On May 7 at Urbat Club Yerevan Press Club presented the Report on Monitoring of Armenian Broadcast Media Coverage of May 6, 2012 Elections to RA National Assembly. Assistance to the YPC 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 within two stages: the first stage covered the period of March 1-31, 2012 (ahead of pre-election promotion); the second stage covered the period of April 8 – May 4, 2012 (pre-election promotion).
Current report sums up the outcomes of monitoring the period of pre-election promotion (8 April – May 4, 2012), as well as the previous months, November 16 to December 15, 2011 (during this period YPC conducted monitoring upon its own initiative and at the expense of its own resources), and March 1-31, 2012.
THE MONITORING included 7 national TV channels – First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia (h1), “Shoghakat” (which is also a part of Public TV and Radio Company), “Armenia”, “Yerkir Media”, “Kentron”, Second Armenian TV Channel (h2), “Shant”; 1 Yerevan TV channel – “ArmNews” (the only broadcaster in Armenia that has a specific license of a news channel); as well as Public Radio of Armenia. During the pre-election promotion, the study included all programs aired at 18.00-01.00 on the above-mentioned TV and radio channels, with the exception of political (i.e. pre-election promotion materials), commercial and social advertisement. During other stages of the monitoring, main editions of news programs and main current affairs/discussion programs broadcast during the same time interval were studied.
Object of monitoring consisted of TV/radio pieces that included references to: during the pre-election promotion – to 8 parties and 1 party bloc, registered by the RA Central Electoral Commission (CEC) for participation in the parliamentary elections by proportional electoral system; during the previous stages – to the political forces which either had expressed their intention to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections, or held an active position in the political life of the country. The airtime, allocated to the parties/bloc, frequency and connotations of references to them by the monitored media were recorded. (See the monitoring methodology during the pre-election promotion in YPC Report, Chapter “General Information on Monitoring”.)
THE CHOICE OF VARIOUS TIME PERIODS was conditioned by the fact that in Armenia traditionally the non-official election campaign starts much earlier than the month before the elections, which is allocated for pre-election promotion. And within various periods the behavior of the media, especially the ones with the most massive audience, i.e. TV channels, to a large extent determines the attitudes of the electorate. Such studies allow to define the role of Armenian TV and radio broadcasters in political processes, as well as the problems that exist in the field of broadcast media regulation. (See the detailed analysis of the coverage of the electoral campaign preceding the period of official pre-election promotion at https://www.ypc.am/media_research/ln/eng.)
IN GENERAL, DURING THE PERIOD OF PRE-ELECTION PROMOTION, the studied broadcasters offered various equal conditions to political forces for introducing their programs and views to the electorate. Naturally, the voters did not receive equal amount of information about all election participants, however this was a result of the capacity and willingness of the political forces to conduct an election campaign. In that respect, Armenian broadcasters demonstrated indisputable progress compared to previous national elections. At the same time, quantitative data of the monitoring suggests that certain channels, especially during the last days of pre-election promotion, were not making the necessary effort for complying with the principle of balanced coverage of the election campaign.
While the studied broadcasters made a step forward, compared with the previous national elections, as well as with the months, preceding the four-week period of pre-election promotion, it is impossible to say that similar progress took place with regard to politicians. The latter ones, as it has been done before, did not always inform the media about their pre-election campaign events, sometimes refrained from taking part in political debates and other discussion programs. Certain confusion remained with regard to events that directly represent a part of the electoral campaign, and those ones, in which the leaders of political forces appeared not as party leaders, but in their official capacity – as high rank statesmen. This, without doubt, created certain obstacles for the voters to make an informed and conscious choice.
SEVERAL PROBLEMS IN ELECTIONS COVERAGE are directly connected to legislation shortcomings. During the period, preceding the pre-election promotion, certain materials, devoted to charity actions, initiatives related to social issues and pre-election meetings of the parties “Prosperous Armenia” and less frequently “Orinats Yerkir” contained indirect attributes of political advertisement. The same or almost the same reports (both in terms of images and texts) were aired on more than one channels, mostly on “Kentron” and Second Armenian TV Channel, and in certain cases on “Yerkir Media”, “Armenia” and “Shant”. These attributes allow to suggest that the above-mentioned reports did not represent editorial coverage of events, but hidden political promotion, which was carried out contrary to RA legislation. And even if the performance of the media during the period of the official pre-election promotion would have been ideal, this would not always be enough for compensating the imbalance, which had been formed during the previous periods. This circumstance is forcing to once again raise the issues of deliberate unequal opportunities for political parties and the necessity of clear normative-legal regulation and monitoring not only for the short period of pre-election promotion, but also for the period preceding it.
