The news coverage of Armenia’s leading broadcasters has become considerably more objective and impartial since the official start of campaigning for the March 6 parliamentary elections, an independent media watchdog said on Wednesday.
The Yerevan Press Club praised the country’s eight largest TV stations and Armenian Public Radio as it presented an interim report on their coverage of the parliamentary race. It said they have so far created largely “equal conditions” for all election contenders, including the main opposition forces.
“I must say that I’m surprised with how responsibly and diligently these TV companies are reporting on this pre-election period,” Boris Navasardian, the YPC chairman, told a news conference. “It is quite different, in the positive sense, from [their coverage of] both past elections and the period before the current campaign.”
The YPC said on March 20 that the broadcasters are covering President Serzh Sarkisian and his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) more extensively and positively than any other major political force.
The watchdog’s latest report, based on a ten-day monitoring of the broadcasters’ political news programming, says that the HHK still gets more TV coverage than its rivals.
Navasardian said this partly results from the fact that Serzh Sarkisian and Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian combine their election campaign trips with “excessive” official engagements that are supposedly unrelated to campaigning. “It is desirable that they cut back on their activities not connected with the elections,” he said.
The YPC also found serious disparities in the election coverage of two TV channels controlled by the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the leader of the governing Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), Gagik Tsarukian. It said they continued to devote most of their election-related news and commentary to Dashnaktsutyun and the BHK after the campaign officially got underway on April 8.
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 the upcoming vote.
“There are serious expectations inside and outside the country that at least these elections will be held in conformity with international democratic standards,” Navasardian said. “Armenia’s further development and cooperation with various international structures depends on the extent to which Armenia will live up to those expectations.”