On March 28 Yerevan Press Club released the Interim Report (March 11-20, 2012) on Monitoring Armenian Broadcast Media ahead of Elections to RA National Assembly. The monitoring of Armenian broadcast media coverage of elections to RA National Assembly in 2012 is implemented by Yerevan Press Club. Assistance to this research is provided by OSCE Office in Yerevan within the framework of the project "Support to Two Electoral Cycles in Armenia", financed by the European Union. The monitoring is conducted within two stages: the first stage covers the period of March 1-31, 2012 (ahead of pre-election promotion); the second stage covers the period of April 8 – May 4, 2012 (pre-election promotion).
Current stage of the monitoring, which has started since March 1, 2012, includes the period preceding the official pre-election promotion. Yerevan Press Club is planning to present interim reports once in every ten days.
THE MONITORING includes 6 national TV channels – First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia (H1), “Armenia”, “Yerkir Media”, “Kentron”, Second Armenian TV Channel (H2), “Shant”; two Yerevan TV channels – “Shoghakat” (this channel was chosen because it is a part of Public TV and Radio Company and as such has a special mission) and “ArmNews” (the only broadcaster in Armenia which has a specific license of a news channel); as well as Public Radio of Armenia. Main editions of news programs and main current affairs/discussion programs broadcast at the evening airtime (18.00-01.00) of the above-mentioned TV and radio channels were studied.
The object of the monitoring were pieces, which included references to those 13 political parties and movements that either have expressed their intention to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections, or currently hold an active position in the political life of the country. Connotations of the references to these parties/movements as well as the airtime allocated to them by the monitored media were also recorded. (See the monitoring methodology in YPC Interim Report, Chapter “General Information on Monitoring”.)
DURING THE SECOND TEN DAYS of March 2012, as compared to the first ten-day period (March 1-10), three most typical trends were observed. First, there was a significant rise (almost by one third) in the number of references to political parties according to the cumulative indicator of all channels studied. This happened against the background of active discussions in the media and among the general public regarding the parties’ electoral lists. Second, the coverage of political forces by various broadcasters turned out to be more balanced in terms of connotational references. The only party, which received markedly positive coverage on certain channels, was “Prosperous Armenia”. A more moderate advantage in terms of the prevalence of positive references over negative ones was recorded in the case of Republican Party of Armenia (RPA). Positive references to the latter, unlike the case of “Prosperous Armenia”, were distributed more or less equally between studied channels. Third, during March 11-20, some channels, unfortunately, resumed the practice of including hidden materials with attributes of political promotion into their airtime.
WITHIN THE PERIOD covered by this interim report the largest amount of attention to internal political life was given by “Kentron” TV channel, both in terms of the frequency of references to parties and of the volume of airtime allocated to them (hereafter for the quantitative results of the monitoring see the YPC Interim Report tables). Moreover, “Kentron” exceeded its own figures from the ones of first ten-day period of March, when this channel was the leader again. According to both indicators, the attention to political forces significantly increased also in the studied programs of “ArmNews”. During March 1-10, as mentioned in the previous report, “ArmNews”, in spite of being the only news TV channel in Armenia, was one of the most passive in terms of the coverage of the pre-election situation. However, during the second ten-day period of March, it was ahead of all other channels, except “Kentron”, in terms of the volume of “internal political airtime” and was the third in terms of frequency of references to parties, staying a little behind the Public Radio, which was the second according to this indicator.
There was hardly any rise in the activity of other channels. Even though First Channel of PTA, “Armenia”, “Yerkir Media”, Second Armenian TV Channel raised the frequency of references to political parties, the volume of airtime, allocated on these channels to internal political processes, dropped compared to the previous ten-day period of March. This suggests that on the mentioned channels event-based coverage has prevailed over discussions and analytic coverage. On the whole, according to cumulative indicators of the second ten-day period of March, as compared to the first ten days, a certain predominance of internal political news over analysis and discussion was observed in Armenian broadcast media coverage of internal political life. At the same time, on 4 out of 9 channels studied (beside “Kentron” and “ArmNews”, also “Shant” and Public Radio), a rise was recorded according to both indicators of attention to political parties. Specifically, “Shant”, which in the first ten-day period of March had shown the least interest toward political parties, this time allocated four times more airtime than during the previous monitoring period, and stopped being the outsider according to this indicator. However, according to another indicator, the frequency of references to parties, this channel remains the least active, only slightly outperforming its own indicator of the first ten days of March. This suggests a certain trend, which is contrary to the general picture: the rising interest of “Shant” was to a large extent manifested in the “guest-in-studio” programs rather than news coverage.
