On April 6 at Urbat Club YPC presented the Interim Report on first stage (March 1-31, 2012) of monitoring Armenian broadcast media ahead of parliamentary elections. 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. Data from March 2012 is summed up in this report.
THE MONITORING includes 7 national TV channels – First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia (h1), “Shoghakat” (which is also a part of Public TV and Radio Company), “Armenia”, “Yerkir Media”, “Kentron”, Second Armenian TV Channel (h2), “Shant”; 1 Yerevan TV channel – “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 14 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”.)
THROUGHOUT MARCH 2012 tendencies were observed toward reduction of the number of pieces with connotations, as well as the rising interest of the broadcasters in general to political parties participating in the elections. These tendencies can be viewed as positive in terms of informing Armenian citizens in the run-up to the elections and providing an opportunity to political forces for participation in the campaign. At the same time, the continuing practice of broadcasting pieces with attributes of hidden political promotion suggests that not all negative phenomena related to the TV coverage of elections are overcome.
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 frequency of references to parties and of airtime volume allocated to them (hereafter for the quantitative results of the monitoring see the YPC Interim Report tables). In terms of the frequency of references to political forces “Kentron” is followed by the Public Radio of Armenia and in terms of the airtime volume – by the Second Armenian TV Channel. Third positions according to these indicators, which describe the level of interest of broadcasters to pre-election processes, were taken by “ArmNews” and “Yerkir Media”, respectively. According to the monitoring results of March 2012, five above-mentioned channels took upon themselves “the heaviest load” of informing the audience about the activities of political parties in the run-up to the elections. At the same time, Public Radio and “ArmNews” emphasized event-based coverage, while the other three of the aforesaid broadcasters were striving to combine reporting about events and facts with discussion programs.
“Shant” covered pre-election topics less frequently and in less volume than the other channels. At the same time, during the last eleven days of March this TV channel significantly increased its attention to political processes, as compared with the first twenty days of the month. In spite of that, it is still notably behind the PTA First Channel, which is the last but one in terms of frequency of references to the parties. The gap between “Shant” and “Armenia”, which was the last but one in terms of airtime volume, allocated to parties, was less significant. It has to be noted that in terms of frequency of references “Armenia” should be classified as one of the leaders rather than as one of the least active broadcasters. According to monitoring results for March, on this channel, as well as on Public Radio and “ArmNews”, event-based coverage was dominant.
Throughout 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 8 channels studied, in March 2012 the three leaders – Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), “Prosperous Armenia” and Armenian Revolutionary Federation “Dashnaktsutiun” – were quite predictable, both in terms of frequency of references and airtime volume. It is these three parties that have a guaranteed wide access to the air of certain broadcasters. However, even among those there is a clear leader – Republican Party, which was ahead of all others according to both indicators on PTA First Channel, “Armenia”, “ArmNews”, Second Armenian TV Channel and Public Radio, and in terms of frequency of references also on “Shant”. On two other channels studied (“Yerkir Media” and “Kentron”) RPA was the second, receiving significantly less attention than “Dashnaktsutiun” and “Prosperous Armenia”, respectively, but at the same time it was far ahead compared to all other election competitors. The largest volume of airtime on “Shant” was received by “Heritage”.
The coverage of “Heritage” and “Free Democrats” parties, which had decided to form a joint nomination list, was the main peculiarity of the period, covered by the current report. About 75% of the references of the studied media to “Free Democrats” and 35% of the references to “Heritage” were recorded in the same pieces. If one sums up the references and airtime of both parties, then according to the cumulative indicators of all channels studied the alliance of these parties would be the second after the Republicans. Moreover, this alliance would be ahead of all others, including RPA, according to the frequency of references on the PTA First Channel and “Armenia”, and would be the first in terms of airtime volume on “ArmNews” and, as follows from the above, on “Shant”. This attention to both parties can probably be explained by the very fact of their merger, as well as by the questions and comments related to their joint nomination list.
The monitoring of broadcast media, carried out in March 2012, suggests that instead of talking about “the big six” (the five parliamentary parties – RPA, “Prosperous Armenia”, “Orinats Yerkir”, ARF “Dashnaktsutiun” and “Heritage”, as well as Armenian National Congress), one should talk about “the big seven”: throughout March, in addition to the above mentioned six political forces, “Free Democrats” became an object of regular attention by all the broadcasters studied. However, based on the fact that they submitted a joint list with “Heritage”, after the registration of parties, taking part in the elections, this alliance will be monitored as one political force.
Other parties that had presented their nomination lists for registration at the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) received less attention in March. However, it would be wrong to claim that Communist Party of Armenia and Democratic Party of Armenia were ignored by broadcasters: the number of references and airtime allocated to them are quite comparable with those of the leaders. A special case are “United Armenians”. Coverage of this party was not a subject of the initial phases of monitoring, since previously the party had not demonstrated any public activity and had not voiced its intention to take part in the parliamentary elections by a proportional system. Indicators for this party are being recorded since March 21, 2012, which may hardly lead to strong distortions of the overall picture, since before the application to the CEC, media attention to this party was minimal. If during the first twenty days of March “United Armenians” had been covered with the same intensity as after March 21, their indicators would have been close to those of Democratic Party.
The biggest divergence in terms of indicators, which describe the interest of the channels studied to a certain party, was recorded in March 2012 in the case of “Prosperous Armenia”. On “Kentron” “Prosperous Armenia” was the undisputed leader; it also had quite solid positions on Second Armenian TV Channel. However, on PTA First Channel (6th according to frequency of references and 9th according to airtime allocated), “Armenia” (5th and 8th, respectively), “ArmNews” (4th and 10th) and “Shant” (5th and 7th), its indicators were among the worst from “the big seven”.
