Monday, 21 January 2008

Balanced media coverage marks Day 1 of presidential election campaign in Armenia

I am referring here to TV stations – the most accessible and mainstream media in Armenia. For the first time in years, Armenians witnessed what should have been something routine and unexceptional – balanced media coverage. There was no need to wait for 7pm (Radio Liberty) or morning newspapers (although both means are important and invaluable) to learn non-biased news on election campaign of opposition candidates or witness balanced coverage.

This was particularly true for former Armenian president, current presidential hopeful Levon Ter-Petrosyan who is considered the main challenger of ruling regime and whose informal pre-election campaign so far attracted more negative than even neutral coverage:

"In December on the Armenian air the negative references to the first RA President Levon Ter-Petrosian continue to dominate. In other words, during the last month of 2007 the unprecedented phenomenon, recorded in November, continued when the share of neutral editorial coverage of an Armenian politician quantitatively fell behind that of negative: 103 negative references to Levon Ter-Petrosian versus 100 neutral ones and 4 positive ones. At the same time the share of negative ones in the total number of references has somewhat gone down in December - 49.8% versus 58.7% - in November. "

Another presidential hopeful Artur Baghdasaryan was complaining of unofficial boycott imposed towards his campaign and persona by Armenian TV channels, which are overwhelmingly under government influence and control.

Anyway, today was a different story - Armenian media behaved as it should have behaved always. If it only continues this trend over the whole election period and beyond... Media monitoring by international and local agencies played important role in putting pressure on government and Public TV via mainly European/US influential bodies, and is as vital as ever to ensure continuous fair coverage of presidential campaign.


Onnik said...

I guess it's just a pity that papers such as Ter-Petrossian's and Pashinian's Haykakan Zhamanak have become the dirtiest of them all, while elsewhere, professional editors in opposition newspapers are being fired because they're not pumping out enough propaganda for the former president.

Meanwhile, RFE/RL's coverage, especially on its English-language website, is pro-Ter-Petrossian and very biased against other candidates, especially those that talk out about the former president.

Yes, I truly hope the int. bodies are monitoring the situation because it should and does work both ways.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Incidentally, it's only day one of the pre-election campaign, and yes, while I know Ter-Petrossian couldn't wait for yesterday and started campaigning in September (had this been Serge or another candidate, people would have been screaming foul), I wonder what makes people think Ter-Petrossian is the main challenger.

So far at least, I am amazed that I hear even Heritage supporters say they'll vote for Serge to prevent Levon from returning to power. If this is to be a democratic election, like Raffi Hovannisian (thank god), we should wait until nearer the end of the campaign.

Not doing so, and pushing Ter-Petrossian without any supporting evidence (and there is none), is the pretty much trying to influence proceedings, in my opinion. Somewhat interestingly, it was as much the pro-government media doing that as well.

While some say Ter-Petrossian's candidacy will simply legitimize Serge's re-election, of course, I suppose it doesn't matter. If the opposition, inc. ARF-D, do not unite around a common candidate, it is unlikely so far that Serge will lose anyhow. That's especially why we need proper reporting on all sides.

As it is, there's been too much bad reporting on both sides, but at least the pro-government media is playing by the rules now. Let's hope the opposition press, inc. RFE/RL, now start to play by the rules as well.

artmika said...

I would not worry much about RFE/RL, their Armenian language page (which is more important) is OKish, and radio per se is OKish too. I hear their programmes regularly, not ideal of course, but reasonably good considering circumstances. In any case, they were always sort of more pro-opposition, which is not how independent media should be in normal circumstances, but in Armenia where till yesterday opposition representatives either did not get access to Public TV channels or got very negative and biased reflections, I can see the reasoning why they would allow more time in sounding pro-opposition views. When Levon was president, they were sounding pro-opposition too, for the same reasons, and not infrequently got into troubles.

What we are lacking is a network of reasonably independent media, because you can’t expect from media affiliated with political parties, whether pro-opposition or pro-governmental, to be objective, but it’s good that they exist, it’s just we need more independent ones. There are no strict rules for party-linked media during campaign (as far as I am aware). What is more important is to ensure that Public TV an radio strictly follow the rules. Of course, it would be nice to see others following more ethical campaign, but ‘dirty tricks’ are widespread in all countries, including the most democratic. It’s just they have other independent media as an alternative.

Re the main challenger. I think there are 2 main reasons why Ter-Petrosyan is considered as such, despite all opinion polls. First, his potential (intellectual etc) to challenge. But the other main reason is because, as you also mentioned, from the first day when he declared his presidential ambitions, everyone, whether pro-governmental or pro-opposition, started concentrating on him, started campaigning against him, instead of campaigning for themselves or involving into their campaign other candidates too. Thus, what we have now - despite a number of candidates, essentially bi-polar campaign.

Onnik said...

Not a good situation at all.

Here's my take:

nazarian said...

It's really amazing that people know about past rigged elections, murders and such, the today's repressive environment in media and vote buying, and yet promote Serj Sargsian.

