On May 24, at “Henaran” Club, Yerevan Press Club presented the Report (May 4-19, 2013) on monitoring of media coverage of elections of the May 5, 2013 Yerevan Council of Elders and post-election processes.
THE MONITORING of Armenian broadcast media coverage of the 2013 elections of the Yerevan Council of Elders was 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 was conducted in three stages: the first stage covered the period from April 7 to May 3, 2013 (pre-election promotion); the second stage covered 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 covered 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.
THE CURRENT REPORT deals with the second and third monitoring stages, which either are not regulated by the electoral legislation at all, or the regulations lack specifics. Meanwhile, both “days of silence” and processes, taking place immediately after the voting, are in a certain sense no less important than the period of pre-election promotion. In reality, voters need 1-2 days on their own to “digest” that intensive flow of information, which falls on them during the previous days of campaigning. Any elements of pre-election promotion can disturb that process of reflection and making a final decision. As for coverage of post-election situation, it is the best way to draw lessons not only regarding the political behaviour of candidates and parties, but also regarding the electoral process per se. Lack of such reassessment limits perspectives for further improvement of elections as an important democratic institution.
COVERAGE ON “DAYS OF SILENCE” has identified obvious legislative and regulatory gaps in the Armenian electoral system. There is a lack of both clear definitions and explaining commentary as to what constitutes pre-election promotion. It is rather exception than the rule to hold the media accountable for violations taking place in this short, but crucial period immediately preceding the voting. As a consequence, in various TV and radio programmes appear such episodes that can directly influence the citizens’ choice. If during the parliamentary elections of 2012, the broadcasters avoided such episodes and even candidates, representatives of parties limited themselves in their statements before cameras and microphones, during presidential and Yerevan municipal elections of 2013 self-control was at a much lower level.
Episodes directing the voter (in total 60 pieces, including their repetitions) were recorded in the airtime of all 7 media studied on May 4 and 5 (before 20.00). There were such cases on Public Radio of Armenia – 14; “Yerkir Media” – 12; “ArmRadio” – 10; First Channel of Public Television of Armenia and “ArmNews” – 8, each; “Kentron” and Second Armenian TV Channel – 4, each (hereafter for the quantitative data of the monitoring see the tables in YPC Report).
Since, as mentioned above, there is no clear definition of pre-election promotion, all these episodes, questionable from the point of view of compliance with the electoral legislation, in the current report will be referred to as “provisional violations” or “provisional promotion”.
The largest number, 28 cases of provisional violations, containing promotion in favour of a certain political force, was connected to “Barev, Yerevan”/“Zharangutyun” (“Hello, Yerevan”/“Heritage”). 18 times provisional promotion was aired in favour of “Bargavach Hayastan” (“Prosperous Armenia”) party, of which 4 times – on the air of “Kentron”, where there was no similar promotion in favour of other political forces. 18 times provisional promotion was connected to Republican Party of Armenia (RPA); in one of the cases this was anti-promotion, in the other one it could be perceived in two ways (both promotion and anti-promotion). 16 promotional episodes were received by “Armenian National Congress” party (ANC), from which one contained elements of both promotion and anti-promotion. 12 cases of provisional promotion were recorded on the account of Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun, 11 cases – on the account of “Orinats Yerkir” party, and 8 cases – on the account of “Arakelutyun” (“Mission”) party.
Of the elements of provisional promotion during “days of silence” most often election pledges were aired (16 episodes). In most cases, these were aired by representatives of “Prosperous Armenia”. The monitoring group has recorded 12 episodes of prediction of the success of a certain political force (more often on the part of “Barev, Yerevan” party bloc) and 8 cases of “self-promotion” (in this sense, RPA representatives distinguished themselves). Statements of one’s intention to vote and calls to vote for a certain political force were recorded 8 and 4 times, respectively. There were 7 cases of quoting the campaign slogans (of all campaign participants) and 2 cases of anti-promotion.
Provisional violations on the “ArmNews” deserve a special commentary. This channel repeated on May 4 earlier issues (from April 28 and May 1, respectively) of programmes “Hotel ArmComedy” and “ArmComedy”, devoted to the elections. In the first programme, ANC representative was the guest, and, in spite of the playful tone, characteristic for this programme, one of the parties, taking part in the election, in fact, received an opportunity to prolong its campaigning into “the day of silence”. In the second programme, even the fairly thick layer of irony could not disguise obvious elements of promotion and anti-promotion with respect to all 7 political forces, participating in the elections. Taking into account the specific genre of these two programmes, their content was not included into the data discussed in the previous paragraph, however they clearly fall under the definition “provisional violation”. In fact, TV production, aimed for airing in the period of pre-election promotion, was repeated on the day when promotion is prohibited by law. The last remark also applies to one of the stories of the morning issue (10.00) of the news programme (“Lurer”) of “ArmNews” TV channel on May 4.
