On February 8, in Yerevan, at Henaran Club Yerevan Press Club presented the interim report on monitoring of Armenian broadcast media coverage of RA presidential elections in 2013 (January 14 – February 3, 2013).
THE MONITORING of Armenian broadcast media coverage of RA presidential elections in 2013 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 in three stages: the first stage covers the period of October 1 – December 15, 2012 (ahead of pre-election promotion); the second stage covers the period of January 14-20, 2013 (in-between the official registration of the presidential candidates and the start of the pre-election promotion); the third stage covers the period of January 21 – February 16, 2013 (period of the pre-election promotion).
THE RESEARCH included 6 national TV channels – the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia (h1), “Armenia”, “Yerkir Media”, “Kentron”, Second Armenian TV Channel (h2), “Shant”; one Yerevan TV channel – “ArmNews”, as well as the Public Radio of Armenia and “ArmRadio FM 107” radio channel.
CURRENT REPORT covers the first two weeks of the pre-election promotion (January 21 – February 3, 2013), as well as the previous week, following the registration of presidential candidates (January 14-20, 2013). During this period, as at the first stage of the research (see http://www.ypc.am/media_research/ln/eng), the broadcast media did not exhibit discrimination or openly biased attitude to the presidential candidates. Focusing on the coverage of eight registered candidates, the broadcasters to a certain extent compensated the uncertainty and “scattered attention”, which were a consequence of the fact that a numerous names of potential presidential hopefuls (over 40) were circulated in October-December 2012.
THE LARGEST AMOUNT OF ATTENTION to the presidential campaign during the first two weeks of pre-election promotion was given by “ArmNews” TV channel and “ArmRadio” (hereafter for the quantitative results of the monitoring see the YPC Interim Report tables at http://www.ypc.am/media_research/ln/eng), which with a large gap were followed by “Yerkir Media” and “Kentron” – the traditional leaders in covering political life. Other studied broadcasters showed roughly the same level of activeness in covering the electoral processes.
This picture is significantly different from the last week before the pre-election promotion, when along with "ArmRadio", Second Armenian TV Channel, “Armenia” and Public Radio of Armenia were among the leaders. “Yerkir Media” and “Kentron” were again significantly behind the leaders, what can imply a decrease in the level of interests of their owners towards the elections, as compared to the parliamentary elections of 2012, when both of these channels stood out as specifically active. This circumstance indicates a problem common for the Armenian broadcasting sphere: while covering political processes, TV companies are oriented toward the interests of their owners rather than the demands of the audience.
During the last week before the pre-election promotion, two candidates were distinguished with especially intensive coverage: incumbent RA President Serzh Sargsian and the leader of “Heritage” party Raffi Hovannisian. Their leadership, both in terms of frequency of references and amount of airtime, was apparent in all media studied, with the exception of the Second Armenian TV Channel and “Shant”, where in terms of airtime Serzh Sargsian was followed respectively by the leader of “Liberty” party Hrant Bagratian and Vardan Sedrakian, who introduced himself as specialist in epic poetry. Besides, Hrant Bagratian was ahead of Raffi Hovannisian in terms of frequency of references on “Yerkir Media”. In general, during this week the intensity of the candidates’ coverage can be considered proportional to their activeness in organizing pre-election events (meetings with the voters, press conferences, etc.).
The distribution of attention towards the candidates changed significantly during the next two weeks. First, in terms of airtime the leader of the “National Self-Determination” Union Paruyr Hayrikian became the forerunner, which can be explained by the intensive coverage of the events, connected to the assassination attempt against him in the evening of January 31. In three days (February 1-3) the number of references to Paruyr Hayrikian constituted about half of all references to him during the first two weeks of pre-election promotion, and the volume of airtime constituted almost two thirds of all airtime, allocated to him during the same period. Second, among the candidates four leaders became obvious, both in terms of frequency of references to them, as well as in terms of volume of airtime: apart from Paruyr Hayrikian, these are Raffi Hovannisian, Serzh Sargsian and Hrant Bagratian. At the same time, it is impossible to say that the second four candidates were neglected by the media: numbers reflecting the frequency and length of their appearances on air show that even in spite of a limited number of their pre-election events they receive an opportunity to present their ideas to the voters. This refers also to the Director of Radio “Hay” Andrias Ghukasian, who went on hunger-strike from the first day of the pre-election promotion and did not hold any special pre-election events.
