On January 16, 2013 in Yerevan, at Henaran Club YPC presented the interim report (October 1 – December 15, 2012) on the first stage of monitoring the Armenian broadcast media coverage of RA presidential elections in 2013.
THE MONITORING of Armenian broadcast media coverage of RA presidential elections in 2013 is implemented by Yerevan Press Club. Assistance to this research is 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 is conducted within two stages: the first stage covered the period of October 1 – December 15, 2012 (ahead of pre-election promotion); the second stage will cover the period of the official election campaign.
THE RESEARCH included 6 national TV channels – the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia (H1), “Armenia”, “Yerkir Media”, “Kentron”, Second Armenian TV Channel (H2), “Shant”; one 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 and "ArmRadio FM 107" radio channel.
On the first stage of the monitoring of the presidential elections coverage on the abovementioned TV and radio channels, all programmes of the evening airtime were studied (from 18.00 to 01.00), excluding political, commercial and social advertising. In the news/news and comment programmes all the cases of appearances of representatives of executive power or political parties were recorded; in discussion programmes (“guest-in-studio” format) all guests were recorded, and in all programmes references to potential presidential candidates were recorded (including the attitude to these candidates in the context of their possible advancement).
Monitoring of the Armenian broadcast media coverage of political parties and potential presidential candidates during the period preceding the pre-election promotion is conditioned by the fact that usually the unofficial election campaign starts much sooner in Armenia than the one-month period of official election campaign preceding the voting day. The behaviour of the media during this period, especially the TV channels, which have the widest audience, to a large extent, defines the preferences of the electorate. Nevertheless, the activities of the media during the months, preceding the start of the pre-election promotion, are not regulated by the electoral legislation in any way, and only to a small extent receive attention of the international observers. Such researches allow to understand better the role of Armenian TV and radio channels in the political processes and to explore the problems that exist in the regulation of the broadcast media.
THE FIRST STAGE OF THE RESEARCH allows us to make the conclusion that in general the Armenian broadcast media have not manifested discrimination and explicit bias towards political forces or potential presidential candidates. At the same time, it cannot be stated that they have provided due assistance to the Armenian voters in order to help them to comprehend the situation prior to the nomination of presidential candidates. The cause for this was not so much the work of the broadcasters themselves, as the specific internal political situation in the run-up to the presidential elections.
Only two out of six political parties, represented in the RA National Assembly, have their own candidates, and one of them acts as a self-nominated candidate. Three out of six parliamentary political forces, including those that have the second, third and fourth largest parliamentary factions, not only do not have their own candidates, but also have not supported any of the nominated candidates. Moreover, their position regarding the participation in elections became clear only 55-67 days before voting. Five out of eight registered presidential candidates either do not represent any of the Armenian political parties, or represent parties, which have not played a significant role in the political life of the country during the recent years. Such a list of candidates, naturally, did not contribute to a meaningful coverage of “the profiles” of the presidential candidates in advance. Moreover, the media were focused not so much on the suggested programmes and positions but rather on the anticipation of decisions by leading political players regarding their nomination as candidates.
IN SUCH A SITUATION DESCRIBED BY UNCLEAR INTENTIONS OF POLITICAL FORCES, the monitored media were forced to focus on quite a large group of potential candidates. Throughout October 1 to December 15, 41 citizens of Armenia were mentioned in the studied media as potential candidates (hereafter for the quantitative data of the monitoring see the YPC Interim Report tables at http://www.ypc.am/media_research/ln/eng). In terms of frequency of references in the news/news and comment programmes, the political figures who were later registered as candidates occupied in the list respectively the 1st place (President of Armenia Serzh Sargsian), 4th place (leader of the “Heritage” party Raffi Hovannisian), 7th place (specialist of epic poetry Vardan Sedrakian), 8th place (leader of “National Self-Determination” Union Paruyr Hayrikian), 19th place (leader of the “Liberty” party Hrant Bagratian), 25th place (former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mountainous Karabagh Arman Melikian), and 28th place (leader of the “National Accord” party Aram Harutiunian). Before December 15, the eighth candidate Andrias Ghukasian, Director of Radio “Hay”, has not appeared as a potential candidate at all. It is worth noting that in the second half of the studied period (November 21 – December 15) the leader of “Prosperous Armenia” party Gagik Tsarukian was ahead of all the other potential candidates in terms of frequency of references, and his name ultimately did not appear on the list of candidates for the post of the head of state.
Of all the references to potential candidates in the news coverage those 8 that would ultimately take part in the struggle for the presidential seat received only 43%. Moreover, in the second half of the period studied (November 21 – December 15) this index was even lower, 38.6%, although it would be logical to expect that as the elections were getting closer, the situation would become more clear.
Roughly, a similar picture was observed in terms of appearances of the parties in news/news and comment programmes. Representatives of those parties, which by the time of registration had decided who their candidates were, appeared in the air two times less frequently (41.1%) than those who did not support any of the candidates.
In other words, the major part of broadcasters’ attention to potential candidates was received by those who later were not nominated. To a certain extent this can be explained by specific interest of the media towards those parties and politicians, who were not able to make a decision regarding participation in the elections. Whatever the reasons, as a consequence of the situation that emerged, the role of the media in preparing the audience, i.e., the citizens of Armenia to the elections, was limited in October-December 2012.
