion, the report noted that the Central Election Commission (CEC)
and the National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR) did not ensure that
media of Armenia met their obligations and “media bias was evident”. Favorable
coverage of presidential candidate Serge Sargsyan, including his official duties
as a Prime Minister, granted him undue advantage, while the opposition candidate
Levon Ter-Petrosian gains a large amount of negative coverage, also on the Public
TV and radio, the OSCE/ODIHR Mission stressed. Speaking about the post-election
developments, the EOM also noted the “de facto censorship” applied during the
state of emergency in Yerevan (March 1-20, 2008).

In the report section, dealing with media, the EOM expressed its “longstanding
concerns” over the independence of broadcast media: high degree of influence
of editorial decisions by political and business interests; financial vulnerability
of media; absence of real independence of NCTR and its inadequate regulation
of broadcasting; actions against journalists and media.

“Despite a relatively high number of outlets, there are no significant alternative
sources of information”, the EOM believes and recalls “A1+” TV company that
has been off-air since 2002. While Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcasts
on FM and “A1+” web-based service offer alternative political information, these
are not accessible to all citizens, the EOM noted.

In the opinion of the report authors, there exists a general lack of diversity
in the political viewpoints aired by main broadcast media. The public opinion
is not adequately informed through the exchange of political opinion and debate,
for example, or through journalistic investigation, commentary and analysis.
This has implications during electoral periods, when “candidates should be able
to freely present their views and qualifications, and voters should be able
to learn and discuss them, as committed to in paragraph 7.7 of the 1990 OSCE
Copenhagen Document”.

Presenting the media-related legislation, the EOM noted that the public broadcasters
complied with their legal obligations regarding the provision of free airtime,
and the candidates “were able to freely convey their political messages”: “However,
despite criticism voiced during the 2007 parliamentary elections, the slots
were again aired mostly outside what is considered to be primetime viewing,
thereby potentially reducing voters’ ability to learn about candidates’ views.

The final report also presented the results of monitoring of the Armenian media
coverage of presidential election, administered by OSCE/ODIHR EOM during January
11 – February 17, 2008. The monitoring covered seven TV channels (First Channel
of the Public Television of Armenia, “ALM”, “Armenia”, Second
Armenian TV Channel, “Kentron”, “Shant”, “Yerkir Media”), 2 radio stations (Public
Radio of Armenia, Armenian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) and 4
dailies (“Hayastani Hanrapetutiun”, “Aravot”, “Azg”, “Haikakan Zhamanak”).

According to the monitoring results, ahead of the official pre-election promotion
(January 11-20, 2008) in the news broadcasts of four TV channels Prime Minister
Serge Sargsian received approximately half the time allocated to all nine candidates
and was covered in an almost exclusively positive or neutral manner (on the
Second Armenian TV Channel – 66%, “Kentron” – 56%, “Shant” – 53%, “Armenia”
– 48%). The same TV channels portrayed another candidate, Levon Ter-Petrosian,
in neutral or negative terms.

Despite the fact that during the official election campaign TV channels offered
candidates numerous opportunities to appear on their air, Levon Ter-Petrosian
did not accept any such invitations, and Serge Sargsian took part in only one
program. At the same time, the efforts of some TV channels, in particular, that
of “Yerkir Media”, to hold debates between candidates failed, “ostensibly due
to lack of interest by the candidates”.

Most TV channels, monitored by the EOM, were not even-handed in their political
coverage during the official campaign: Levon Ter-Petrosian received a large
volume of negative coverage while Serge Sargsian – overtly positive. The other
candidates were covered either neutrally or positively. Many broadcasters adopted
contrasting approaches to covering the campaign events of Levon Ter-Petrosian
and Serge Sargsian: “These factors indicated the media bias which granted Prime
Minister Sargsian a campaign advantage.”

According to the monitoring results, the PTA First Channel allocated reasonably
comparable airtime to candidates in news coverage (Levon Ter-Petrosian – 21%,
Serge Sargsian – 19%, Artur Baghdasarian – 14%, Artashes Geghamian – 13%, Vahan
Hovhannesian and Vazgen Manukian – 11% each, Aram Harutiunian and Tigran Karapetian
– 4% each, Arman Melikian – 3%). Yet, the treatment of the candidates was not
equal. Even though Levon Ter-Petrosian was the leader in terms of the overall
airtime, the majority of his coverage was of negative tone. The coverage of
8 other candidates on the First Channel was mostly neutral or positive. Public
Radio of Armenia adopted a similar approach to PTA First Channel.