The coverage of activities of the incumbent President deserves attention. During the last week before the pre-election promotion, the media pretty intensively covered his activities not as a candidate but as an official. Thus, coverage of Serzh Sargsian in the capacity of the President of Armenia constituted 65.6% (or almost two thirds) of all cumulative airtime, allocated to him by 9 channels studied. Moreover, on “Shant” this indicator constituted 93.4%, and on PTA First Channel it constituted 85.3%. As a result, Serzh Sargsian received significant information advantage against his competitors, whose activities – not in the capacity of candidates – were not covered in any way, with the exception of 30 seconds of coverage of Raffi Hovannisian. Predominance of the coverage of Serzh Sargsian as President over his coverage as candidate was recorded on 8 out of 9 media studied. The only exception during this week was “ArmRadio”, where in the airtime, allocated to Serzh Sargsian, the share of his coverage as President constituted only 5.4%.
However, coverage of the incumbent President in the media studied changed dramatically with the start of the pre-election promotion. Appearances of Serzh Sargsian in the capacity of the President during the period from January 21 to February 3 already constituted 14.8% of the total cumulative airtime allocated to him. The lowest indicator is still the one on “ArmRadio” – 6.9%, and on other studied broadcasters it was also quite acceptable: from 7.1% on “Yerkir Media” to 27.8% on “ArmNews”. This fact suggests that, unlike all previous elections, to a certain extent there is attention towards the unwritten rule, according to which an official running for office needs to limit his public appearances unconnected to the pre-election campaign, and media need to cover such appearances more concisely. An indirect sign of this concise coverage is that during the first two weeks of the pre-election promotion in terms of the number of references (1,088) on the studied broadcasters the incumbent President Serzh Sargsian was the leader among all candidates, but in terms of airtime volume he was only the third. Moreover, according to the latter indicator, Paruyr Hayrikian received almost two times as much airtime than Serzh Sargsian.
At the same time, the contrast between the period directly before the pre-election promotion and the rapid pre-election promotion itself another time proves the necessity of regulation and monitoring of a more lengthy period than the 4 weeks of pre-election promotion. Otherwise, it would be difficult to talk about equal information opportunities for candidates.
THE BALANCE OF CONNOTATION REFERENCES to presidential hopefuls suggests that the attitude of the society (at least its reflection in the airtime of the media studied) is the most polarized when it comes to the candidacy of Serzh Sargsian (47 positive and 29 negative references). Overall connotation references to the incumbent President during the first two weeks of the pre-election promotion constituted 7.5% of all cumulative references to him by the media studied. This is the most intensive expression of an attitude among all candidates (Raffi Hovannisian has 2.4%, Hrant Bagratian has 1.7%, Andrias Ghukasian has 1.2%, and the leader of the “National Accord” party Aram Harutiunian has 1%). As for other three candidates, connotation references have not been recorded at all, or (as in case of Paruyr Hayrikian) their share is extremely low. In general, positive references dominate over negative (82 against 32): with the exception of the incumbent President and Aram Harutiunian no candidates were mentioned in an unequivocally negative context.
Positive references are encountered as a rule in stories, where citizens talk about their support toward a certain candidate. Negative references to Serzh Sargsian are recorded mostly in discussion programmes (more often on “ArmNews”, “ArmRadio” and “Yerkir Media”), where guests make critical remarks about the incumbent President.
ANALYSIS OF THE LISTS OF PARTICIPANTS OF DISCUSSION PROGRAMMES of the format “guest in the studio” suggests an extreme deficit of pre-election debates and clash of opinions (whether candidates themselves or their supporters). Along with the minimal attention of programmes of various profile towards pre-election platforms of the presidential hopefuls (except Hrant Bagratian, none of the candidates is stressing his specific platform provisions), this limits the opportunity for an informed and conscious choice by Armenian citizens. In essence, the statements of the candidates in pre-election promotion videos, pre-election meetings and press conferences, even in TV and radio interviews are repeating each other.
The absence of debates does not allow to present the audience with a critical glance at the platforms of the candidates. To a certain extent this is compensated by the more frequent appearance in the discussion programmes of guests, who evaluate the pre-electoral behaviour and statements of the participants of the presidential race. At least 5 out of 9 media studied attempted to perform this mission throughout the period covered by the current report. Exceptions were Public Radio of Armenia, PTA First Channel and “Shant”, for which pre-election discussions did not seem to be a priority. Second Armenian TV Channel initiated such discussions more rarely than it could be expected from a TV channel of general profile.
Perhaps the absence of debates remains the main problem of coverage of the pre-election promotion by the broadcasting media of Armenia.
The given, as well as the previous reports on monitoring the coverage of 2013 presidential elections are available at http://www.ypc.am/media_research/ln/eng.