By Astghik Bedevian
Armenia’s main broadcasters have grown even more tendentious over the past month in their coverage of the upcoming presidential election, openly promoting the frontrunner, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, and attacking his most formidable opponent, a media watchdog said on Monday.
The Yerevan Press Club (YPC) has been monitoring the election-related news coverage of the Armenian Public Television and Radio as well as six private TV channels and releasing reports on a monthly basis. It criticized the broadcasters last month for showing “unprecedented” bias against opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian and casting Sarkisian in a highly positive light.
Unveiling the findings of its latest monthly monitoring, the YPC said the situation has further deteriorated since then. “There are unprecedented phenomena which we have not witnessed in the past,” the YPC chairman, Boris Navasardian, told reporters. “That includes an overtly negative coverage of opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian. It’s even more large-scale than what our previous monitoring detected.”
According to Navasardian, the Public TV and Radio are particularly active in vilifying Armenia’s former president. He said the state-controlled H1 TV channel, the most accessible in the country, aired 47 overwhelmingly critical reports on Ter-Petrosian in November. Sarkisian’s name, by contrast, figured in the news for 148 times and almost always in the positive context, he added.
The YPC monitoring also found that the public radio aired over a hundred Ter-Petrosian-related reports in November and that 80 percent of them were “negative.”
“In terms of the volume [of news coverage] Levon Ter-Petrosian holds the number place at the radio,” said Navasardian. “That’s a unique phenomenon.” “It is unfortunate that that is being done by media outlets which we previously cited as positive examples,” he added, referring to their coverage of last May’s parliamentary elections praised by Western observers.
The YPC suggested that the TV coverage is now far more biased because the outcome of the presidential election scheduled for February 19 is less predictable than that of the May polls. “The more unpredictable the election outcome becomes, the more unethically media outlets behave,” he said.
The Armenian authorities say that Ter-Petrosian is backed by less than 5 percent of voters and will not be even Sarkisian’s main opposition challenger. Observers believe, however, that they see a much greater threat emanating from the ex-president.
Navasardian criticized Ter-Petrosian as well, saying that he has turned down offers to be interviewed by unnamed TV stations. “It’s easier to talk at a rally,” he said. “You say only what you want to say and don’t have to answer resulting questions.