On April 25 at Urbat Club Yerevan Press Club presented the Interim Report (April 8-17, 2012) on monitoring of Armenian broadcast media coverage of elections to RA National Assembly in 2012. Assistance to the YPC 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 includes the period of the pre-election promotion: April 8 – May 4, 2012. Data from the first ten days of this stage (till April 17) is summed up in the current 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. The study included all programs aired at 18.00-01.00 on the above-mentioned TV and radio channels, with the exception of political (i.e. pre-election promotion materials), commercial and social advertisement.
Object of monitoring consisted of TV/radio pieces that included references to 9 parties and party bloc, registered by the RA Central Electoral Commission (CEC) for participation in the parliamentary elections by proportional electoral system. The airtime, allocated to these parties/bloc, frequency and connotations of references to them by the monitored media were recorded. (See the monitoring methodology in YPC Interim Report, Chapter “General Information on Monitoring”.)
ON THE WHOLE, during the ten-day period covered by the report the studied broadcasters provided balanced coverage of the political forces taking part in the elections. Unlike the previous stages of the monitoring, no cases of programs, which contain obvious attributes of hidden political promotion, were recorded. The 8 parties and one party bloc received mostly equal conditions for introducing the electorate to their programs and views.
While the studied broadcasters undoubtedly made a step forward, as compared to the previous national elections, as well as to the months that preceded the four-week period of official pre-election promotion; this does not imply that similar progress has taken place in the behavior of politicians. As before, the politicians do not always inform the media about their election campaign events in proper time, sometimes refrain from taking part in the political debates and other discussion programs. This indeed creates certain obstacles preventing citizens from making a well-informed, conscious choice.
THE HIGHEST DEGREE OF INTEREST to political forces, running in the elections, was displayed by “ArmNews”, “Kentron” and “Yerkir Media” (hereafter for the quantitative results of the monitoring see the YPC Interim Report tables). And while “Kentron” and “Yerkir Media” were active in that sense during all the stages of the monitoring, “ArmNews” was gaining leadership in terms of frequency and volume of coverage of electoral processes, by increasing its attention gradually. Less than other studied channels internal political situation was covered by PTA First Channel, “Armenia” and “Shant”. These same broadcasters (first of all, “Shant”) displayed the least degree of activity on the previous stages of the monitoring.
However, if on the previous stages the lack of attention to electoral process could have influenced the degree of awareness of the audience, beginning from April 8 the potential voters were receiving the necessary minimum of news and opinions. In the news editions of 8 out of 9 studied broadcasters, reports about pre-election rallies and other events of all 9 parties/bloc were aired, politicians were frequent guests in discussion programs. Besides, the broadcasters aired paid pre-election promotion slots (while on PTA First Channel and Public Radio also free pre-election promotion slots). Of course, the electorate does not have equal amount of information about all participants of elections, however this is a consequence of the political forces’ capacity and willingness to wage an election campaign. Thus, the level of awareness of voters regarding “United Armenians” party is substantially lower compared to other parties.
Of 9 broadcasters studied, “Shoghakat”, as during the previous stages of the monitoring, remained loyal to its profile – a TV channel of spiritual and cultural orientation. There were only 7 references to political parties/bloc within its programs studied. Accordingly, the analysis and comparisons made within the current report, do not refer to this broadcaster.
MOST EQUALLY the attention to political forces was distributed on Second Armenian TV Channel. And the largest divergence between airtime allocations to different parties/bloc was recorded on “Kentron”, where “Prosperous Armenia” party, as on the previous stages of the monitoring, had an overwhelming advantage over its competitors in terms of coverage volume. A similar advantage of one party (in this case Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun) was observed on “Yerkir Media”. However, unlike “Kentron”, here the attention to other parties was distributed relatively equally.
On all other channels coverage of Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) was the most intensive: according to cumulative indicators of all studied broadcasters this party was the leader both in terms of reference frequency and airtime allocation. However, on none of the studied broadcasters RPA had such an obvious advantage in terms of coverage volume, as “Prosperous Armenia” had on “Kentron”, and ARF-Dashnaktsutyun – on “Yerkir Media”. According to cumulative indicators of all studied channels, RPA, “Prosperous Armenia” and ARF-Dashnaktsutyun were the three leaders in terms of both degrees of attention: frequency of references and airtime. At the same time, other political forces, forming “the big six” (in addition to already mentioned three parties this comprises of Armenian National Congress, “Orinats Yerkir” and “Heritage”), were also covered quite intensively during these ten days. Democratic Party of Armenia and Communist Party of Armenia carried out a less active pre-election campaign, which also influenced their indicators in the monitoring results.
