Thursday, 8 March 2007

Yerevan Press Club Presented Findings of 7 TV Channel Monitoring in February

On March 7 at “Urbat” Club Yerevan Press Club presented the findings of seven Armenian TV channel monitoring to the journalistic community. The study is administered by YPC before the official promotion campaign for elections to the RA National Assembly. The research is to last two months, February-March 2007, and is implemented under YPC project “Promoting Media Pluralism in Election Year”, supported by OSI Network Media Program. In the report below the findings of the first month are summed up.

This monitoring report covers the period of February 1-28, 2007. The monitoring object were 7 TV channels: the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia, “ALM”, “Armenia”, “Kentron”, Second Armenian TV Channel, “Shant” (Yerevan), “Yerkir-Media”, namely, their daily air from 18.00 to 24.00. The programs that started, but did not end before 18.00 were not studied. The programs that started but did not end before 24.00 were studied completely.

Monitors recorded the references to 34 political parties, most active in Armenia during the recent years, as well as the airtime allocated to them. The party “accounts” also received the portion of references and the airtime given to the representatives of these parties (their statements, speeches, quotations, as well as descriptions of their activities, opinion, and comment about them by other persons). In the cases when representatives of parties appeared as persons in their line of their non-partisan work, profession, etc., and their party affiliation was not stressed, the references and airtime were not recorded.

The airtime, allocated to parties for promotional videos/announcements/materials about their activities, was recorded separately.

The guests invited to interview, “guest in studio” programs throughout February were also listed separately.

Along with the quantitative monitoring, the legislation, the overall media situation, statements of media representatives about their work during the pre-election period were analyzed.

Since the RA legislation does not precisely regulate the political promotion and the editorial coverage of the party activities outside the official promotional campaign (for the elections to the RA National Assembly in 2007- since April 8 till May 10), the monitoring findings presented do not aim to reveal the law infringements.

The purpose of the study is to define: 1) how comprehensive the information provided to the TV audience about the political spectrum and the activities of parties ahead of elections is; 2) whether equal opportunities are ensured for all parties to present their political views and platforms.

“Kentron” TV channel was most active in covering the pre-election political situation: it allocated most airtime to different parties. It is followed by “Yerkir-Media”, the Second Armenian TV Channel, the PTA First Channel and “Shant”. “Kentron” and “Yerkir-Media" are also distinguished for their big number of current affairs programs and the diversity of the politicians and other public figures interviewed. The least interest to politics was demonstrated in February by “Armenia” TV channel: since early 2007 it gave up a whole number of current affairs programs, also of “guest in studio” type. Throughout the month the TV channel only made an exception for the RA Minister of Defense and the Chairman of the Council of Republican Party of Armenia Serge Sargsian.

“ALM” TV channel holds a particular position here, because, on the one hand, it gave the most airtime to politics, but on the other, this was achieved by exceptional attention to the activities and the stance of the TV company owner Tigran Karapetian, also the head of the Popular Party. The Popular Party received 85.5% of “ALM” political air.

Owing to the attention by this TV channel the Popular Party has a huge advantage over the remaining parties in terms of the airtime allocated to it and its leader on all 7 TV channels (78,263 sec.). At the same time 98% of the aggregate airtime given to the Popular Party is accounted for by “ALM”. Besides, the Popular Party used the air of this channel for a number of announcements (3,924 sec.). “ALM” was the only TV channel in February, whose paid political air was used by a party - the United Labor Party, similarly to the previous months, placed its programs here.

Among the leaders in terms of attention received from the TV channels is “Dashnaktsutiun” party (29,938 sec.), “Prosperous Armenia” (24,559 sec.), Republican Party of Armenia (22,630 sec.). These are the two parties, making up the basis of the ruling coalition as well as the party (“Prosperous Armenia”) that started campaigning earlier than others and most actively, and, judging by the composition of its governing body, also quite close to the authorities. Rather distanced from them - for a party, represented by a parliament faction and membering in the ruling coalition - was the United Labor Party (3,929 sec.). However, this party, to a significant extent, compensated these modest figures by the active use of paid air (being 3.5 times more than the editorial coverage of the party on 7 TV channels).

Judging from what journalists themselves say, the disproportion in the attention of the TV channels to the parties in most cases is due to the following factors: the political weight of the party, the competence of its leaders and their readiness for contacts with media on a broad scope of issues, the influence of parties on certain TV channels and their owners, the availability of financial resources and activeness in conducting pre-election events.

The First Channel of the Public TV of Armenia, having a particular mission in accordance with its status, distributed the attention to the parties mostly in close correspondence with their current position in the political arena (in particular, with their representation in the parliament): Republican Party of Armenia (6,038 sec.), “Orinats Yerkir” party (3,214 sec.), “Dashnaktsutiun” (3,127 sec.), People’s Party of Armenia (1,810 sec.), “National Unity” (1,780 sec.). There is, however, one significant exception to this rule that will be discussed below.

Considering the findings of February 2007, the claims of the most oppositional parties over the TV air being closed for them do not have sufficient grounds. Immediately after the leading four (in terms of aggregate TV air allocated on 7 TV channels) the opposition parties come - “Orinats Yerkir” (16,230 sec.), “Constitutional Right” Union (10,739 sec.) - it should be noted though that the result for CRU is not so much a proof of interest towards this party as such, but rather the consequence of an in-party scandal, reaching its peak in February. These are followed by People’s Party of Armenia (9,593 sec.), National Democratic Alliance (8,152 sec.), Armenian National Movement (8,061 sec.), “National Unity” (6,680 sec.).

At the same time, the findings for February give reason to speak about a certain discrimination of all the TV channels studied against three opposition political parties: “Republic”, “Heritage” and “New Times”. To a lesser extent this statement is true for “Republic” party and “Yerkir-Media” and “Kentron” TV channels.

The first of these parties was one of the main founders of “Ardarutiun”, the biggest opposition bloc and parliament faction, it includes a number of former senior officials of the country. The second is headed by the first Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, whose political rating, according to the Gallup polls of 2006, is quite high. The leader of the third was a presidential candidate at elections of 2003, becoming the fourth in terms of the votes gained. All these three parties during the recent years remained acting political structures. In other words, there is every reason to pay attention to them before elections.

However, 7 channels studied (this fully refers to the PTA First Channel, too) displayed either zero or little interest to these three parties. Their activities were either not covered at all, or were seldom and minimally referred to; their events, press conferences were little reported on, the representatives of these parties were never interviewed.

Similar approach is present also in the case of a number of non-governmental organizations, active in electoral process, in issues of democratic reforms in general and not avoiding criticism of authorities. This state of affairs, similarly to the process of price definition for pre-election advertising by the TV companies, gives an impression of a coordinated policy.

Source: YPC Newsletter
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