By Emil Danielyan
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized Armenia’s leading broadcasters on Wednesday for what they described as a tendentious coverage of the presidential election campaign favoring Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
They said most major local TV channels provided disproportionate amounts of airtime to Sarkisian and showed strong bias against one of his eight challengers, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, in the week preceding the official start of campaigning for the February 19 election.
The criticism was contained in the first interim report issued by the election observation mission deployed by the OSCE’s Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).
“During the monitoring period before the start of the official campaign (11-20 January), most of the broadcast media including public television demonstrated a clear imbalance in their coverage of the prospective candidates,” read the report.
“The amount of time received by Mr. Sarkisian, on privately owned H2, Kentron, Shant and Armenia TV, even taking into account the execution of his official duties, exceeded what could be reasonably considered appropriate,” it said, referring to the country’s four largest private networks.
“The other eight candidates received some coverage on most of the TV stations monitored,” added the OSCE/ODIHR mission. “However, in contrast to the almost exclusively positive or neutral coverage afforded to Serzh Sarkisian, Levon Ter-Petrosian was regularly portrayed in a negative light.”
The report echoed the findings of similar monitoring conducted by the Yerevan Press Club, a local media freedom watchdog, in recent months. The YPS has faulted the government-controlled electronic media for aggressively promoting Sarkisian’s presidential bid and showing “unprecedented” bias against Ter-Petrosian. The broadcasters have dismissed the criticism.
The OSCE observers said the state-run Armenian Public Radio was “more balanced” than the TV channels in its coverage of the presidential race. They also noted that daily Armenian-language news programs of RFE/RL “included greater diversity in their coverage of the nominees, including presenting Serzh Sarkisian and Levon Ter-Petrosian in positive, negative and neutral tones.”
(Photolur photo: Geert-Hinrich Ahrens, head of the OSCE/ODIHR mission in Armenia.)