Armenia’s leading broadcasters have so far provided a largely unbiased news coverage of the intensifying presidential race, a local media watchdog said on Wednesday.
The Yerevan Press Club (YPC) began monitoring last fall news reports of seven TV and two radio stations related to the February 18 election. The YPC’s first interim report covers the period from October 1 through December 15.
The report says that the broadcasters loyal to the government showed no overt bias against potential and actual presidential candidates. But it points out that two of them, President Serzh Sarkisian and opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian, enjoyed more positive coverage than the other contenders.
The YPC chairman, Boris Navasardian, complained at the same time that the broadcast media did not sufficiently help Armenians to decide whom to vote for with its intense speculation about Sarkisian’s other potential challengers.
“The broadcast media’s attention was somewhat wasted on political forces and leaders that ended up playing no obvious or clear role in these presidential elections,” Navasardian said, referring to the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. All three opposition groups are effectively boycotting the ballot.
The YPC also says that Sarkisian and other government officials received far more election-related coverage than other political actors. Navasardian urged the officials to limit their public engagements during the election campaign, which officially starts on January 21.
The Armenian broadcast media has long been criticized by domestic and foreign observers for openly backing pro-government parties and individuals during election campaigns. The authorities in Yerevan have pledged to address this criticism as part of their declared efforts to ensure the proper conduct of elections.
According to the YPC, the broadcasters’ news coverage became more objective ahead of last May’s parliamentary elections. Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation likewise commended the Armenian media for its generally “unbiased news coverage of contestants” during those polls.