On March 14 at Urbat Club YPC presented the results of monitoring Armenian broadcast media coverage ahead of elections to RA National Assembly 2012.
In the duration of one month – from November 16 to December 15, 2011, Yerevan Press Club has carried out monitoring of the coverage by Armenian broadcast media of the activities of Armenian political parties throughout the period preceding the official pre-election promotion.
SELECTION of the monitoring time was conditioned by the fact that traditionally non-official election campaign starts in Armenia significantly earlier than the one month period assigned for pre-election promotion. The behavior of media, especially TV channels, which have the largest audience, to a high extent determines the mood of the electorate. Research like this allows to identify the role of Armenian TV and radio broadcasters in the political processes, as well as problems existing in the sphere of regulation of the activities of broadcast media. The current monitoring helped Yerevan Press Club to prepare better for studying the role of media on the most active stage of the election campaign, immediately preceding the day of voting.
The monitoring included 6 national TV channels – First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia (H1), “Armenia”, “Yerkir Media”, “Kentron”, Second Armenian TV Channel (H2), “Shant”; one Yerevan TV channel – “Shoghakat” (this channel was chosen because it is a part of Public TV and Radio Company and as such has a special mission); as well as Public Radio of Armenia. Main editions of news programs and main current affairs/discussion programs broadcast at the evening airtime (18.00-01.00) at the above-mentioned TV and radio channels were studied.
The object of the monitoring were pieces, which included references to those 14 political parties and movements, which either have expressed their intention to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections, or currently hold an active position in the political life of the country. Connotations of the references to the parties/movements as well as the airtime allocated to them by the media studied were also recorded. (See the monitoring methodology in YPC Report, Chapter “General Information on Monitoring”.)
THROUGHOUT the month of the monitoring the largest amount of attention to political parties was given by “Kentron” TV channel, its share of the coverage formed more than a quarter of the respective total airtime of all programs studied on 8 channels (hereafter for the quantitative results of the monitoring see the YPC Report tables). It was closely followed by “Yerkir Media” TV channel. In terms of the airtime amount devoted to the activities of the parties Public Radio occupied a distant third place. However, Public Radio was the leader with regard to the frequency of references to the parties. Leadership in this regard, combined with the relative lagging behind in terms of the coverage volume, is explained by the fact that the public radio airtime studied consisted exclusively of news pieces.
“Shoghakat” remained loyal to its profile – a TV channel of spiritual and cultural orientation. There were no references to political parties/movements within its programs studied.
“Shoghakat” excluded, “Armenia” and “Shant” channels were the ones that paid the least attention to internal political processes ahead of the elections, both in terms of airtime volume and frequency of references.
ACCORDING TO the cumulative indicators of all 8 channels studied, in terms of media attention leaders were the five parliamentary parties – Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), “Bargavach Hayastan”/“Prosperous Armenia”, “Zharangutiun”/“Heritage”, Armenian Revolutionary Federation “Dashnaktsutiun”, “Orinats Yerkir”, as well as the Armenian National Congress (ANC); RPA being the obvious leader. Other political forces, coverage of which was subject of the monitoring, both in terms of airtime amount and frequency of references, substantially lagged behind “the big six”. Among those lagging behind was also the People’s Party: the leader of this party in near past had been also the owner of the “ALM” TV channel, which gave exclusive attention to this party. But since January 21, 2011 “ALM” stopped broadcasting as a result of one of the digital broadcast licensing competitions, summed up in December 2010.
Interest towards different political forces, including those that were the leaders according to the cumulative indicators of all media studied, significantly varies from channel to channel. Throughout the period of the monitoring, attention to various political forces from “the big six” was the most balanced on First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia and in the programs of Public Radio. At the same time, First Channel practically ignored all other political parties. Taking into account the cumulative frequency of references to parties on Public Radio, the interest of this broadcaster to political forces outside of “the big six” can also be qualified as minimal. Second Armenian TV Channel in a quite balanced way distributed its coverage between the five parliamentary parties, but with regard to other political forces, including ANC, either showed limited interest or ignored them completely. The approach of “Shant” was even more selective: on this channel within the programs studied attention was focused on three parties – RPA, “Prosperous Armenia” and “Heritage”.
On five out of seven studied TV channels, which covered the activities of political parties, it was RPA that became the leader in terms of references, moreover on PTA First Channel and on “Armenia” its advantage was substantial both in terms of references, frequency and the airtime volume. On Second Armenian TV Channel and on “Shant” the Republicans faced competition from “Prosperous Armenia”: while it lagged somewhat behind on both channels in terms of frequency of references, it received almost the same airtime volume as RPA on Second Armenian TV Channel and, even though slightly, but was ahead of the Republicans on “Shant” with regard to that indicator. On Public Radio the closest to RPA, though still far behind, was ANC, both in terms of references frequency and airtime volume. This, again, can be explained by the specifics of this channel, which does not have current affairs/discussion programs and where a news program became the object of the monitoring: Armenian National Congress provided quite numerous news occasions for event-based coverage.
