On May 8, OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission published the Final Report on February 18, 2013 Presidential Elections in Armenia. The document presents different aspects of the electoral process and offers recommendations on its further improvement.
The February 19, 2013 Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions of the International Election Observation Mission (OSCE/ODIHR, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament) stressed that “the election was generally well-administered and was characterized by a respect for fundamental freedoms”: contestants were able to campaign freely, media fulfilled their legal obligation to provide balanced coverage, and all contestants made use of their free airtime. At the same time, the observers expressed their concern with the lack of impartiality of the public administration, misuse of administrative resources, and cases of pressure on voters; during the election day some serious violations were observed, too (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 15-21, 2013).
The Media Section of the OSCE/ODIHR EOM Final Report, particularly, mentioned the monitoring by the National Commission on Television and Radio, which oversaw the Armenian broadcasters’ activities during the pre-election promotion. The EOM noted that the regulatory body did not conduct a monitoring before the official election campaign. However, as the monitoring of Yerevan Press Club showed, during the period preceding the pre-election promotion, the media pretty intensively covered activities of the incumbent RA President Serzh Sargsian not as a candidate but as an official. As a result, Serzh Sargsian received significant information advantage against his competitors. However, coverage of the incumbent President in his official capacity changed dramatically with the start of the pre-election promotion, and as the day of the voting was getting closer, this coverage was becoming less active. “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”, emphasized Yerevan Press Club in its Report on monitoring of Armenian broadcast media coverage of RA presidential elections in 2013.
Given the abovementioned, the OSCE/ODIHR EOM recommended the Armenian authorities to give consideration “to enhancing the capacities and resources needed by the NCTR for conducting its media monitoring fully and independently, instead of tasking broadcasters to provide broadcasting data themselves”. “Moreover, consideration could be given to enhancing the methodology so as to allow the NCTR to monitor and assess the tone of coverage. Additionally, it could be considered that the NCTR implements its oversight role by conducting random media monitoring outside the campaign period”, stressed the OSCE/ODIHR EOM.
Further the Observation Mission’s Final Report reminded that the RA “Electoral Code requires presenting impartial and unbiased information about contestants. The NCTR did provide unofficial and somewhat unclear guidance on how to interpret the law. Media also interpreted these provisions cautiously and appeared to be concerned that analytical information could be perceived as bias”.
In this regard, the EOM recommended that the “Electoral Code could be amended to provide for generally applicable guidelines for election-related coverage by the broadcast media. Such provisions could be based on the existing requirement of impartiality and balance, while at the same allowing for independent editorial coverage of campaign events”.
The OSCE/ODIHR Observation Mission also highlighted the January 25, 2013 Yerevan Press Club statement, calling the broadcasters and candidates to presidency to hold TV debates. While some private stations offered to do so, no debates were organized after the incumbent and the other candidates declined to participate. “As a result, voters were not given the opportunity to see meaningful dialogue that could address the contestants’ platforms or the incumbent’s performance in office”, the OSCE/ODIHR EOM stated.