DURING THE FIRST HOURS AND DAYS AFTER ELECTIONS, from May 5 (after 20.00) to May 7 (before 01.00), when the election results were covered most intensively, Republican Party was discussed more often than others, followed by “Prosperous Armenia” and “Barev, Yerevan” bloc. Interestingly, unlike the period of pre-election promotion, when, along with “Barev, Yerevan”, “Heritage” received separate coverage, this party was not mentioned at all in the airtime of the studied media during the above-mentioned days. In general, it is possible to state that the attention of the broadcasters was distributed between political forces quite evenly, in accordance with the places they occupied as a result of the voting. “Alignment” of the airtime indicators of participants of the electoral race, including “Arakelutyun” party, during these days can be explained by the fact that a significant part of the coverage was constituted by the multiple announcements of the preliminary results, when, naturally, data referring to all seven participants of elections were broadcasted.
“ArmNews” TV channel became the leader in terms of volume of coverage during the summing up of the voting results, with a multiple advantage over other broadcasters. “Yerkir Media” was the second in terms of activity during this period, while “Kentron”, which had been the undisputed leader in the volume of coverage of the pre-election struggle, this time, according to this indicator, was behind not only the two above-mentioned broadcasters, but also behind the Public Radio and “ArmRadio”. Taking into account the relative passivity of “Kentron” during presidential elections, this fact, possibly, can be viewed as a sign of a “pragmatic” attitude of this TV channel to coverage of electoral campaigns: its activity is directly connected to the level of interest of “Prosperous Armenia” in the political process. As a contrast to the pre-election period, “Prosperous Armenia” received only the third place in terms of its coverage on the air of “Kentron” on May 5-7. Meanwhile, before voting this party had a significant advantage in this respect over its competitors. These circumstances once again emphasize how problematic the existing practice of broadcast licensing is, since it allows the dominance of political interests over the content of the airtime, first of all, on television.
AS TO CONNOTATIONS OF COVERAGE, on May 5-7, RPA and “Prosperous Armenia” had an extremely unfavourable balance in terms of the aggregate data of all the media studied: 38 and 37 negative references, respectively, with complete absence of positive ones. Coverage of ANC was also relatively unfavourable (6 negative and no positive references). In most cases, the negative references to these political parties were connected to accusations of them in electoral violations. With regard to “Prosperous Armenia”, there were also reports of improper actions (not necessarily connected to the elections) of its members. Other parties received almost exclusively neutral coverage. And in the air of the Second Armenian TV Channel not a single connotation reference to election participants was recorded, which suggests that this broadcaster preferred to abstain at that stage from evaluative statements. In general, the share of connotation references to political forces during the first post-election days virtually remained on the same level as during the pre-election promotion (5.4% of the aggregate number of references on all the channels studied).
MORE OFTEN THAN OTHERS IN THE POST-ELECTION PERIOD, May 5-19, representatives of official state bodies appeared in the airtime of broadcasters studied, followed by the political opposition, and with a large gap, by local observers and representatives of the ruling coalition. International observers and organizations made only rare statements on the elections, while reports on the results of post-election sociological surveys were completely absent.
The assessment of elections, expressed on the air of the studied broadcasters by various categories of Armenian society, was mostly negative. Positive balance of assessments was recorded only in the statements by the ruling coalition, and even the coalition member “Orinats Yerkir” mentioned the atmosphere of fear and involvement of “neighbourhood bosses” in the electoral process. The largest share (two thirds of references by this category) of negative statements about the elections was made by journalists, who noted numerous deficiencies and violations. Political opposition intensively criticized the elections, more than half of the statements by its representatives contained negative attitude to the campaign. From all the statements, made by local observers, roughly less than the half were negative assessments. Negative assessments referred to bribing the voters, use of administrative resource, various forms of pressure on citizens. Assessment of the expert community was less sharp, and to a certain extent, this was related to the fact that those representatives of this group, who are more prone to critical statements, were not given an opportunity to express themselves in certain media studied. In addition to statements of representatives of ruling coalition, positive assessment of elections was present in the rare statements of only two more categories of the Armenian society.
Even in the statements of representatives of official bodies, negative assessment of the election prevailed over the positive one. This, first of all, can be explained by the fact that officials had to report about signals on electoral violations. Aired opinions of common citizens also suggested that critical attitude to the elections prevailed over their satisfaction with the course of elections.
Most actively, in the programmes studied, the post-election situation was covered by “Yerkir Media” TV channel, followed by “ArmNews”. Roughly equal airtime was allocated to the post-election situation by “Kentron” and “ArmRadio”, which followed the leaders. The lowest level of interest to the topic was displayed by Second Armenian TV Channel and Public Radio. At the same time, the intensity of the reporting on post-election situation was reduced on the media studied after the announcement of the official voting results on May 9.
The greatest attention to the critical attitude of the society to elections was manifested by “Kentron”, “Yerkir Media” and “ArmRadio”, the least attention to it was displayed by PTA First Channel. Characteristically, not a single critical statement about elections coming from representatives of expert community was aired on that channel. The same can be said also about “ArmNews”, where as in the case of Second Armenian TV Channel and Public Radio the negative balance of assessments was mainly formed as a result of statements by the political opposition.
SUMMING UP, it is necessary to underline that without a specific definition of the term “promotion” in the electoral legislation, problems related to compliance with the rules of “the day of silence” cannot be solved. Moreover, because of absence of an effective post-election discourse in the broadcast media, there remains the problem of drawing lessons for the future.