On April 30, at “Henaran” Club, Yerevan Press Club presented the Interim Report (April 7-24, 2013) on monitoring of Armenian broadcast media coverage of the May 5, 2013 Yerevan Council of Elders elections.
THE MONITORING of Armenian broadcast media coverage of the 2013 elections of the Yerevan Council of Elders is carried out by Yerevan Press Club within the framework of a project on strengthening electoral processes in Armenia in line with international standards, implemented by the OSCE Office in Yerevan and financed by the European Union. The monitoring is conducted in three stages: the first stage covers the period from April 7 to May 3, 2013 (pre-election promotion); the second stage covers the period from May 4 to May 5, 2013 till 20.00 (the days, when pre-election promotion is prohibited by the electoral legislation); the third stage covers the period of May 5 from 20.00 to May 19, 2013 (coverage of the post-election situation).
THE RESEARCH included 4 national TV channels – First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia (h1), “Yerkir Media”, “Kentron”, Second Armenian TV Channel (h2); one Yerevan TV channel – “ArmNews”, as well as the Public Radio of Armenia and “ArmRadio FM 107” radio channel.
THIS INTERIM REPORT covers the period from April 7 to April 24. The first two and a half weeks of the pre-election promotion have reflected both positive and negative tendencies of Armenian broadcast media coverage of elections, which had appeared through the recent years. In particular, as a positive sign we can mention the absence of discrimination with respect to any of the 7 political forces, taking part in the struggle for places in Yerevan Council of Elders. Throughout the reporting period only “Arakelutyun” (“Mission”) party received significantly less attention from the media studied, but this, most probably, can be explained by the fact that it is less active, less well-known and has less political influence than the other six competitors.
At the same time, a major problem is the lack of willingness of Armenian politicians to participate in debates, open discussions on air. Also, some broadcasters are continuing the undesirable practice of using in their editorial coverage the footage prepared by electoral headquarters of political parties, which contains elements of pre-election promotion. As another negative tendency, we can mention the reducing of the role of public service broadcasters in the coverage of elections and political life in general. This factor is particularly relevant in the context of growing politicization of several private TV channels, which, being associated with particular parties, are to some extent implementing a certain information agenda. The latter fact can be assessed in two ways. On the one hand, reflection of different political interests in the broadcast media is a guarantee of pluralism in covering election campaigns. On the other hand, a public resource (the frequency) is, as a matter of fact, used for narrow political purposes, which contradicts the essence of the Armenian legislation. In addition, such situation in Armenian broadcast media field limits the information capacity of the political forces that do not have leverage over broadcasters, while guarantees of a more or less balanced coverage (legislation and monitoring) are present only in the short periods of official pre-election promotion . The same restriction applies to a certain extent to the civil society and independent experts.
THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF ACTIVITY in the coverage of the election campaign up to this moment has been shown by “Kentron” TV channel, followed by "Yerkir Media" and "ArmNews" (hereafter for the quantitative data of the monitoring see the tables in YPC Interim Report). In this regard, "Kentron" and "Yerkir Media" regained their leading positions, which belonged to them during the parliamentary elections in 2012, but which they lost during the presidential campaign of 2013. Thus, the assumption of the YPC monitoring group was confirmed, that the interest of these two channels towards the elections to a certain extent is conditioned by the participation of, respectively, the parties "Bargavach Hayastan" ("Prosperous Armenia") and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun. The least attention to the elections of the Yerevan Council of Elders was shown by the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia (PTA) and the Public Radio of Armenia. As noted above, the relatively low interest of the Public Television and Radio Company of Armenia towards political processes in the country, in general, can already be considered traditional, and most of all, it refers to TV broadcast of the PTRC.
Of political forces participating in the elections of the Council of Elders, the most volume of coverage, in terms of aggregate data of all the media studied, was received by "Prosperous Armenia". However, if the indicators of the party bloc "Barev, Yerevan" ("Hello, Yerevan") are added to the coverage of the party "Zharangutyun" ("Heritage"), irrespective of its membership in the bloc and participation in the elections, their cumulative indicators would be higher than those of "Prosperous Armenia", both in terms of volume and frequency of coverage. (Given that "Barev, Yerevan" and "Heritage" are inseparable in the perception of the public, the summation of their indicators within this research is quite justified.) In terms of frequency of references, however, the leader is the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), which according to the amount of airtime received (volume of coverage) lags behind both "Barev, Yerevan"/"Heritage" and "Prosperous Armenia". Indicators of ARF-Dashnaktsutyun, "Orinats Yerkir" party and “Armenian National Congress” party, which are a little behind the first three parties, are quite close to each other. "Arakelutyun", as noted above, both in terms of volume and frequency of coverage, is significantly behind the competitors, which are more familiar to the voters.
