On February 20 at the International Press Center "Elections-2003" at the Journalists Union of Armenia the results of the monitoring of Armenian media coverage of presidential elections were publicized. Yerevan Press Club presented to the journalists the preliminary results of the quantitative monitoring, as well as the YPC comment on the RA legislation that regulates the media activities during election campaigns (the comment, in Armenian language, can be accessed here ). The Caucasus Media Institute introduced the findings of the qualitative monitoring.
Yerevan Press Club monitoring was made under the project supported by the Open Society Institute. Assistance in monitoring was provided by "Asparez" Journalists’ Club of Gyumri and the Vanadzor branch of Helsinki Citizens Assembly.
Quantitative monitoring embraced the whole period of official election campaign — January 21 — February 17, 2003. The study centered on the whole air time and newspaper space of 27 national and regional media: 9 TV and 1 radio channels, as well as 17 newspapers.
The methodology of the quantitative monitoring conducted by YPC includes: 1) calculation of the volume (air time/newspaper space), allocated to the presidency candidates to express attitudes, opinions and judgments, as well as for narrations about them made by other individuals — including pieces pertaining to editorial coverage, free and paid political advertising; 2) count of the mentionings of candidates, with a specification of the contexts — positive, negative and neutral.
The preliminary report presented below sums up the findings of the monitoring during the period of January 21 — February 17, 2003, the final and complete results of which will be publicized during the coming month.
The YPC preliminary report said, in particular:
"The monitoring group, making a preliminary summary of the research, notes the following:
1. No significant violations of the legislation were recorded during the monitoring in terms of quantitative data for allocation of air and newspaper spaces for the political advertising, in terms of the presentation of the advertising materials. The few cases which could be qualified as violations are accounted for by technical reasons and could not have had significant negative impact.
2. The monitoring results allow to deduce the presence of a number of shortcomings and controversies in the RA legislation that regulates the media activities during the electoral campaign as well as in the relevant decision of the Central Electoral Commission dated January 15. The elimination of these deficiencies is seen as essential in the view of the elections to the National Assembly of Armenia coming in May 2003;
3. The special role and influence of the broadcast media was displayed during these elections even more vividly than during the prior campaign. In this, the print media were much less prominent;
4. The broadcast media in general did not ensure the balanced coverage of the election campaign. The comparison of the quantitative media monitoring findings for these and the previous elections reveal that the diversity presence on air was less than in 1998 and 1999. At the same time, the increased number of the TV channels and the increased broadcast volumes allowed at least five candidates (Robert Kocharyan, Stepan Demirchyan, Artashes Geghamyan, Vazgen Manukyan and Aram Karapetyan) to convey the essence of their pre-election platforms to the voters effectively;
5. The print media ensured a completely pluralistic approach of the election campaign. At the same time, each medium individually adhered to certain political views;
6. A significant proportion of media — both broadcast and print — was passive in covering the election campaign. This circumstance, as well as the unreasonably high prices for political advertising quoted by a number of private TV companies reduced the overall information potential of Armenian media.
The main burden of pre-election campaign coverage belongs to the broadcast media. Among them apparent leaders can be distinguished — with regard to the attention placed on the election-related reporting: Public Television of Armenia, "Prometheus", "Armenia", "Shant", "ALM" and "Kentron" private TV companies, as well as the Public Radio of Armenia. The other broadcast media of both the capital and the regions address the pre-election campaign more seldom and are used by candidates for advertising and propaganda to a lesser extent.
During the first three weeks of the campaign the Public Television of Armenia divided its attention between candidates (in terms of editorial coverage) in a proportion, resembling the data of opinion polls on their popularity rating. The greatest volume of air time, almost twice exceeding that allocated to the closest rivals, was given to the President in office, Robert Kocharyan. He was followed by Stepan Demirchyan and Artashes Geghamyan who were competing head to head in this regard. However, in the course of the last eight days of the campaign the advantageous position of Kocharyan became more obvious. Eventually, he received almost 3.5-4 times as much editorial coverage as the closest rivals (the same Demirchyan and Geghamyan).
The free advertising air time provided by Public TV was used by candidates in almost equal proportion, consuming nearly the whole limit stipulated by the law within the first three weeks. Thus, their further advertising activities during the last decisive days depended on the possibility and the wish to use the paid advertising time provided by PTA. Three candidates — Robert Kocharyan, Aram Karapetyan and Artashes Geghamyan — used this limit in full measure, while Stepan Demirchyan even somewhat exceeded it.