It is worth noting that according to the airtime volume of the programs studied, the lowest level of activity in the coverage of electoral processes this time was shown by PTA First Channel. Taking into account that also during the previous ten-day period this channel was one of the most passive according to this indicator, it is possible to state that its role in preparing the citizens for elections is significantly lower than that of private broadcasters. Particularly, during the second ten-day period of March, “Kentron” allocated to political parties over six times higher amount of airtime, and “ArmNews” – three times higher amount of airtime than PTA First Channel.
Like in the previous phases of the monitoring, during the second ten-day period of March, “Shoghakat” remained loyal to its profile – a TV channel of spiritual and cultural orientation. There were no references to political parties/movements within its programs studied. Accordingly, the analysis and comparisons made within the current report, do not refer to this broadcaster.
ACCORDING TO CUMULATIVE INDICATORS of all 8 channels studied, during the second ten day period of March, the same three parties are leading both in terms of frequency of references and airtime volume: the Republican Party is ahead with a significant margin, followed by “Prosperous Armenia” and “Heritage”. As for other parties, which have generated relatively high interest from the media studied, the places in the tables in terms of these two indicators do not always coincide. Armenian National Congress (ANC) was fifth, both in terms of the frequency of references and airtime volume. However, according to the first indicator, “Dashnaktsutiun” stood between ANC and the top three parties, while according to the second indicator it was “Free Democrats” party. “Orinats Yerkir” party was sixth according to the frequency of references and seventh according to airtime volume. “Free Democrats” were the seventh in terms of frequency of references. Thus, for the second ten-day period of March it is possible to speak not about “the big six” (5 parliamentary parties – RPA, “Prosperous Armenia”, “Orinats Yerkir”, “Dashnaktsutiun”, “Heritage”, as well as ANC), but rather, taking into account the sharply increased interest towards “Free Democrats”, about “the big seven”.
Of course, the last statement should be taken with a certain degree of reservation, since “Free Democrats” in fact joined the electoral list of “Heritage”, and the interest towards them during the period studied was to a large extent explained by the expected merger. In its turn, one of the factors determining the interest towards “Heritage”, it may be suggested, was the party’s alliance with “Free Democrats”. The possibility of an electoral alliance between these parties was probably the main intrigue of the first twenty days of March. As a consequence, according to the cumulative airtime of all programs studied, the overall result of “Heritage” and “Free Democrats” was second, conceding only to Republican Party, and with only a slight margin. In about two thirds of the cases, in which channels referred to “Free Democrats”, and in one third of references to “Heritage”, these two parties were covered in the same pieces.
The other parties, as monitoring objects, were to a certain extent left in the shade. To the least extent this refers to two parties, which also presented applications to take part in the parliamentary elections: the Communist Party of Armenia and Democratic Party of Armenia. Coverage of one more party, “United Armenians”, which presented its nomination list for registration at the Central Electoral Commission, was not a subject of monitoring during the current and previous phases of the study, since this party had not previously demonstrated respective public activity and had not visibly proclaimed its intention to take part in the parliamentary elections under the proportional system of representation. (This party is added to the list of the parties subjected to monitoring, starting from March 21, 2012.)
During the second ten-day period of March the Republican Party proved to be the indisputable leader in terms of attention allocated to it on PTA First Channel, “Armenia”, “Yerkir Media” and Public Radio. Besides, according to frequency of references it was ahead of all other parties on Second Armenian TV Channel, “Shant” and “ArmNews”, and according to the volume of airtime – on “Kentron”. “Prosperous Armenia” held the first position on one channel according to frequency of references (“Kentron”), and on another one according to airtime volume (Second Armenian TV Channel). In terms of airtime volume “Dashnaktsutiun” was the leader on “Shant”, and “Heritage” – on “ArmNews”. At the same time, according to airtime volume “Heritage” would surpass “Dashnaktsutiun” on “Shant”, and would have been close to the leaders on “Armenia” and “Kentron”, in case its airtime had been counted together with that of “Free Democrats”, who formed an alliance with “Heritage”. A significant difference of the second ten-day period of March from the previous phases of the monitoring was the loss of their dominant stance by “Dashnaktsutiun” and in a certain sense by “Prosperous Armenia” on “Yerkir Media” and “Kentron”, respectively. This can be even characterized as a breach of a pattern that was formed during the latest years.
