By Anush Dashtents
Of all nine candidates vying for the Armenian presidency President Robert Kocharian has enjoyed by far the most extensive and positive media coverage during the first three weeks of campaigning, according to an independent media watchdog.
The first findings of a comprehensive monitoring conducted by the Yerevan-based Caucasus Media Institute (CMI) show that Armenia’s main television stations are particularly supportive of Kocharian and critical of his challengers. The state-owned Armenian Public Television and virtually all major private networks are controlled by the presidential administration.
“We can state that Robert Kocharian is the dominant actor in the media field and gets the bulk of election campaign coverage,” the deputy director of the institute, Mark Grigorian, told RFE/RL on Monday. “Not only in the form of news reports, but also analytical programs and commentaries.”
Grigorian, echoing numerous opposition complaints, said many TV programs featuring Kocharian are tantamount to election propaganda, something which is prohibited by Armenia’s law on broadcasting. Article 11 of the law stipulates that television and radio stations can not air “propaganda material” in the form of news reports, analytical programs or documentaries.
State television and other channels covered by the CMI monitoring have recently broadcast special programs casting the incumbent in positive light. One of them was meant to give Armenians rare insights into Kocharian’s personal life, featuring casual interviews with his wife and three children.
The only major channel that often aired criticism of Kocharian, A1+, was controversially shut down last April. The Armenian authorities assured the Council of Europe and Western governments that A1+ will be able to resume broadcasts on another frequency and cover the February 19 elections. However, they have still not held a long-awaited competitive tender for several frequencies.
Grigorian said although Armenia’s print media give a more diverse coverage of the campaign, they too pay greater attention to Kocharian. “Robert Kocharian remains the main election actor even if we look only at the opposition press,” he said.
(Photolur photo: A crowd cheering Kocharian at a rally in Yerevan on Monday.)