On the air of “Kentron” TV channel, “Prosperous Armenia” has an overwhelming advantage before all other participants of the elections. This party is also ahead of its competitors in terms of volume of coverage on the Second Armenian TV Channel (though with a much smaller gap than on “Kentron”). ARF-Dashnaktsutyun received certain, though not very significant, advantage over competitors on “Yerkir Media” TV channel, and RPA received similar advantage on the PTA First Channel. As for the other three media studied, the highest cumulative indicator was received by “Barev, Yerevan”/”Heritage”. Moreover, unlike the Public Radio of Armenia, on “ArmNews” and “ArmRadio” “Barev, Yerevan” would have remained the leader even without adding to its coverage that of “Heritage”. It is interesting that on the Public Radio the coverage of “Heritage” unrelated to the elections was in the period studied even more intensive than the coverage of the bloc “Barev, Yerevan”.
COVERAGE OF THE OFFICIAL, PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES OF THE LEADERS (i.e., the first three persons on the electoral lists, whose names appear in the ballots) of the political forces, running for seats in the Yerevan Council of Elders, outside of the context of the campaign and their party belonging, was, as a rule, minimal and could not significantly influence the perceptions of the audience. In this capacity, for the period studied, sporadically appeared only Vardan Oskanian, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia and the first number of the “Prosperous Armenia” electoral list, Armen Yeritsian, RA Minister of Emergency Situations and the first number of “Orinats Yerkir” electoral list, as well as Smbat Lputian, chess grandmaster, the second number of the electoral list of RPA. The only exception was the coverage of the official activities, unrelated to the elections, of the current Mayor of Yerevan, the first number of the RPA list, Taron Margarian, which influenced the intensity of attention of the broadcasters to the party. In particular, coverage of the Mayor in the weekly programme “Mayrakaghak” (“Capital City”), aired on “ArmNews”, which is a result of cooperation of the press service of the City Hall and the TV company, accounted for almost 20% of the overall airtime of RPA on that TV channel.
THE SHARE OF CONNOTATIONAL REFERENCES to political forces, taking part in the elections of the Council of Elders, has remained more or less on the same level, as during the parliamentary campaign of 2012 (3-4% of the aggregate number of references on all the channels studied). This indicates a tendency of mostly neutral and unbiased coverage of the political life of the country, which has taken a foothold in the course of latest elections. The most neutral coverage was recorded on the PTA First Channel: only 4 connotational references. It could have been possible to speak about a similar unbiased coverage on “ArmNews”, however, there was a relatively high number of connotational references to the RPA: the ruling party received 13 (6 positive and 7 negative) references out of 14 connotational references on the channel. And in general, on the 7 channels studied, the share of connotational references to RPA is significantly above the average indicator (8.6%). For comparison, “Prosperous Armenia” (4.3%) and ANC (3.9%) are behind the Republicans according to this indicator. At the same time, RPA and ANC have a negative balance of connotational references (respectively, 20 positive against 42 negative, and 2 against 12), while “Prosperous Armenia” has a positive balance (20 against 5). This situation can be called unprecedented in the history of elections in Armenia: never before the political force in power has received coverage in such an obvious negative context.
Positive references to RPA are mostly statements praising the current Mayor Taron Margarian (including the above mentioned “Mayrakaghak” programme), and negative references are mostly statements accusing the party of desire to falsify the elections. “Kentron” has been particularly critical towards the Republicans: not a single positive, and 15 negative references. In case of “Prosperous Armenia”, the positive references are mostly statements, made in its support at election campaign events. Especially often, such statements were heard in the airtime of “Kentron” and Second Armenian TV Channel: 8 positive references on each, and no negative references. To a certain extent, this was a consequence of using in the editorial coverage of these two channels (as well as on “Yerkir Media”) of the same video materials, which, most probably, had been provided by the electoral headquarters of “Prosperous Armenia” itself. Negative references to ANC are mostly related not to the pre-election context per se, but to the transformation of the party “Armenian National Movement”, its renaming into “Armenian National Congress” and its April 13, 2013 assembly, which completed that process. Moreover, critical statements towards ANC and its leader, First RA President Levon Ter-Petrosian, were heard from representatives of various political forces. However, at this stage, it is difficult to single out a certain broadcaster that would have been distinguished with being especially critical towards ANC.
ANALYSIS OF THE PROGRAMMES OF THE FORMAT “GUEST-IN-STUDIO” confirms that the highest degree of interest towards the election campaign is shown by “Kentron”: almost all of its discussion programmes were devoted to the elections and political processes in general. At the same time, there were no representatives of RPA among the guests of “Kentron”, which should rather be interpreted not as a selective approach of the TV channel to the parties, but as a selective approach of the Republicans to the TV channels. “Yerkir Media”, “ArmNews” and Second Armenian TV Channel also actively used the format “guest-in-studio” for coverage of the campaign. If it were to the programmes of the Public Radio, except the news programmes, it would be impossible to assume that there is an important political campaign taking place in Armenia. The PTA First Channel was significantly more passive than the private TV channels monitored, however, throughout the period studied, representatives of all political forces, running in the elections, except “Arakelutyun”, were invited to its programme “Hartsazruyts” (“Interview”). “ArmRadio” was significantly less interested in the political processes, as compared to the recent presidential election campaign. Like during the presidential campaign, discussion programmes of all broadcasters are rarely turning to independent experts for analysis of the electoral situation.