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Edik Baghdasaryan

In this election, the media lost

On March 5, it will finally become clear who won the 2003 presidential election.

Public opinion in Armenia is formed by our TV companies. The Public Television and the Prometheus company are broadcast all over the country. There are local TV stations in almost every marz. This most important tool for forming public opinion assigned itself one task throughout the election campaign- maximum support for the reelection of the acting president. Kocharyan’s campaign was waged largely by the TV companies, and its biggest bets were laid on them.

Before March 3rd, any time you turned on the TV, you saw how Kocharyan’s propaganda machine was working. By the end of the first round it was obvious that every TV station was receiving its orders from the same place -- Robert Kocharyan’s campaign headquarters. All the programs and pieces on Armenian public Television, and the Prometevs, Armenia, Shant, ALM, and Kentron private companies looked like laundry hung out on a line. In their competition to express their sycophancy they in fact succeeded in disgusting the electorate. Because of all the propaganda, any prestige they had in the first round has now reached a minimum. We have on different occasions taken pride in the achievements of the Armenian media in the sphere of freedom of speech. But this election campaign told the real story -- there are no independent and free TV stations in Armenia.

Local and international organizations have already made assessments of the work of the Armenian media. These are distressing.

“I…address the members of the mass media and other concerned parties in Armenia about our disappointment and frustration with the lack of ability that you have had to do your jobs as responsible, objective and balanced professional journalists,” says William Canter, Chairman of the NGO Internews, in his statement to the Armenian media. In a meeting with journalists, Canter also presented another statement, by the members of Internews: “We are exposed to any kinds of pressures and we give in to them… We sell our selves easily and non-chalantly,” the statement reads.

The Caucasian Media Institute conducted qualitative monitoring of media coverage of the 2003 election. Here’s what their preliminary report says: “We cannot recognize the coverage of the election as unbiased, balanced, objective and fair. Neither the pro-government nor the opposition media have manifested the desire or the ability to avoid biased and judgmental coverage of the events.” 
It goes on to note that the Armenian media presented news to the audience mixed with editorial commentary: information is accompanied by directives as to how it should be understood. As a result, “The Armenian media, by realizing their own right to express their opinions, deprived the voters of the opportunity to make an informed choice”.

The Yerevan Press Club also monitored the election campaign. In summing up their preliminary data, the monitoring group says, “The broadcast media have not in general guaranteed balanced coverage of the campaign. A comparison of the results of the quantitative monitoring of this and previous elections shows that on air, the level of pluralism was lower than in 1998 and 1999.”

“We have lessened the value of the profession of journalism, gradually losing the freedom of speech that we had gained with such difficulty” the Internews statement says. Yet we have not completely lost the chance to “remain in touch with reality, as well as the chance to gain back the trust of audience and sometime, in the very near future, become firmly established as a Fourth Estate.”
We have squandered an opportunity. We have voluntarily thrown our field under the feet of the presidential candidates. They stamped over us, and in a few days they will throw us aside.