Particularly, the “video-press-release” pieces, which are provided by parties to various broadcasters, in the opinion of YPC monitoring group, should be interpreted as political advertisement, in case they are not going through proper editorial processing. Broadcasting these pieces in their initial versions cannot be presented as coverage on the part of the media, since the audience has the right to know, whether it is receiving a journalistic piece or a direct message from the politicians.
Clear understanding of the limitations in the work of the media during the elections was also hindered by discrepancies in the legal provisions regarding coverage of sociological polls. On the one hand, the prohibition of covering pre-election sociological polls during the last seven days before voting was removed from the RA Electoral Code in the run-up to parliamentary elections of 2012; but on the other hand, fines for such coverage are still envisaged by the RA Code on Administrative Offences. Hence, certain media, including broadcast media, continued to cover sociological polls during the last week before May 6.
An unacceptable system of licensing and regulation of broadcast media in Armenia (see Expert Analysis of the Broadcast Licensing Competition Results of December 2010 [in Armenian and English] at https://www.ypc.am/media_research/ln/eng), has led to an unacceptable level of the dependence of TV companies from political circles, first of all pro-government forces. This conditioned imbalanced coverage of all previous election campaigns, as well as, during the period preceding the official pre-election promotion, of the current parliamentary elections. There are serious reasons to believe that the significant progress, which has been recorded during the period of pre-election promotion, was not a result of the changing media landscape of Armenia, but rather a consequence of a decision taken on the highest political level to provide equal opportunities for access to TV air to the parties participating in the elections. But even in these conditions, the political partisanship of the TV channels was felt to a certain extent. Thus, before the pre-election promotion period, on the whole, on the air of the studied broadcasters the tendency of providing positive coverage of the ruling coalition parties (Republican Party of Armenia, “Orinats Yerkir” and “Prosperous Armenia”) and negative coverage of the opposition Armenian National Congress (ANC) was observed. As for the pre-election promotion period per se, in spite of a relatively balanced coverage on the majority of broadcasters, “Kentron” and “Yerkir Media” channels displayed a pronounced negative attitude to Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), and a pronounced positive attitude to “Prosperous Armenia” and ARF-Dashnaktsutyun, respectively. It is worth noting that such coverage of “Prosperous Armenia” was characteristic for “Kentron” also before the pre-election promotion period.
One more traditional problem that still remains urgent, which demands if not legal, but at least informal regulation, is the coverage of the party leaders’ activities not connected to the election campaign. In the course of the current parliamentary elections, this issue concerned mostly the Republican Party, in whose party list the first and third positions are held by the RA President Serzh Sargsyan and RA Prime-Minister Tigran Sargsyan. On various channels the coverage of their non-party activities during the pre-election promotion period made on average 25% of total airtime allocated to RPA. It means that on average they were receiving about 3 minutes of the evening airtime on each channel. This volume could have been considered acceptable, if these activities represented public events that could not have been delayed. However, not all public events with the participation of the two leaders of the country can be considered mandatory during the period of an election campaign, in which they are also taking part as candidates. While participation in internal and international events, with dates that are fixed independently of their will, such as the celebration of the Holly Easter, government meetings, etc., is quite legitimate, visits to various companies, institutions, ceremonies, etc. do not always appear as something which could not have been planned for a period outside of the election campaign. Especially, since there exists an unwritten rule: to ensure outmost equal conditions for holding pre-election promotion, leaders of the state, who take part in the election campaign, should reduce their public appearances, which are unconnected to the campaign, rather than increase their frequency.
Of course, the broadcasters traditionally cover each public event with the participation of the President and Prime-Minister, and, as a matter of fact, the advantage of the RPA before its competitors in terms of airtime and references frequency has been formed mostly at the expense of these activities in the capacity of state officials. First of all, this refers to Public Radio and “Shant” TV channel, where coverage of the events with participation of the RA President and RA Prime-Minister, not directly connected with the elections, comprised 41.7% of the total airtime allocated to RPA by each of these channels, and thus can be characterized as excessive.
In terms of coverage of non-party activities of the leaders of political forces, “Kentron” distinguished itself with its attitude to Gagik Tsarukyan, the first number of the electoral list of “Prosperous Armenia” and the President of the National Olympic Committee of Armenia. During the period of pre-election promotion, only his activities in the capacity of the Head of the NOC received almost as much of attention on the evening airtime of “Kentron”, as it was allocated to the “United Armenians” party in general on this channel.