ACCORDING TO FREQUENCY OF REFERENCES the largest divergence between parties/bloc was recorded on “ArmNews”, where the indicator of RPA exceeded the indicators of its closest competitors more than twice. Such advantage of Republicans was formed mostly as a result of coverage of activities of the RA President and the RA Prime-Minister, not connected directly with the election campaign. According to the monitoring methodology, the coverage of politicians, who hold the first three positions in party electoral lists and whose names are indicated on the electoral ballots, is counted as coverage of the respective party/bloc, regardless of the capacity in which these persons appear. Besides, on “ArmNews” the first three numbers of the RPA list appeared often and without connection to the elections in the advertisings between programs of “Banadzev” talk show, and in the “Fotolur” and “Word” sections of the “Info” program. If one excludes the coverage of these three persons, not connected to their party affiliation, from the indicators of “ArmNews”, then this channel would have relatively the same degree of balanced attention to various political forces as Second Armenian TV Channel.
In general, the issue of coverage of party leaders’ activities, not connected with the election campaign, is quite pressing. Mostly, it refers to the Republican Party, whose list includes the RA President Serzh Sargsyan and the RA Prime-Minister Tigran Sargsyan in the first and third numbers, respectively. The coverage of their non-party activities raised the airtime of RPA on various channels by 20-30% on average. It means that they daily received on average 2-3 minutes of the evening airtime of each channel. Such airtime volume could have been considered acceptable, however not all public events with the participation of the two leaders of the country can be considered mandatory during the election campaign, in which they also take part as candidates. While participation in internal and international activities and events with fixed dates, determined independently of their will (such as Holy Easter celebration, Government sessions, etc.), is quite legitimate, in many cases their visits to various enterprises, institutions and attendance of ceremonies, etc., do not appear as something that could not have been planned for a period outside the election campaign. Especially, since there exists an unwritten rule: to ensure outmost equal conditions for holding pre-election promotion, leaders of the state, who take part in the election campaign, should reduce their public appearances, which are unconnected to the campaign, rather than increase their frequency.
Needless to say, broadcasters traditionally cover every public event with the participation of the President and the Prime-Minister, and thus, as a matter of fact, the advantage of RPA (in terms of airtime allocation and reference frequency) before its competitors has been formed mostly as a result of their activities in the capacity of state officials. As mentioned before, this refers first of all to “ArmNews”, but on other channels this factor also played a certain role. Even on “Kentron” and “Yerkir Media”, where “Prosperous Armenia” and ARF-Dashnaktsutyun had a large advantage compared to RPA in terms of airtime allocation, short reports referring to public appearances of the President and the Prime-Minister in their official capacity, made the Republicans leaders in terms of frequency of references to this party.
THE POSITIVE TENDENCY of reduction of the share of connotation references to political forces is continuing. On the preliminary stage of the monitoring in November-December 2011 the share of connotation references formed 9.6%, in March 2012 it fell to 3.8%, and during the first ten days of the pre-election promotion – to 3.1% of the cumulative number of references on all studied channels. This dynamic deserves respect also in a sense that the criticism and praise addressed to each other by the parties and by the society are actually becoming more frequent as the voting day gets closer. In this connection, it should be noted that on this stage of the monitoring the overwhelming majority of negative references to parties/bloc quoted by the broadcasters belongs to their political opponents.
None of channels studied exceeded the 6% of connotation references of the total number of references to political forces – an indicator, which, based on the experience of the previous election campaigns, can be considered as quite acceptable. The lowest degree of “partiality” according to this component of the study was displayed by Public Radio, where the share of connotation references was only 0.5% (two various parties received one positive reference each). The highest degree was recorded on “Kentron”, where out of 22 connotation references recorded, 21 positive ones were received by “Prosperous Armenia”. The next is “Yerkir Media”, where ARF-Dashnaktsutyun received 11 connotation references and all were positive, while RPA received 8 and all were negative.
It is based on the indicators of “Kentron” that “Prosperous Armenia” has the most favorable cumulative balance on all channels studied: 26 positive and 2 negative references. RPA received various connotation references more frequently than others: 20 positive and 13 negative. Armenian National Congress has the least favorable balance: 14 negative and not a single positive reference.
PTA First Channel indicator deserves a special commentary. There were five connotation references in its airtime: all positive and all addressed to RPA. This was a consequence of blitz-interviews with the participants of Republicans’ election campaign events, who expressed positive opinions about the ruling party. Reports from election campaign events of other political forces did not include such blitz-interviews. By the way, the tendency to ask the opinion of citizens only about one party was displayed on other channels as well. Particularly, “Kentron” covered in this way exclusively the events of “Prosperous Armenia”.
CURRENT REPORT suggests that, in spite of the generally diligent work of the broadcasters during the pre-election promotion, there remains a lot of potential for more professional coverage of the election campaign.
The full YPC Interim Report (April 8-17, 2012), as well as reports for previous stages of monitoring are available here.
The video on YPC Interim Report’s presentation, made by “A1+” TV company on April 25, 2012, watch here