By Astghik Bedevian and Ruzanna Stepanian
A leading media watchdog slammed Armenia’s main broadcasters on Thursday for aggressively promoting Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s presidential candidacy and showing what it described as unprecedented bias against his most bitter challenger, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
The Yerevan Press Club (YPC) voiced the criticism while presenting the findings of a month-long monitoring of their coverage of the unfolding presidential election campaign. The monitoring conducted in October concluded that the Armenian Public Television and Radio (HHHR) as well as the country’s six largest private networks failed to air objective election-related information by casting Sarkisian in a highly positive light and attacking Ter-Petrosian with unusual ferocity.
“I don’t remember any previous media monitoring which showed a politician getting such negative coverage several months before elections,” said Boris Navasardian, the YPC chairman.
Navasardian was particularly critical of the Public Television’s H1 channel, the most accessible media outlet in Armenia. “H1 is now a state within a state that operates beyond law,” he said.
H1, which is believed to be controlled by President Robert Kocharian, has been particularly scathing about Ter-Petrosian’s decision to stand in the February 19 election and his harsh verbal attacks on Armenia’s current leadership. It has provided few details of his recent lengthy speech and has focused instead on airing negative comments on the ex-president. The major private TV channels, which are also loyal to Kocharian and Sarkisian, have been equally critical of his return to active politics.
The broadcasters’ coverage of previous Armenian elections was strongly criticized by Western election monitors. According to Navasardian, it is now becoming even more tendentious and biased. “Compared with the previous pre-election periods there is definitely regress in news coverage,” he said.
Aleksandr Arzumanian, a former foreign minister and close Ter-Petrosian associate, accused the Armenian authorities of imposing an “information blockade” on the opposition candidate. “A legitimate government would not be afraid of seeing its opponents speak on TV,” he said.
Arzumanian complained that no TV channel has tried to interview Ter-Petrosian or invited him to a talk show so far.
Navasardian pointed out, however, that the former Armenian is not known for his openness to the media and has not given a single interview even to pro-opposition newspapers since ending his decade-long silence in September. “Has any of you tried to have an interview with Levon Ter-Petrosian?” he asked journalists.
The YPC chairman also noted that most presidential hopefuls are reluctant to answer difficult questions. “A person makes a statement, and if the public and journalists representing it have a question regarding it they don’t get answers to that question,” he said.
(Photolur photo: Boris Navasardian.)