In terms of proportional distribution of attention to political forces, the studied period has to be classified as quite balanced. Moreover, such evaluation can be ascribed to all media studied: to the highest extent to “ArmNews”, “Yerkir Media” and Second Armenian TV Channel, to the least extent to “Shant”, where 7 out of 13 parties/movements included in the monitoring, among them parliamentary “Orinats Yerkir”, were ignored completely or almost completely. Also, given their specific mission in covering social-political processes, it could have been expected from PTA First Channel and Public Radio of Armenia that they would distribute their attention between the parties in a more balanced way.
At the same time, it is necessary to take into account, that for indicators, which describe the interest of given media to a certain political force, ten days are an insufficient period for making far-reaching generalizations. Therefore, a more adequate picture according to this monitoring component will be formed when the results from all three ten-day periods of March 2012 are summed up.
FURTHER PROGRESS in programs studied was recorded according to the indicator of connotations (positive or negative) of references to political forces. During the second ten-day period of March the share of connotation references was 4.2% of the total number of references on all channels studied. In comparison, during November-December 2011 the figure was 9.6%, and during the first ten-day period of March – 7.2%. From specific channels the most balanced were Public Radio and “ArmNews”, where the share of positive and negative references comprised 1.7% of the total number of references on the channel (only two such references on each of these broadcasters). Specifically, on Public Radio “Heritage” received one positive and one negative reference. These channels are followed by “Yerkir Media” (1.9%) and “Armenia” (2.1%). The latter ones, like “ArmNews”, have two connotation references each, and have allotted not more than one connotation reference to a party. A quite acceptable level of connotations was recorded on PTA First Channel – 2.7% (though both positive references went to RPA). The indicator of “Shant” (4.5%) is hardly worth commenting on, since it is based on extremely small figures (only 22 references to parties, out of which one was negative).
The highest share of connotation references was recorded on “Kentron” -10.6% and Second Armenian TV Channel – 6.8%. At the same time, “Kentron”, relatively speaking, improved its indicator, while Second Armenian TV Channel worsened it, as compared to the first ten days of March (12% and 4.4%, respectively). These two channels provided a great advantage to “Prosperous Armenia” in terms of positive references (11 – on “Kentron” and 5 – on Second Armenian TV Channel). In general, out of 28 positive references of all channels studied 26 were allocated to parties forming the ruling coalition: “Prosperous Armenia” – 17; RPA – 8; “Orinats Yerkir” – 1. The remaining two positive references were allocated to “Heritage” and “Free Democrats” who had joined their forces. Negative references were distributed in a more balanced way: “Heritage” received two references and RPA and ANC – one each. It is worth reminding that during the first ten days of March Armenian National Congress received 6 out of 8 negative references.
In case of “Prosperous Armenia” the majority of positive references was recorded in pieces telling about charity events, other useful (according to the assessments voiced on air) initiatives of the party and its pre-election meetings with the public. Republicans received positive references in pieces echoing the RPA congress, held on March 10, as well as pieces containing assessments of the activities of the party on other occasions, including entry of new party members, and election endorsements from various politicians. Both negative references to “Heritage” were contained in pieces of two various channels, where Karineh Hakobian, who had resigned from the post of the party Secretary, sharply criticized the joint electoral list formed together with the “Free Democrats”.
Six materials devoted to “Prosperous Armenia” contained indirect signs of hidden political promotion. Identical or almost identical stories (in terms of both video images and text) were aired on more than one channel: mainly on “Kentron” and Second Armenian TV Channel; this conditioned the majority of positive references to the party on these channels. One of the above-mentioned six materials was also aired on “Yerkir Media”. It is worth reminding that such pieces, quite frequent during the preliminary monitoring (November 16 – December 15, 2011), were not fixed during the first ten-day period of March 2012, but, as we have seen, resumed during the second ten days.
The full YPC Interim Report (March 11-20, 2012), as well as the reports for the other phases of the monitoring are available here.