THE HIGHEST DEGREE OF INTEREST to political forces, taking part in the elections, during the period of pre-election promotion was displayed by “ArmNews” TV channel (hereafter see the quantitative results of the monitoring from April 8 to May 4, 2012 in the YPC Report tables). On May 3, 2012 “ArmNews” established "an absolute record" of the current election campaign in terms of frequency and volume of coverage of political forces: 295 references to parties/bloc and 9,424 seconds, allocated to them in the evening airtime. The second and third in terms of volume of coverage were “Kentron” and “Yerkir Media”, with a significant gap, as compared to the leader. And while these two TV channels had been active on all stages of the monitoring, “ArmNews” was gradually becoming the leader in terms of frequency and volume of coverage of the electoral process, increasing its attention to it step by step. Its passivity before the period of pre-election promotion was difficult to explain, especially taking into account that it is the only broadcaster in Armenia that has a specific license of a news channel.
Less than other studied channels the internal political situation during the period of pre-election promotion was covered by PTA First Channel, “Armenia” and “Shant”. The above-mentioned “record” of “ArmNews” was equal to four-five days standard coverage of the pre-election situation by these channels. On the previous stages of the monitoring the same broadcasters displayed the lowest degree of activity. First of all, this refers to “Shant”, which, having the same type of license, as for example “Kentron” (i.e. TV channel of general profile), allocated almost five times less airtime to pre-election processes during the period of March 1-31, 2012.
However, if on the previous stages the lack of attention to electoral process could have influenced the degree of awareness of the audience, beginning from April 8 the potential voters were receiving the necessary minimum of news and opinions. In the news editions of 8 out of 9 studied broadcasters, reports about pre-election rallies and other events of all 9 parties/bloc were aired, politicians were frequent guests in discussion programs. Besides, the broadcasters aired paid pre-election promotion slots (while on PTA First Channel and Public Radio also free pre-election promotion slots).
One of the 9 studied broadcasters, “Shoghakat”, as during the previous stages of the monitoring, remained loyal to its profile – a TV channel of spiritual and cultural orientation. There were only 23 references to political parties/bloc within its programs included in the monitoring. 18 of these and 124 seconds of airtime were devoted to RPA, and in all these cases it was coverage of the activities of the RA President and RA Prime-Minister, unrelated to the election campaign. Accordingly, the analysis and comparisons made within the current report do not refer to this broadcaster.
MOST EQUALLY THE ATTENTION to political forces was distributed on “ArmNews” and Public Radio. The largest divergence in terms of airtime, allocated to parties/bloc, was recorded on “Kentron”, where “Prosperous Armenia” party, as on previous stages of the monitoring, had overwhelming advantage over competitors in terms of coverage volume. In terms of references frequency the largest divergence was recorded on “Shant”.
According to cumulative indicators of all studied broadcasters, RPA was the leader both in terms of references frequency and airtime allocation. According to the first indicator this party was also ahead of all others on every channel, and according to volume of coverage – on 5 out of 8 studied channels. As it was mentioned, in terms of this indicator on “Kentron” “Prosperous Armenia” was beyond competition, on “Yerkir Media” ARF-Dashnaktsutyun was the first, and on “Armenia” ANC was ahead of everyone. According to cumulative data of all studied channels “Prosperous Armenia” and ARF-Dashnaktsutyun together with RPA were the three leading parties in terms of both indicators of the attention level – frequency of references and airtime allocation. The advantage of “Prosperous Armenia” and ARF-Dashnaktsutyun as compared to ANC, which was fourth, had been formed at the expense of the special attention they were receiving from “Kentron” and “Yerkir Media”, accordingly. Other political forces of the “big six” (beside the already mentioned four, also “Orinats Yerkir” and “Heritage”) were covered quite intensively, both during the period of pre-election promotion and before it. Democratic Party of Armenia and Communist Party of Armenia led their campaigns more passively, which, according to monitoring results, also influenced their indicators. A special case were “United Armenians”. Coverage of this party was not a subject of the initial stages of monitoring, since previously the party had not demonstrated any public activity and before mid-March 2012 had not voiced its intention to take part in the parliamentary elections by a proportional system. This circumstance, as well as the relatively passive conduct of the election campaign had its impact on the media attention toward this party.
THE SHARE OF CONNOTATION REFERENCES to political forces in the period of pre-election promotion comprised 3.5% of the aggregate number of references on all studied channels. In spite of fact that the criticism and praise towards the parties, both from the parties themselves and society at large, was becoming more common as the voting day was getting closer, during the period of pre-election promotion this indicator decreased as compared to November-December 2011 (9.6%) and March 2012 (3.8%). This is a sign of predominance of neutral coverage on the part of TV and radio journalists.
