On May 7, at “Henaran” Club, Yerevan Press Club presented the Report (April 7 – May 3, 2013) on monitoring of Armenian broadcast media coverage of the official campaign of Yerevan Council of Elders elections, held on May 5, 2013.
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 REPORT covers the whole period of pre-election promotion. As it was mentioned in the Interim Report of the monitoring (April 7-24, 2013), the first two and a half weeks of this period “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.
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.”
These trends are mostly characteristic for the last 9 days of pre-election promotion, as well. At the same time, it is possible to state that there was no discrimination with regard to 6 out of 7 political forces, taking part in the elections. “Arakelutyun” (“Mission”) party received significantly less attention from the media studied. Of course, this party is less well-known and has less political influence than the other six competitors. However, this cannot be a satisfactory explanation for such a striking disparity in the attention to this and other parties in the airtime of certain broadcasters. This, first of all, refers to the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia (PTA), where representatives of “Arakelutyun” did not participate in any discussion programmes, particularly “Hartsazruyts” (“Interview”). Meanwhile, the representatives of competing political forces were invited to this programme 2-3 times, each. And, in general, in terms of volume of coverage it is on the PTA First Channel that the largest gap between “Arakelutyun” and other participants of the campaign was recorded.
THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF ACTIVITY in the coverage of the election campaign has been shown by “Kentron” TV channel, followed by "Yerkir Media". In terms of this indicator, volume of airtime, allocated to parties/bloc, “ArmNews” was the third (hereafter for the quantitative data of the monitoring see the tables in YPC 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 PTA First Channel 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 in terms of airtime volume would be even higher, albeit not significantly, than those of "Prosperous Armenia". (Given that "Barev, Yerevan" and "Heritage" are inseparable in the perception of the public, the summation of their indicators within this research was quite justified.) In terms of frequency of references, however, the leader was the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), which according to the amount of airtime received lagged behind both "Barev, Yerevan"/"Heritage" and "Prosperous Armenia".
On the air of “Kentron” TV channel, “Prosperous Armenia” had 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, “ArmNews”, “ArmRadio” and Public Radio of Armenia, the highest cumulative indicator was received by “Barev, Yerevan”/”Heritage.
COVERAGE OF THE OFFICIAL, PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES OF THE LEADERS (i.e., the first three persons on the electoral lists, whose names appeared 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, appeared Taron Margarian, the current Mayor of Yerevan and first number of the RPA electoral list, 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 and the second number of the electoral list of RPA. The most extensive was the coverage of Taron Margarian’s official activities outside of the context of elections in the weekly programme “Mayrakaghak” (“Capital City”), aired on “ArmNews”, which is a product of cooperation of the press service of the City Hall and the TV company. However, this was typical only for the beginning of pre-election promotion.
THE SHARE OF CONNOTATIONAL REFERENCES to political forces, taking part in the elections of the Council of Elders, was almost two times higher than during the parliamentary (2012) and presidential (2013) campaigns: it comprised 5.3% of the aggregate number of references on all the channels studied. This indicates an uncompromising struggle and confirms the claims by the opposition that it viewed Yerevan elections as decisive within the current electoral cycle. If after the parliamentary and even the presidential elections there still was an opportunity to challenge the ruling RPA, after the campaign for the seats to the Council of the Elders the opposition will have to wait four years for the next “big elections”. The intensity of the political competition was bound to influence the information component of the elections and it broke the tendency of mainly neutral coverage of the political life of the country, which had been observed in the course of latest elections. Moreover, the increase in the level of coverage of political forces outside of a neutral context took place mostly during the last 9 days of the pre-election campaign. Throughout these 9 days connotational references comprised 8%, significantly higher than in the 27-day election campaign as a whole.
Characteristically, the highest share of connotational references was recorded on those three TV channels, where advantage in terms of volume of coverage was held by those parties (particularly, “Prosperous Armenia” and ARF-Dashnaktsutyun), which more than the others advocated “a united front” against RPA: on Second Armenian TV Channel -9.9%, “Yerkir Media” – 9%, “Kentron” – 8.8%. In the airtime of other media studied, this indicator was significantly lower than the average indicator of 5.3%. “Yerkir Media” and “Kentron” were united by the fact that it was at their expense that during the last 9 days of the pre-election promotion the degree of confrontation in the information field went up (respectively, 17.3% and 14.6% of connotational references), and in their airtime the coverage of the RPA was especially critical (respectively, 0 positive against 43 negative and 0 positive against 52 negative references – within the whole pre-election promotion). It was the increase in the number of negative references to RPA at the end of the electoral campaign that destroyed the general dynamic of connotationality of references. In this respect, on the Second Armenian TV Channel a different trend was observed: here, through the last 9 days of the pre-election promotion the share of connotational references was reduced to 7.9%.
The most neutral throughout the pre-election promotion was the coverage on the PTA First Channel (2.2% of connotational references) and “ArmNews” (2.4%). The Second Armenian TV Channel was the only one, where number of positive references to political forces was higher than the number of negative ones. And the highest prevalence of negative references over positive ones was recorded on the air of “Kentron” and “Yerkir Media”.
In terms of balance of positive and negative references, the most favourable coverage was received by ARF-Dashnaktsutyun (10 positive and 0 negative references by all the broadcasters studied) and “Prosperous Armenia” (24 and 17). The former received its favourable balance mainly due to “Yerkir Media” (9 and 0), and the latter – due to “Kentron” (12 and 0). Three parties, RPA, “Armenian National Congress” (ANC) and “Orinats Yerkir”, had a negative balance. The most unfavourable was the coverage of the ruling party (28 positive and 153 negative references), which was an unprecedented phenomenon in the history of elections in Armenia. Moreover, the balance of RPA was negative in all media studied. It was formed mostly due to the fact that opposition political forces to a large extent used the airtime they received to criticize the RPA and sometimes paid less attention to their own electoral programmes.
Negative references to the Republicans mostly were related to the deficiencies in the management of the city and the country in general. Also the ruling party was accused of having an intention to falsify the elections. In case of “Prosperous Armenia”, the negative tone of coverage was due to accusations about vote-buying, while positive references were mostly statements, made in its support at election campaign events. Especially often, such statements were heard in the airtime of “Kentron” and the Second Armenian TV Channel. 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. Positive references to “Orinats Yerkir” were mostly heard in the reports about pre-election events, and criticism referred to cooperation with RPA and participation in electoral violations. Favourable balance of references to ARF-Dashnaktsutyun was formed as a result of statements by the voters who said they were going to vote for this party. Negative references to ANC were 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.
ANALYSIS OF THE PROGRAMMES OF THE FORMAT “GUEST-IN-STUDIO” confirms that the highest degree of interest towards the election campaign was 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 was 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”. “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 were rarely turning to independent experts for analysis of the electoral situation.