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Armenian Election Coverage Improves
Grigor Amalyan, head of the National Commission for Television and Radio (Photo: Anna Barseghyan)
Media experts in Armenia say the broadcast media have covered the parliamentary election campaign more fairly than in previous years, while opposition parties have used the internet to get around the ruling parties’ dominance of the television and radio airwaves.
The Yerevan Press Club and the National Commission for Television and Radio, NCTR, have been monitoring broadcast output in Armenia to see how far the various outlets have abided by their obligation to give fair access to all parties.
“Our media have managed to provide conditions for the candidates and political forces taking part in the election. I don’t think they have lacked airtime to get their ideas across to the public,” Grigor Amalyan, head of the NCTR, said. “Proof of this is that the free airtime [allotted to candidates] hasn’t been fully taken up.”
After assessing the amount of paid and free political advertising used by the candidates and parties, as well as the amount of airtime they got during news programming, the NCTR found that channels with links to particular parties tended to favour them over others.
That is where the internet comes in, experts say. When Armenia last held a national election, for the presidency in 2008, under eight per cent of people had internet access. Today the figure is 50 per cent.
“The influence of the internet has risen qualitatively and quantitatively , so that now the electronic media play a more significant role than the press ,” Samvel Martirosyan, a lecturer at the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan, said. “Over the year, a lot of new sources of news have appeared, offering many-sided coverage of the election. The down side is that most of these resources are used as campaigning instruments for specific parties.”
Martirosyan said the video sharing site Youtube and the Facebook social network had become the most influential resources.
“Youtube has been used as the main tool for the campaign, and Facebook as the main arena for it, since Facebook users are the most politically active,” he said. “What’s most important is that all political forces are using social media. Youth movements have circulated campaign literature and taken part in discussions. Famous political figures have turned up as users to add a more human face to their political force.”
Martirosyan said the opposition Heritage Party had made the most successful use of the internet, though its popularity was still lagging behind the Armenian National Congress, another opposition party, and also behind Prosperous Armenia and the Republican Party, both of which are in the current ruling coalition.
The Republicans and Prosperous Armenia benefited from generous amounts of TV airtime. In the first week of official campaigning, the Armenia and Armnews TV stations gave over a disproportionately large amount of space to the former.
The Yerevan Press Club’s monitoring showed that the h2 channel gave the fairest access to all political parties, while apart from Kentron and Yerkir – which favoured political factions associated with them– the rest gave most coverage to the Republican Party. Even on h2, the three ruling coalition members – the Republican Party, Prosperous Armenia and Rule of Law – got the most airtime.
Kentron TV, which is owned by Gagik Tsarukyan, head of Prosperous Armenia and one of Armenia’s richest men, devoted most of its campaign-related airtime to that party.
Arthur Azaryan, head of news programming at Kentron, said the only reason Prosperous Armenia got more coverage was that it did more campaigning than other parties.
“We adopted an equal approach to everyone and actively covered the activities of all parties. Prosperous Armenia… had a little more airtime because the party visited several towns at once,” he said.
Yerkir Media, which has links to the opposition Dashnaktsutyun party, also favoured its own side. Gegham Manukyan, head of news at Yerkir, denied any bias, and said the imbalance happened because other political groups refused to take part in programmes on his channel.
“Nine parties were sent official invitations in writing, but only two accepted them,” he said, adding that the station had worked out how much time each would get if they had taken up the offer.
Media monitoring is likely to continue right through the election. A number of websites have been created – www.irazek.am, www.ditaket.am and www.iditord.org – which invite members of the public to report any electoral violations they spot.
Separately, www.mynews.am was created by the Public Journalism Club. It has 17 citizen journalists who have been trained to report on the polls.
Anna Barseghyan is a journalist with www.media.am, a project of Internews Armenia.
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