It's simply incomprehensible.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Nazarian, firstly, I do not support Serge. However, i do not support Levon Ter-Petrossian either and am fed up to the hilt of people re-inventing him.

Funny you should mention rigged elections, media repression, assassinations, and so on. Levon and his people did all that first, right, and usually on a far larger scale.

Even shut down RFE/RL as well as the ARF-D until Kocharian brought them back. Funny old world, but alarming how history is being re-written or conveniently forgotten in radical opposition and HHSh circles.

nazarian said...

Onnik, I did not specifically mean you.

I was referring to the Jarangutyun people who you mention a lot who do not want LTP and will vote for SS.

There are far better candidates out there than SS. Take Arthur Baghdassarian for a moment. His ideas are far better than what you see SS mumble on TV. Plus, he had the balls to go against the regime in 2004.

Or Vazgen Manukian. Even though I think he is a spent shell casing but if I were to choose between him and SS, I would choose him.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Nazarian, then it's all just a matter of choice. You would choose anyone but Serge whereas they would choose anyone but Levon.

This is the paradox of the presidential election in Armenia.

artmika said...

OSCE Deplores ‘Excessive’ TV Coverage Of Sarkisian (RFE/RL):

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized Armenia’s leading broadcasters on Wednesday for what they described as a tendentious coverage of the presidential election campaign favoring Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian.

They said most major local TV channels provided disproportionate amounts of airtime to Sarkisian and showed strong bias against one of his eight challengers, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, in the week preceding the official start of campaigning for the February 19 election.

The criticism was contained in the first interim report issued by the election observation mission deployed by the OSCE’s Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

“During the monitoring period before the start of the official campaign (11-20 January), most of the broadcast media including public television demonstrated a clear imbalance in their coverage of the prospective candidates,” read the report.

“The amount of time received by Mr. Sarkisian, on privately owned H2, Kentron, Shant and Armenia TV, even taking into account the execution of his official duties, exceeded what could be reasonably considered appropriate,” it said, referring to the country’s four largest private networks.

“The other eight candidates received some coverage on most of the TV stations monitored,” added the OSCE/ODIHR mission. “However, in contrast to the almost exclusively positive or neutral coverage afforded to Serzh Sarkisian, Levon Ter-Petrosian was regularly portrayed in a negative light.”

The report echoed the findings of similar monitoring conducted by the Yerevan Press Club, a local media freedom watchdog, in recent months. The YPS has faulted the government-controlled electronic media for aggressively promoting Sarkisian’s presidential bid and showing “unprecedented” bias against Ter-Petrosian. The broadcasters have dismissed the criticism.

The OSCE observers said the state-run Armenian Public Radio was “more balanced” than the TV channels in its coverage of the presidential race. They also noted that daily Armenian-language news programs of RFE/RL “included greater diversity in their coverage of the nominees, including presenting Serzh Sarkisian and Levon Ter-Petrosian in positive, negative and neutral tones.”

artmika said...

My observations (direct and indirect via family/friends in Yerevan) from subsequent days of the election campaign indicate that while all presidential hopefuls have access to the Public TV (requirement of the law) and their campaign is being covered by TV channels, in general, the coverage by news programmes of Public TV can no longer be considered quite as "neutral" as required by law and as witnessed during the first day of the election campaign. I am sure media observers will point it out within their subsequent monitoring reports.

ArmeniaNow published relevant article today:

TV or Not TV: Air time hardly reaches “neutral” in Decision 2008

artmika said...

...even Armenian Ombudsmen agrees re bias of Public TV in Armenia:

Human Rights Defender of Armenia discontent with the coverage of the pre-election campaign by the Public TV

February 8, 2008
Yerevan /Mediamax/.

Armenian Human Rights Defender Armen Harutiunian sated today that he is discontent with the coverage of the pre-election campaign of the Public TV (PTV).

Mediamax reports that Armen Harutiunian stated that the Public TV does not secure pluralism of opinions and demonstrates certain bias towards certain presidential candidates.

The Ombudsman expressed hope that his statement will influence the further work of the PTV, and the marked phenomena will be corrected in the nearest future.


A1+ have more details:

In reply to A1+'s question whether the Ombudsman can safeguard human rights when they are already violated /TV Companies show biased attitude with regard to information dissemination/, Armen Harutiunian said, “This is really a most important question. As a human rights defender I am discontent with the coverage of the pre-election campaign by Public TV Company H1. I must say that the policy of private TV Companies greatly differs from that of the public one. Public TV Companies should guarantee diversity of opinions all over the world. Very often, H1 flies to extremes. Reporters answer this or that political figure, whereas their main mission is to provide impartial coverage of news. Human rights are violated from this point of view.”

And what about progress?

“They seem to be taking measures to bring coverage to equilibrium. But it is not enough. If we want this country to prosper we must speak frankly. Partiality should be ignored. Presently, we are studying the European Convention on Human Rights which stipulates that people should be given freedom to make a choice. ”

To note, the Ombudsman has already got letter-complaints about election bribes, passport data compilation and other infringements.


artmika said...

TV Coverage Of Sarkisian Rallies Raises Questions