The pre-election campaign coverage by the Public Television is distinguished by the high percentage of connotationally colored mentionings of the incumbent President, Robert Kocharyan. In about 80% of cases (a huge proportion for a similar study) Kocharyan is mentioned either in a positive or a negative context (the ratio between the positive and negative mentionings is four to one), a fact, apparently characteristic of the approach of PTA towards the campaign of the President and the specifics of the pre-elective debate — the focus is made on the evaluation of personalities, primarily on that at power currently, and not on the programs of the candidates. In this regard, the data for the other two leaders of the opinion polls — Stepan Demirchyan and Artashes Geghamyan — are much more modest: 36% and 42% of connotationally colored mentionings, respectively. Yet, these figures are quite high, too.
With the exception for the incumbent President, the balance of positive and negative mentionings of candidates on PTA is relatively steady (the most favorable is that of Aram Karapetyan, and the least favorable — that of Artashes Geghamyan). Yet, it should be born in mind here that the quantitative monitoring does not consider the style of the presentation of a piece, the intonations of the author or the presenter — only the content specific context. Whereas traditionally the TV reports on Armenian TV, including the Public Television, vary in their tones a lot. Irony or, on the contrary, respect, even admiration are displayed according to the likes and dislikes of journalists and TV channels.
On the air of private TV companies the President in office is even at greater advantage than on PTA. Thus, "Prometheus" and "Armenia" allocated 8-15 times as much editorial coverage to Robert Kocharyan as to his closest rivals by this dimension. On private air in general the closest rival of the President was Aram Karapetyan, whose pre-elective campaign was most actively covered by "ALM", “Prometheus” and “Shant”. This candidate received sufficient space in editorial pieces and used the paid advertising time actively. Considering the fact that Aram Karapetyan became known to public at large only several months before the elections, his campaign can be described as quite productive.
Unlike the elections of 1998 and 1999 the candidates were not so active in using the opportunities for paid advertising on private TV channels. One of the main reasons for this, in the opinion of the monitoring group, was the coordinated high price quote for political advertising made by five leading private TV companies (“Prometheus”, “Armenia”, “Shant”, "ALM" and "Kentron”). Firstly, 0 per minute on VHFs and 0 — on UHFs were significantly higher than the pricing during the previous elections. Secondly, from the standpoint of commercial rationale it is unclear how the same prices can be quoted by the traditional advertising market leaders "Prometheus" and "Armenia" as well as the newcomers "ALM" and "Kentron". Thirdly, quoting the same prices that the Public Television of Armenia aired all over Armenia did, the private TV companies having a smaller or much smaller broadcast zone pre-determined their inability to compete.
In the opinion on the monitoring group, the initiative of the aforementioned five private broadcasters to limit the political advertising during the election campaign to 80 minutes was ungrounded, too. What was the point of this self-restriction for, say, "Armenia" TV channel if only on February 17 it aired over 200 minutes of editorial coverage on Robert Kocharyan?
Actually, the initiative of the five leading TV companies aimed at self-regulation in election campaign coverage resulted on the one hand in the diminished opportunities of the opposition candidates to compensate through political advertising for the preset and obvious advantage enjoyed by the incumbent President in terms of editorial coverage, on the other — in the minimization of the political advertising revenues of the TV companies themselves. (Hereinafter the possible implicit advertising is not considered.)
The data for Gyumri "Tsayg" TV company are very illustrative in this regard, as this broadcaster, unlike the above mentioned Yerevan channels did not place any restrictions on the advertising time. As a result, "Tsayg" appeared to be the leader among the private broadcasters by the volume of paid advertising services provided during the election campaign. Moreover, the campaign staff of Stepan Demirchyan used twice as much advertising time on the channel as the campaign staff of Robert Kocharyan did. Thus, to a certain extent the approximately the same advantage of the incumbent President in the editorial coverage was compensated.
The uncertainty of the legal regulation affected the activities of "Shirak" public channel (Gyumri). Provision of equal conditions to the candidates for their election campaign coverage, assistance to citizens in making a well-reasoned choice at election time is one of the tasks of the public service broadcasting. This is achieved also by free political advertising. However, neither the RA Law "On Television and Radio", nor the founding documents of "Shirak" do not carry provisions regulating the participation of the channel in the elective campaign. No clarity in the matter was made by the relevant resolution of the Central Electoral Commission of January 15, either. Hence this channel aired neither paid nor free political advertising and the editorial coverage did not pay due attention to any of the candidates but for Robert Kocharyan. Another circumstance related to "Shirak" TV channel could not fail to cause misunderstanding. The editorial air time used several fragments from the advertising materials aired by the Public Television of Armenia, thus misleading the viewers.