The highest share of connotation references was recorded on “Kentron” (7.1% of the total number of references on that channel). The lowest share was recorded on “ArmNews” (1.4%) and Public Radio (1.5%). Between them were “Shant” (2.4%), PTA First Channel (3.4%), Second Armenian TV Channel (4.3%), “Armenia” (5.5%) and “Yerkir Media” (6%).
At the same time, during the period of pre-election promotion “polarized” attitude to certain political forces was recorded on a number of broadcasters. On “Kentron” “Prosperous Armenia” received 65 positive and no negative references, while RPA received no positive and 20 negative references. On “Yerkir-Media” ARF-Dashnaktsutyun received 29 positive and no negative references, “Prosperous Armenia” – 23 positive and 5 negative references, while RPA received no positive and 17 negative references. In terms of “polarization” these channels are followed by “ArmNews” with a large gap: 12 positive versus 5 negative references in case of RPA and no positive versus 12 negative references in case of ANC. It was at the expense of “Kentron” and “Yerkir Media” that “Prosperous Armenia” and ARF-Dashanktsutyun have the most favorable aggregate balance (on all studied channels) of positive and negative references: 102-26 (“Prosperous Armenia”) and 31-1 (ARF-Dashanktsutyun), while RPA, unlike the previous stages of the monitoring, has a negative balance – 43-64. It is also necessary to note that the 22 negative references that received RPA, “Prosperous Armenia” and “Orinats Yerkir”, each, were addressed to the whole ruling coalition. Of all parties/bloc, participating in the elections, ANC has the least favorable balance (1-23), mostly at the expense of “ArmNews” (0-12) and “Armenia” (0-7). At the same time, it is difficult to name a broadcaster, which would have a relatively equal distribution of connotation references between parties/bloc.
As one of the causes of the “polarized” coverage one can mention the increase in mutual criticism between political forces and predominance of opinions and evaluations voiced by representatives of specific parties/bloc, during the period of pre-election promotion. Particularly, negative balance of connotation references to RPA, ANC and “Orinats Yerkir” to some extent is conditioned by their certain refusals to take part in discussion programs. As a consequence, on the air of a number of channels the opinions expressed about them by political opponents were prevailing. Another cause is the existence of various approaches of broadcasters to coverage of pre-election events. In the case of some parties the journalists were taking blitz-interviews with participants of these events, thus giving the whole story a positive character, in other case such interviews were not practiced. In some cases the stories were characterized by upbeat mood and enthusiastic rhetoric (often coming from the authors of the pieces), in other cases a neutral attitude was maintained, and in some cases one could detect a hint of irony. And though this did not always represent a sufficient basis for recording connotation references, the absence of a common approach of broadcasters to the coverage of pre-election campaign events of all political forces led to a certain lack of balance.
AS A SEPARATE COMPONENT OF THE MONITORING the participants of all the evening programs of “guest-in-the-studio” format on the studied channels were recorded. During the period preceding the pre-election promotion, the choice of guests signified a quite limited interest of the majority of the broadcasters towards internal political struggle in the run-up to the elections. Probably, the only exception was “Yerkir Media”, where in discussion programs politicians representing various political forces regularly appeared. This format was used in a very limited way by PTA First Channel: in March 2012 representatives of political parties became its guests only 4 times. Instead, representatives of arts and culture were often invited. Such an approach can hardly be considered justified, given the fact that the country was facing elections, that First Channel has a general profile, and that there is a specialized spiritual and cultural channel, “Shoghakat”, in the system of Public TV and Radio Company.
During the period of pre-election promotion the interest to representatives of political forces rose on all channels studied, which was reflected also in the programs of “guest-in-the-studio” format. The only exception was Public Radio, which did not have programs, presuming participation of politicians as guests. The widest reach of political forces was provided by PTA First Channel, “Yerkir Media” and Second Armenian TV Channel, whose guests were representatives of all 9 parties/bloc participating in the elections. Only in programs of these channels representatives of the “United Armenians” party were invited. The lowest number of representatives of political forces, six, became guests on “Shant”.
MONITORING OUTCOMES suggest that, in spite of in general diligent work of the broadcasters during the period of pre-election campaign, there remains a lot of potential for more professional coverage of the election campaign. There is also need for improvement of the RA legislation, regulating the coverage of the elections. And, most importantly, the readiness of political forces to use the opportunities provided by the media for waging a meaningful election campaign remains on a low level.
YEREVAN PRESS CLUB would like to thank management and staff of broadcast media, who cooperated in an engaged and efficient way with the YPC monitoring group in the course of this study.
The full YPC Report on Monitoring of Armenian Broadcast Media Coverage of May 6, 2012 Elections to RA National Assembly, as well as reports for previous stages of monitoring are available here.