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March 7, 2007

ACNIS Monitors Pre-Election Media Coverage

Yerevan—Today the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) convened a policy roundtable in order to present the preliminary results of its monitoring of the Armenian print and electronic media, which was conducted in advance of the parliamentary elections scheduled for May 12. The meeting brought together NGO officials, leading analysts, policy specialists, and media representatives.

ACNIS director of research Stepan Safarian opened the conference with a remark that since the beginning of the year a specialized monitoring group, constituted within the ACNIS framework to observe the pre-electoral situation in Armenia, has launched a four-month project to analyze local television and print media coverage specifically with respect to the forthcoming elections. The monitoring results, he asserted, will periodically be provided to all major political forces, civil initiatives, and the resident offices of international non-governmental organizations and human rights groups. “The objective of this examination is to bring to light the public opinion being shaped via Armenia’s print and electronic media with reference to the parliamentary elections, and to evaluate the competitive abilities of those who seek to be influential during the election cycle,” he said.

According to Safarian, the first monitoring, conducted by means of content analysis, covers the country’s best-known television programs as well as its most-read daily newspapers. The study encompasses all information disseminated about the leaders of major political parties, the quality of the public opinion being formed about them, the frequency of airtime, and other aspects. Safarian then proceeded to present the initial results of the television monitoring, which will soon be made public in final form. “The television companies appeared mostly to be instruments in, rather than actual mirrors of, election-related developments, and their prime target consistently was the opposition,” Safarian concluded.

The next speaker, ACNIS analyst Syuzanna Barseghian, presented the results for the monitoring of the print media. She placed emphasis on the most-read newspapers, and maintained that the overwhelming majority of the articles and analyses concerning the elections is either negative or neutral. “In general, virtually all print media depicted the upcoming elections in negative fashion, with the net effect of disenchanting voters who already hold a passive attitude toward the elections,” she said.

“Recent disagreements within the opposition were used by many of the media under scrutiny with the intention of weakening and discrediting the latter and deepening public dissatisfaction with the opposition,” the analyst said, adding that the print and electronic media either covered the opposition’s initiatives with bias or, as was more often the case, did not mention them at all. On the contrary and in evident violation of the Election Code, the activities of pro-establishment parties were covered, by and large, against a positive backdrop for the ongoing pre-election processes.

Participants in the ensuing discussion included Armenia’s first Ombudswoman Larisa Alaverdian; chairman Mikael Danielian of the Armenian Helsinki Association; Elina Poghosbekian of the Yerevan Press Club; ACNIS director of administration Karapet Kalenchian; political scientist Aleksandr Iskandarian; Edward Antinian, deputy chairman of the Liberal Progressive Party; Arsen Kharatian of the “Scientific Development” NGO; Haik Gevorgian of the Haykakan Zhamanak daily; and various others.

The roundtable participants seemed to be in consensus that the monitoring findings bespeak the fact that a markedly uneven and unfair playing field has been formed with respect to the parliamentary election campaign. It was recommended and acclaimed, therefore, that the results of this monitoring be jointly directed to the cause of realizing everyone’s right to be informed. Otherwise, as one seminar participant aptly put it, “those who bask under the umbrella of the authorities will relish the splendor of the campaign, whereas the opposition will continue to bear its misery.”

Founded in 1994 by Armenia’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs Raffi K. Hovannisian and supported by a global network of contributors, ACNIS serves as a link between innovative scholarship and the public policy challenges facing Armenia and the Armenian people in the post-Soviet world. It also aspires to be a catalyst for creative, strategic thinking and a wider understanding of the new global environment. In 2006, the Center focuses primarily on civic education, democratic development, conflict resolution, and applied research on critical domestic and foreign policy issues for the state and the nation.

For further information on the Center call (37410)
52-87-80 or 27-48-18; fax (37410) 52-48-46; email root@acnis.am or info@acnis.am

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