The Vanadzor "Interkap" private TV company was passive in covering the pre-elective campaign: during the period of January 21-25 nine of 11 presidency candidates did not get any air time whatsoever to express their views or to have the judgments of other individuals about them aired. In the period of January 26 — February 1 the number of such candidates made six, and during February 2-8 this figure reduced to five. Three candidates during all this time were not even mentioned by "Interkap". It was not until the last days of campaign that the candidates neglected previously did receive coverage, however minimal it was.
As to the balance of positive and negative mentionings on the private TV companies, it is rather uniform for the majority of the candidates. An exception to this is made by the mentionings of Robert Kocharyan, where the positive connotation expressly prevails. (The picture is approximately the same for PTA, yet this included a huge volume of advertising materials, whereas the private companies mostly produced "positive" editorial coverage.)
The distribution of time and mentionings among the candidates is recorded to be the smoothest at Public Radio of Armenia, of all the broadcasters studied under this monitoring.
The print media monitored can be subdivided into three major groups: 1) those supporting the incumbent President; 2) those who had their own candidate, other than Robert Kocharyan; 3) those who supported no one.
The first group traditionally includes two official newspapers "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun" and "Respublika Armenia". The President received much more newspaper space than other candidates and was mentioned in almost half the cases in positive context. Other candidates were mostly mentioned in neutral connotation. Not all the candidates used the advertising space (even that provided free of charge) in these newspapers to which they were entitled — a fact that may be a sign of little belief the politicians have in the promotional potential of these newspapers.
Other (private and partisan) newspapers of pro-Kocharyan direction can also be subdivided into two subgroups: a) those who express their preference of the President in office and are relatively neutral towards their competitors (“Azg”, “Golos Armenii”, “Novoye Vremya”, “Yerkir”); and b) “Hayots Ashkhar”, which, along with this preference, is very critical (signified by the number of negative mentionings) to all other candidates (an exception is made only by Vazgen Manukyan and Aram Harutyunyan, who have a small positive balance of mentionings in this daily).
The second group among the newspapers studied was made of three partisan newspapers: “Iravunk” (supports Aram Karapetyan), “Ayzhm” (supports Vazgen Manukyan) and "Hayastani Communist" (supported first Vladimir Darbinyan, and after his rejection, shifted to Artashes Geghamyan, following the behavior of the Communist Party of Armenia, the publisher of the newspaper), as well as "Orran" that started to openly support Stepan Demirchyan since February 11. Three of the four newspapers mentioned were radically opposing Kocharyan, while "Ayzhm" looked more reticent.
The third group of "non-aligned newspapers" has, however, quite critical attitude to the President in office. Of these, “Ayb-Feh”, “Orran” (classed here till February 11) and "Haikakan Zhamanak" voiced their dislike for Kocharyan quite strongly, while the fourth newspaper in the group — "Aravot" is more reticent. Moreover, it should be noted here that by the end of the campaign the newspapers of this group ("Aravot" — to the least expense) got inclined towards the support of Stepan Demirchyan.
When speaking about the activities of private and partisan newspapers in the course of the current pre-elective campaign, one must have appreciation for their open (and sometimes even declared) orientation towards this or that candidate. This ensures the diversity of print media and, at the same time, allows the readers to know their way in the flow of contradictory information.
As to the regional newspapers, they can be described as having practically no involvement in the elective campaign. Thus, "Kumayri" newspaper of Gyumri during the first three weeks of pre-election campaign had referred to the activities of only four candidates, one of them subsequently "leaving the race", and the second, as the opinion polls show, was not among the leaders of the race. During the last week the coverage was somewhat broader, however this would have hardly made the readers of this publication more aware of the situation. As a rule, Robert Kocharyan was mentioned by this and other regional newspapers in positive context. A reservation must be made here that this attitude is characteristic for them outside the elections, too.
At the same time, "Syunyats Ashkhar" newspaper, published in Kapan and disseminated in Syunik region, was published on January 30 as a special double issue (##2,3) and consisted only of materials of the regional campaign staff of Robert Kocharyan. No notes on the advertising nature of the materials was made in the newspaper. This fact allows to conclude that in the regions were the campaign staffs of the incumbent President initiated cooperation with local newspapers, they became an important propaganda tool of Robert Kocharyan. In all other cases the regional press preferred to keep out of the political debate.
The paid political advertising during the campaign period appeared only in "Aravot", "Iravunk" and "Kumayri" newspapers, in very small volumes. In "Iravunk" the advertising volume proved to be bigger than in other media but it all was utilized by Aram Karapetyan supported by this newspaper. Even if one assumes that implicit advertising is practiced, the conclusion about the low assessment that the candidates have for the promotional potential of print media (not necessarily official ones) is evident."