YPC Weekly Newsletter

2013


YPC MONITORING: BROADCAST MEDIA DID NOT EXHIBIT DISCRIMINATION OR OPENLY BIASED ATTITUDE TO THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES

On February 19, in Yerevan, at Congress Hotel, Yerevan Press Club presented the  report on monitoring of Armenian broadcast media coverage of RA presidential elections in 2013.

THE MONITORING of Armenian broadcast media coverage of RA presidential elections in 2013 was implemented by Yerevan Press Club. Assistance to this research was 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 was conducted in three stages: the first stage covered the period of October 1 – December 15, 2012 (ahead of pre-election promotion); the second stage covered 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 covered 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.

On the first and the third stages of the monitoring of the presidential elections coverage on the abovementioned TV and radio channels, all programmes of the evening airtime were studied (from 18:00 to 01:00), excluding political, commercial and social advertising (for the monitoring methodology of the third stage see the section “General Information” of the current YPC Report at http://www.ypc.am/media_research/ln/eng). On the second stage of the monitoring (the last week ahead of pre-election promotion) only the main issues of news/news and comment programmes and the social-political/discussion programmes were studied.

THE COVERAGE OF THE WHOLE 2013 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN was heavily influenced by the non-standard political conjuncture. In a situation of unclear intentions, when up to the official nomination of the candidates the plans of numerous leading parties and politicians remained vague, the monitored media were forced to focus on quite a large group of potential candidates. Throughout the period from October 1 to December 15, 2012, 41 citizens of Armenia were mentioned in the monitored media as potential candidates. In terms of frequency of references in the news/news and comment programmes, the political figures who were later registered as candidates occupied in the list respectively the 1st place (President of Armenia Serzh Sargsian), 4th place (leader of the “Heritage” party Raffi Hovannisian), 7th place (specialist of epic poetry Vardan Sedrakian), 8th place (leader of “National Self-Determination” Union Paruyr Hayrikian), 19th place (leader of the “Liberty” party Hrant Bagratian), 25th place (former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mountainous Karabagh Arman Melikian), and 28th place (leader of the “National Accord” party Aram Harutiunian). Before December 15, the eighth candidate Andrias Ghukasian, Director of Radio “Hay”, has not appeared as a potential candidate at all. It is worth noting that in the second half of the studied period (November 21 – December 15, 2012) the leader of “Prosperous Armenia” party Gagik Tsarukian was ahead of all other the potential candidates in terms of frequency of references, and his name ultimately did not appear on the list of candidates for the post of the head of state.

Only two out of six political parties, represented in the RA National Assembly, had their own candidates, and one of them acted as a self-nominated candidate. Three out of six parliamentary political forces, including those that have the second, third and fourth largest parliamentary factions, not only did not have their own candidates, but also did not support any of the nominated candidates. Moreover, their position regarding the participation in elections became clear only 55-67 days before voting. Five out of the eight registered presidential candidates either did not represent any of the Armenian political parties, or their parties did not play a significant role in the political life of the country during the recent years. Such a list of candidates, naturally, did not contribute to a meaningful coverage of “the profiles” of the presidential candidates in advance. On the first stage of the monitoring, about 60% of coverage of the potential candidates was received by the ones that ultimately were not nominated. Moreover, the media were focused not so much on the suggested programmes and positions but rather on the anticipation of decisions by leading political players regarding their nomination as candidates. The role of the media in preparing the audience, i.e., the citizens of Armenia to the elections was limited in October-December 2012.

In general the broadcast media did not exhibit discrimination or openly biased attitude to the presidential candidates. On the whole, equal conditions were provided for introducing the electorate to the programmes and views of the candidates and political forces supporting them. Naturally, the voters did not receive equal amount of information about all candidates, however this was a consequence of the capacity and the willingness of the candidates to wage their campaigns. If at the 2012 parliamentary elections balanced coverage was provided only during the official pre-election promotion, this time the period preceding it can also be assessed in the same way. Taking into account the “scattered” attention to potential candidates, the coverage of the parties is more revealing. Thus, throughout October-December 2012 five political forces were in the centre of attention of Armenian broadcasters: Republican Party of Armenia, “Prosperous Armenia” party, Armenian National Congress, Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun and “Heritage” party. The sixth political force, represented in the Armenian parliament, “Orinats Yerkir” party, received substantially less attention than the leading five did. This difference can be explained by the level of expectation of plots in the electoral behaviour of the parties.

At the same time, the frequent appearances of representatives of executive authorities in news/news and comment programmes (6,337 times against 4,874 times of appearances of representatives of all parties altogether) is a sign of information advantage of the ruling coalition in October-December 2012.

During the period of the official pre-election promotion the media, naturally, focused on the candidates individually (hereafter for the quantitative data of the monitoring see the current YPC Report at http://www.ypc.am/media_research/ln/eng). The highest amount of attention was received by the leader of the “National Self-Determination” Union Paruyr Hayrikian, which can be explained by the intensive coverage of the events, connected to the assassination attempt against him in the evening of January 31, as well as the ensuing period of expecting whether he would or would not demand postponing the elections. In terms of airtime, allocated by the 9 media studied, the indicators of the incumbent President of Armenia Serzh Sargsian, leader of the “Heritage” party Raffi Hovannisian and leader of the “Liberty” party Hrant Bagratian were close to each other. However, according to the frequency of references, Serzh Sargsian was significantly ahead of Raffi Hovannisian and Hrant Bagratian, and in this respect was close to Paruyr Hayrikian.