The largest gap between parties, in terms of interest displayed on a single channel, was recorded on “Yerkir Media”, where, “Dashnaktsutiun”, as the leader, and RPA, coming the second, enjoyed a significant advantage compared to all other political forces. From other broadcasters, in terms of balanced interest to various political forces manifested in March, it is difficult to distinguish a certain channel. Though on “Shant” the indicators of various parties in terms of airtime allocated to them were quite close to each other, however, given the fact that this channel was on the whole quite passive in its coverage of pre-election processes, it is hard to call this coverage balanced.
IN MARCH 2012 the share of connotation references (positive and negative) to various political parties was quite low. It comprised 3.8% of the total number of references on all channels studied. Moreover, during the preliminary stage of the monitoring, November 16 – December 15, 2011, this indicator comprised 9.6%, during the first ten days of March 2012 it comprised 7.2%, and during the second ten day period of March – 4.2%. All this is an evidence of positive dynamic in terms of neutrality of the broadcasters to various political forces. The lowest share of connotation references on a certain channel, was recorded on Public Radio (1.5%), followed by “Shant” (2%) and “Yerkir Media” (2.1%). The highest share was on “Kentron” (7.8%), though on this channel as well during March the connotations indicator demonstrated a tendency toward diminishing. Other channels took places on the scale between “Kentron” and the three leaders: 2.8% on “ArmNews”, 3.3% on “Armenia”, 4.4% on PTA First Channel, 4.5% on Second Armenian TV Channel.
The relatively high share of connotation references recorded on “Kentron” was mostly conditioned by the positive coverage of “Prosperous Armenia”. However, in most other cases, in which the broadcasters had a high share of connotation references, it was conditioned, though to a lesser extent than on “Kentron”, by predominance of positive connotation references: on Second Armenian TV Channel to “Prosperous Armenia”, on PTA First Channel, “Armenia” and “ArmNews” to RPA. Most often emphasized positive balance with regard to certain parties coincides with their extensive coverage (e.g. on “Kentron”, PTA First Channel, “Armenia”, “ArmNews”). This pattern is not observed on “Yerkir Media”, where the coverage of “Dashnaktsutiun” is substantial in terms of references’ frequency and airtime volume, but, at the same time, is mostly impartial: there was only one positive reference to this party throughout March. The same conclusion may be drawn with regard to this TV channel also during the preliminary stage of the monitoring in November-December 2011.
According to cumulative indicators of the channels studied, the parties of the ruling coalition received significant advantage compared to their opponents in terms of the ratio of connotation references: “Prosperous Armenia” – 31 positive references and only one negative; RPA – 27 and 7, respectively; “Orinats Yerkir” – 5 and 1. In comparison, Armenian National Congress had 11 negative references, and no positive ones. This circumstance, in spite of the positive dynamic of other indicators in March 2012, does not allow to speak about balanced coverage of various political forces by Armenian broadcasters, especially by TV.
9 pieces, dedicated to charity acts, social initiatives and pre-election meetings of “Prosperous Armenia” in March, contained indirect attributes of hidden political promotion. Identical or almost identical stories (both in terms of video images and text) were aired on more than one channel: mostly on “Kentron” and Second Armenian TV Channel, which is partly the cause explaining the large number of positive references to the party on these channels. Less often such materials about “Prosperous Armenia” were shown on “Yerkir Media”. It is worth reminding that such pieces, quite frequent during the preliminary monitoring (November 16 – December 15, 2011), diminished to only one case during the first ten days of March 2012, but increased starting from the second ten days.
AS A SEPARATE COMPONENT of the monitoring on the studied channels the participants of all programs of “guest-in-the-studio” format were recorded (it is worth reminding that in March the count of references and airtime was done only in the main editions of news programs and main current affairs/discussion programs). In terms of presenting various political forces to the audience, this format was used most proportionally and effectively by Second Armenian TV Channel. Representatives of 7 political parties, who had submitted their lists to the CEC for registration, became the guests of the “Fourth Studio” program on this channel. All and all, within a month they were guests in the studio 19 times. This format was used in a very limited way by PTA First Channel: representatives of political parties became its guests only 4 times. Instead, representatives of arts and culture field were often invited. Such an approach can hardly be considered justified, given the fact that the country is facing elections, that First Channel has a general profile, and that there is a specialized spiritual and cultural channel, “Shoghakat”, in the system of Public TV and Radio Company. Also it has to be noted that representatives of the Government were guests of First Channel another four times.
Two parties, “Dashnaktsutiun” and “Heritage” (together with “Free Democrats”), received large advantage in the programs of this format on “Yerkir Media”. Throughout March representatives of these parties took part in such programs 10 and 9 times, respectively. This TV channel broadcast programs with participation of politicians more often than other channels. During March representatives of all 9 parties, who submitted their registration lists to CEC, were guests on this channel. However, six of them were hosted in the “Face of the Country” program produced by Yerevan Press Club initiative.
Representatives of 7 out of 9 parties, who submitted their lists into the CEC, were guests of the studios of “Kentron” and “ArmNews”. Other channels, from this point of view, demonstrated weak interest to pre-election processes. “Shant” invited politicians from 5 parties, “Armenia” – from 4 parties, Public Radio – from one party.
The most frequent guests on channels studied were representatives of “Dashnaktsutiun” and “Heritage”, which can be viewed not only as evidence of interest to single representatives of these parties (in the case of “Heritage” also to the formation of a joint list with “Free Democrats”), but also, probably most of all, as a fact that “Dashnaktsutiun” and “Heritage” representatives were more willing to state their opinions on the air than other political forces.
The full YPC Interim Report (March 1-31, 2012), as well as the previous reports are available here.
The video on YPC Interim Report’s presentation, made by “A1+” TV company on April 6, 2012, watch here