Similarly extensive share of negative coverage of Levon Ter-Petrosian was recorded
on the Second Armenian TV Channel, “ALM”, “Kentron” and “Yerkir Media”. “This
arose in part because of the frequency with which President Robert Kocharian
and some candidates, in particular Artashes Geghamian, criticized him”, the
report notes. Differential treatment of Levon Ter-Petrosian was also seen in
other aspects of his news coverage. For example, the PTA First Channel regularly
aired distorted footage of his campaign events, and several media aired one-sided
footage of the incident that occurred during Ter-Petrosian’s rallies in Talin
and Artashat. With the exception of Armenian Service of RFE/RL, few aired any
critical coverage of the governing authorities, notably Ter-Petrosian’s criticism
of President Robert Kocharian and the Prime Minister.

Serge Sargsian was the “most covered” on five of six private TV channels monitored
(the Second Armenian TV Channel, “ALM”, “Armenia”, “Kentron” and “Shant”), primarily
in his capacity as a candidate: “The TV stations consistently broadcast footage
of Prime Minister Sargsian’s rallies with one day delay and aired similar footage,
indicating the possibility of a coordinated editorial policy.”

As to the print media studied, as the monitoring of the EOM showed, the official
“Hayastani Hanrapetutiun” gave clear preferential treatment to Prime Minister
Serge Sargsian by granting him some 45% of its print space devoted to all candidates,
with a generally positive tone. The private “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily showed
clear bias in favor of Levon Ter-Petrosian by offering him 56% of its print
space, devoted to all candidates, with mostly positive coverage. More balanced
and analytical reporting was observed in “Aravot” daily.

“In general, the authorities appeared sensitive to any remarks that could be
perceived as critical, and, as during the 2007 parliamentary elections, the
media appeared unwilling or unable to broadcast comments criticizing incumbents”,
the report section dealing with media monitoring concludes.

Neither CEC, nor NCTR, the report of OSCE/ODIHR EOM notes, ensured that the
media met their legal obligation to treat candidates equally. The NCTR, required
to monitor broadcasters’ compliance with applicable legal provisions, received
three complaints of unequal coverage of election campaigns, and all three were
rejected. On February 11 the Constitutional Court issued a ruling on a case
brought by Levon Ter-Petrosian on the appearance of unsurmountable obstacles,
in particular, due to unequal campaign conditions, created by the public broadcaster.
The Court ruled that the arguments presented by the complainer cannot be qualified
as “unsurmountable obstacles”.

In the conclusion of the report of OSCE/ODIHR EOM lists a number of recommendations
to the Armenian authorities, also with regard to media.

Stressing the necessity to respect the freedom and independence of the media,
as objective reporting is crucial during elections, the EOM recommends that
the authorities of the country “should refrain from interfering in activities
of media and journalists as it undermines their independence”.

The RA Law “On Television and Radio” should provide for a more diverse membership
on the National Commission on Television and Radio, “for example by including
media professionals and representatives of civil society”.

As to the public broadcaster, its functioning could be enhanced by: “lessening
the role of the state in making appointments” to the Council of Public TV and
Radio Company; broadening the composition of the Council “by allowing a broader
range of political parties as well as non-partisan groups to nominate members”;
“developing a neutral, objective and informative editorial line in all its programmes
and strictly adhering to the legal requirements”; “providing voters a border
range of electoral information through a greater variety of formats”.

Another recommendation of the EOM refers to the procedure of media complaints
that must be transparent and easily accessible for stakeholders and public:
“Consideration should be given to unifying relevant provisions in a single legal
act. Granting two bodies (NCTR and CEC – Ed. Note)
the competence to rule on media related complaints created some confusion regarding
jurisdiction. Therefore, NCTR should be the sole body responsible to monitor
the media’s general compliance with applicable legal provisions.”

Finally, the OSCE/ODIHR EOM recommend that “candidates’ campaign slots provided
free of charge on public media should be broadcast after the main evening news,
thereby enhancing voters’ ability to learn about candidates’ views”.