The candidates can be divided into two groups of four. The leading four, both in terms of frequency of references and airtime volume, were the abovementioned candidates, while the second group was formed by Andrias Ghukasian, the Radio “Hay” Director, Vardan Sedrakian, who introduced himself as specialist in epic poetry, Arman Melikian, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mountainous Karabagh, and Aram Harutiunian, the leader of “National Accord” party. The latter, naturally, had the lowest indicators: he withdrew his candidacy, and since February 8 the monitoring team did not study his coverage. At the same time, it is impossible to say that the second four candidates were neglected by the media: data 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 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, which did not prevent him from becoming the fifth according to frequency and volume of coverage.

At the same time, stressing the notion of “the four main candidates” in the airtime of several broadcasters and, based on that, the planning of certain programmes of the format “guest-in-studio”, is a deviation from the formal requirements on the coverage of pre-election promotion. Naturally, such policy can be explained by the desire of the broadcasters to meet the interests of the audience, but on the other hand, it can be regarded as attempt to influence the voters.

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) was the most polarized when it came to the candidacy of Serzh Sargsian (83 positive and 53 negative references). Overall connotation references to the incumbent President throughout  the pre-election promotion period constituted 6.7% 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 2.3%, Vardan Sedrakian has 1.6%, Hrant Bagratian has 1.4%). In general, positive references dominate over negative ones (127 against 84).

Negative balance of references for Serzh Sargsian was recorded on “Yerkir Media” and “Kentron” TV channels, on other studied media his balance is positive, with the exception of the Second Armenian TV Сhannel (one positive and one negative reference). Raffi Hovannisian, who almost during the complete period of the pre-election promotion was mentioned in either neutral or positive context, received negative references during the last days of the campaign, when Vardan Sedrakian accused him of connections with the Masons, who, according to Sedrakian, organized the assassination attempt against Paruyr Hayrikian. In his turn, Sedrakian himself “earned” almost all his negative references after he suggested this hypothesis. He turned out to be the only candidate, whose connotation references were exclusively negative. In case of Paruyr Hayrikian and Andrias Ghukasian the references were exclusively positive, 3 and 6 accordingly. Of all the candidates, only Arman Melikian was covered exclusively in the neutral context.

In general, in Armenia the tendency is preserved towards the decreasing share of connotational coverage of politicians and parties competing in the elections. If during the pre-election promotion of the 2012 parliamentary elections this share comprised 3.5% of the aggregate number of references on all studied channels (which was a significant reduction compared to all previous national election campaigns), this time it comprised 2.2%.   

The coverage of activities of the incumbent President deserves attention. During the period preceding the pre-election promotion, the media pretty intensively covered his activities not as a candidate but as an official. Thus, during the last week before the pre-election promotion (January 14-20) 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 that 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 within January 21 – February 16 already constituted 8.7%, remaining within the acceptable limits on all studied channels. Moreover, as the day of the voting was getting closer, the coverage of the incumbent President in his official capacity was becoming less active. 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.

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 LARGEST AMOUNT OF ATTENTION to the presidential race during the pre-election promotion was given by “ArmNews” TV channel and “ArmRadio”, which with a large gap were followed by “Yerkir Media” and “Kentron” – the traditional leaders in covering political life. The fact that these two significantly lagged behind the “new leaders” can namely imply a decrease in the level of interest of their owners towards these 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.

Other studied broadcasters showed roughly the same level of activeness in covering the electoral processes. Taking into account that 6 out of 7 channels studied (except “ArmNews”) have similar broadcasting licenses, the differences in the quantitative indexes of their attention to pre-election processes are manifestation of the fact that there are problems in the field of regulation of the broadcasting sphere in Armenia.

ANALYSIS OF THE LISTS OF PARTICIPANTS OF DISCUSSION PROGRAMMES of the format “guest-in-studio” suggests an extreme deficit of pre-election debates and clash of opinions (whether candidates themselves or their supporters). This problem was especially strongly manifest in the context of the political uncertainty, which existed before the registration of the candidates. Focusing since mid-January on the coverage of the eight registered candidates, the broadcasters to a certain extent compensated the uncertainty and “scattered” attention, which were a consequence of the fact that numerous names of potential presidential hopefuls were circulated in October-December 2012. However, the minimal attention of programmes of various profile towards pre-election platforms of the presidential hopefuls (except Hrant Bagratian, none of the candidates was stressing his specific platform provisions) limited 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 were repeating each other.

Perhaps the absence of debates remains the main problem of coverage of the pre-election promotion by the broadcasting media of Armenia. This issue was more vividly apparent in the specific political conjuncture, which emerged in Armenia in the run-up to the current presidential elections.
 
The current, as well as the previous interim reports on monitoring the coverage of 2013 presidential elections are available at http://www.ypc.am/media_research/ln/eng.