By Astghik Bedevian and Hovannes Shoghikian
Armenia’s two largest private broadcasters defended on Tuesday their coverage of the intensifying presidential race which has been strongly criticized by an independent media watchdog.
The Yerevan Press Club (YPC) said on Monday that the Armenian state television and six private networks have essentially confined that coverage to two presidential candidates, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. It said they have been aggressively promoting Sarkisian while showing “unprecedented” bias against Ter-Petrosian. The YPC was particularly critical of the government-controlled Public Television and Radio.
The Public TV’s H1 channel, the most accessible in Armenia, refused to comment on the criticism. Officials at the Public Radio could not be reached for comment.
Unveiling the findings of its November monitoring of the TV air, the YPC said the private Armenia TV network devoted as much as 80 percent of its news reporting to Sarkisian’s public engagements. The prime minister was cast in a positive light in almost all of the reports aired by the channel partly owned by Gerard Cafesjian, a U.S. businessman of Armenian descent.
“If the prime minister is doing a very good job all the time, we must cover his activities,” said Gagik Mkrtchian, the Armenia TV news chief. He denied any bias against Ter-Petrosian and other opposition candidates.
The news chief of another major private network, H2, also defended its highly positive coverage of Sarkisian. “We have mainly covered his actions taken in his capacity as prime minister,” said Shavarsh Gevorgian. “We have covered the work of the government.”
“I don’t think that not covering every minor event related to Levon Ter-Petrosian means not covering the opposition,” Gevorgian told RFE/RL. “We have covered virtually all opposition leaders.”
According to the YPC, H2, which is owned by a businessman close to President Robert Kocharian, aired 57 Ter-Petrosian-related reports last month and 37 of them were “negative.” Another private TV station, Kentron, was found to have been even been even more biased against the former president. Kentron, which is controlled by another Kocharian-linked tycoon, declined a comment.
Ter-Petrosian aides, meanwhile, continued to complain about their lack of access to electronic media. “All electronic media are assisting in the regime’s reproduction,” claimed Aleksandr Arzumanian, a former foreign minister. “No serious politician is able to express their views on those channels. What is more, H1 and other media controlled by the authorities present a distorted picture of events.”
Arzumanian did not confirm or refute the YPC’s assertion that some TV stations have offered to interview Ter-Petrosian but have been turned down by the latter. He said only that the ex-president will be more open to the media after the official start of the presidential election campaign.