On “Kentron” TV channel “Prosperous Armenia” party was in the center of attention, and on “Yerkir Media” it was ARF “Dashnaktsutiun”. This fact, as well as the already mentioned situation with the People’s Party and the closed “ALM”, is another evidence of the advantages in the media coverage enjoyed by those political forces, which are directly connected to certain TV channels. Even the Republican Party, which dominates in the government structures and has numerous leverages of influence upon broadcasters, cannot compete with these political forces for attention on “their” specific channels. Both on “Kentron” and on “Yerkir Media” RPA occupied the 2nd place, significantly lagging behind the leaders. The 3rd place (with regard to references frequency) on these channels was taken by “Heritage”, probably as a result of its public activity, both within and outside the parliament.
ABOUT 10% of all references of the channels studied contained a certain connotation (positive or negative) regarding some political parties/movements. Based on the experience of similar studies in Armenia and abroad, it is possible to say that this indicator is traditionally quite high for the period preceding the pre-election promotion. Thus, the issue of professional and unbiased coverage of internal political processes is quite pressing for Armenian broadcasters. At the same time, there were over 5 times more references with positive connotations than those with negative ones (causes for that will be analyzed below).
From the point of view of connotational references, the most balanced (unbiased) coverage of political forces was observed on Public Radio (1.3% of the total references on the channel). Also the coverage was quite balanced on “Yerkir Media” (2.7%). Indicator below the above-mentioned 10% barrier was recorded also on PTA First Channel (7.3%). The highest percentage of connotational references was registered on “Shant” (28.3%). The next ones on this scale are Second Armenian TV Channel (22.2%), “Armenia” (13.4%) and “Kentron” (13.3%). The channels studied in most cases covered the same events in the internal political life of Armenia, therefore the nature of coverage was conditioned not by the situation or by the events of public importance, but by the willingness of the media to abide by professional principles, and, especially in the case of Armenian broadcasters, their right to independently determine their editorial policy.
The highest number of connotational references was “collected” by “Prosperous Armenia”: 43 (or 25.6% of the aggregate number of references to this party), out of which 42 were positive. The most frequent positive coverage of “Prosperous Armenia” was on “Kentron” (23 or 36.5% of the total number of references of the channel to that party). RPA had 21 connotational references on all channels studied (8.3% of the aggregate number of references), out of which 19 were positive. The most frequent positive references to this party were observed on PTA First Channel (7) and on “Armenia” (6). “Orinats Yerkir” party received 13 positive and no negative references (15.7% of the aggregate number of references): 8 – on Second Armenian TV Channel and 5 – on “Armenia”. Thus, these three parties, which form the ruling coalition, received 74 out of all 76 positive references recorded in the course of the monitoring on all channels studied.
The overwhelming majority (over 80%) of positive references to “Prosperous Armenia” were observed in pieces telling about charity acts and events organized by the party. Almost all positive references to “Orinats Yerkir” were in news stories about meetings of this party with voters in various regions of Armenia. In both cases different TV channels showed pieces that were identical or had very little differences. Based on this fact, it is possible to suggest that these pieces are not editorial coverage of events, but hidden political promotion, which is carried out on conditions contradicting RA legislation. Moreover, such opportunities are mostly available for pro-government parties. Cases like this raise once again the issue of deliberately unequal conditions for political parties and the necessity of clear normative and legal regulation, as well as monitoring of their implementation not only throughout the short period of pre-election promotion, but also throughout the non-official election campaign, i.e., during the several months before the elections.
Of the opposition parties “Heritage” received 7 connotational references. Of these 6 were negative, related to the reaction of the RA President Serzh Sargsian to the appeal by the leader of “Heritage” Raffi Hovannisian to hold fair elections. ANC received 5 connotational references and all of them were negative (3 times on “Kentron” and 2 times on Public Radio). “Dashnaktsutiun” had 1 positive and no negative reference. It is noteworthy that in the monitored programs of “Yerkir Media” not a single positive reference to the party was observed, despite the large volume of airtime allocated to “Dashnaktsutiun”.
A SEPARATE component of the monitoring was the recording of the participants of programs in “guest-in-studio” format, which was aired on all channels studied during evening airtime. In general, the choice of the guests was an evidence of a quite limited interest of the broadcasters to internal political struggle in the run-up to the elections. The only exception was “Yerkir-Media”, where politicians, representing different political forces, regularly appeared in discussion programs. To somewhat lesser extent attention to internal political issues was given by “Kentron”, which also presented different positions to the audience, and by PTA First Channel. The latter showed a certain lack of balance in terms of choice of guests: though one of the two party representatives invited during the month represented the opposition (ANC), four acting government ministers, also taking part in the programs, created relative advantage for pro-government forces.
Programs in “guest-in-studio” format on other channels, including Public Radio, either did not pay attention to the pre-election internal political situation, or paid minimal attention.
It should be noted that since March 1 Yerevan Press Club continues monitoring the coverage of the May 6, 2012 elections to RA National Assembly by Armenian broadcast media. The study is implemented under YPC project supported by OSCE Office in Yerevan. The monitoring is conducted within two stages: the first stage covers the period of March 1-31, 2012 (ahead of pre-election promotion); the second stage covers the period of April 8 – May 4, 2012 (pre-election promotion).
The video on YPC monitoring results’ presentation, made by “A1+” TV company on March 14 , 2012, watch here