THE LARGEST AMOUNT OF ATTENTION to political forces and potential candidates within the studied period was given by “ArmNews”, followed by Public Radio of Armenia, “ArmRadio”, “Kentron” and “Yerkir Media”. The least amount of attention was given by “Shant” and “Armenia” TV channels. Second Armenian TV Channel and PTA First Channel were on the middle ranks of the table on “political activeness” of the media studied. Taking into account that 6 out of 7 TV channels studied (except “ArmNews”) have similar broadcasting licenses, the differences in the quantitative indicators of their attention to pre-election processes (e.g., “Yerkir Media” differed from “Shant” by an order of magnitude more) are a manifestation of the fact that there are problems in the field of regulation of the broadcasting sphere in Armenia.
Five political forces were in the centre of attention of Armenian broadcasters: Republican Party of Armenia, “Prosperous Armenia” party, Armenian National Congress, Armenian Revolutionary Federation- Dashnaktsutyun and “Heritage” party. The sixth political force, represented in the Armenian parliament, “Orinats Yerkir” party, received substantially less attention than the leading five did. Various degrees of attention to parliamentary parties can be explained by the level of expectation of interesting developments in the electoral behaviour of the parties.
The distribution of attention towards the above-mentioned five parties can be described as relatively balanced. At the same time, the frequent appearances of representatives of executive power in news/news and comment programmes (6,337 times against 4,874 times of appearances of representatives of all parties altogether) is a sign of information advantage of the ruling coalition before the elections.
Armenia’s incumbent President Serzh Sargsian was mentioned more often than other potential candidates were. He was the leader both in news/news and comment programmes (565 references), as well as in discussion (42) and other programmes (23). In terms of cumulative number of references, he was followed by leader of “Prosperous Armenia” party Gagik Tsarukian (436, 32 and 5, respectively). Then “Heritage” leader Raffi Hovannisian comes (284, 32 and 14). Armenia’s first President Levon Ter-Petrosian was mentioned more often than Raffi Hovannisian in news/news and comment programmes (288 times), but lagged behind him in discussion (17) and other (9) programmes. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Vardan Oskanian was mentioned in the programmes of the above-mentioned three types 162, 13 and 2 times, respectively. Armenia’s second President Robert Kocharian – 136 times in news, 4 – in discussion and none in other programmes. Moreover, the frequency of references to the latter two, especially Vardan Oskanian, started diminishing during the second period of the study (November 21 – December 15). This can be explained by the focus on Gagik Tsarukian as a potential candidate from “Prosperous Armenia” and the falling interest towards other protégés of that party (this also explains the fewer attention by the media to the criminal case against Vardan Oskanian, hence the former head of the foreign ministry was referred to more rarely). And on the contrary, in the end of November and first half of December references to potential candidates Vardan Sedrakian and Paruyr Hayrikian became more frequent. Throughout the studied period they were mentioned 71 (58, 4 and 9) and 66 (56, 7 and 3) times, respectively. Moreover, the attention to the personality of Vardan Sedrakian was to a large extent a consequence of the fact that he became a peculiar symbol of nomination of previously unknown personalities as candidates for the presidential post.
According to the amount of statements for and against their candidacies in the period studied, Serzh Sargsian, Raffi Hovannisian and Levon Ter-Petrosian were distinguished. However, if in case of the first two figures the media mostly reflected supportive statements, while in case of the Armenia’s first President negative attitude was more frequent in the air: in case of Serzh Sargsian – 61 for and 9 against, Raffi Hovannisian – 28 and 1, Levon Ter-Petrosian – 4 and 18. Support to the nomination of the incumbent President was manifested mostly by Public Radio of Armenia, “ArmRadio”, Second Armenian TV Channel and “ArmNews”. Favourable attitude to the leader of “Heritage” was reflected in the air of “ArmNews”, “Yerkir Media” and Public Radio of Armenia. Statements against the candidacy of the Armenia’s first President were most frequent on Public Radio of Armenia.
Highest degree of neutrality, judging from the number of statements for/against a certain candidacy, was manifested by “Shant” and PTA First Channel. In that respect, “Armenia” TV channel is close to them. It is characteristic that the most neutral coverage was observed on the broadcasters, which manifested relatively weak interest to the pre-election situation in general.
THE STUDY OF THE LIST OF PARTICIPANTS OF DISCUSSION PROGRAMMES, of “guest-in- studio” format, during the first stage of the monitoring allows making a preliminary conclusion that the pre-election discussions have so far not become a priority for the majority of the media studied. In those cases when they actually referred to the presidential elections, they tried to provide opportunities for expressing various positions. However, the stress was made on the forecast of the political situation development and circumstantial conflicts, rather than on urgent issues and content of the upcoming campaign. Probably, the only exception is provided by “Yerkir Media” and "ArmRadio", which time after time raised issues that the public expects to be solved by the future head of state.
The full YPC Interim Report for October 1 – December 15, 2012, as well as the previous report for October 1 – November 20, 2012 are available at http://www.ypc.am/media_research/ln/eng.