The Coverage of the 2016 Parliamentary Election in the Belarusian Media. Report 1 (4–24 July, 2016)

26.07.2016 Source: BAJ Monitoring Group

See illustrations and methodology in attached PDF

1. Introduction

This report summarises the findings of the first stage of the parliamentary election monitoring in Belarus. Our analysis covers eighteen Belarusian media, independent and state-run, electronic and printed, nationwide and regional.

The monitoring aims at fostering fair and professional media coverage of the election.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) that is doing the monitoring intends to draw the attention of the journalist community to a fact that it is their professional duty to give voters balanced, impartial and comprehensive information about the electoral campaign, the candidates’ agendas and their supporters’ and opponents’ opinions.

The monitoring methodology enables us to reveal both the overall model of the election coverage and instances of poor professional standards. We offer both quantitative and qualitative analysis of media items. The criteria for their assessment are based on internationally accepted standards of reporting on elections and ethics in journalism.  Furthermore, the earlier monitoring processes that the BAJ has been conducting for the last decade provide an opportunity to compare the coverage of several elections, tracing both changes and common trends.

This stage of monitoring covers the time span in which regional and constituency election commissions began their work, prospective candidates’ teams (PCTs) were registered and hopefuls (Hs) were seeking nomination as candidates.


2. Summary

The findings of the monitoring lead to a conclusion that the state-run electronic media keep to their traditional model of election coverage. In other words, they gave much less prominence to the forthcoming election than such subjects as sport and weather.

Just like in the previous elections, it was the Central Election Commission (CEC) that played the role of the leading newsmaker at this stage. However, the CEC for the most part shared information related to technical or organisational issues.

The prospective candidates’ teams and the hopefuls themselves were predominantly represented anonymously. At the same time, these media reported on some pro-governmental organisations (PGOs) engaged in collecting voters’ signatures to endorse their nominees, and their representatives were able to appear on air.

Although there were instances of presenting the opposition in a negative light, this time the assessments were more measured than in the cases of the corresponding stages of the 2008 and 2012 parliamentary elections.

Both national and international observers received mostly neutral coverage.

Such independent media as and Narodnaja Vola paper obviously endeavoured to avoid depersonalised representation of various election actors as much as possible.


3. Key Findings

3.1 State-run Media

Nashi Novosti on ONT TV station gave only marginal attention to the forthcoming election, with as little as 1.8% of its airtime allotted to the subject. Meanwhile, 5% of the airtime was allocated to weather and 20% to sport. Nearly the same proportion was typical of Panarama news programme on Belarus 1. Moreover, on several occasions these programmes did not cover election-related subjects at all, e.g. Nashi Novosti was silent about the upcoming election on 19, 21 and 22 July, and Panarama did not report on the subject on 23 July.

Radyjofakt on the 1st Channel of the National Radio allotted slightly more airtime, namely 5% to election-related issues, while weather forecasts took up about 9%.  Incidentally, during the corresponding stage of the 2015 presidential election, weather forecasts received the same amount of coverage, whereas the election was given about 10% of the airtime, i.e. two times as much.

Radyjofakt allocated about 12% of its airtime to sport. It had even a bigger share of airtime in the news on Radyjo Stalica – a whole 48%.

 It has to be pointed out that the four-year cycle of parliamentary elections in Belarus is in sync with that of the summer Olympics. However, in 2004, 2008 and 2012 candidates were registered when the Olympics had finished, but this time the key stage of campaigning is bound to coincide with Olympic broadcasts and lots of information about sports in all kinds of media.

It was the CEC representatives who received the highest share of airtime of all the monitored actors. Nashi Novosti on ONT allotted the CEC 24% of the total coverage given to all the election actors, and the corresponding figure for Radyjofakt was about 54%. Most commonly, the faces of the CEC on the monitored TV and radio stations were its Chairperson Lidzija Jarmošyna and CEC Secretary Mikałaj Łazavik.

The regional TV stations featured regional election commissions, polling stations, constituency commissions and the CEC more prominently. For example, they received 21%, about 11%, about 4% and 9.4% respectively of the total coverage Naviny-rehijon of the Mahiloŭ Regional TV and Radio Company gave to all the election actors.

As for the other actors, the nationwide and regional TV and radio stations predominantly presented the prospective candidates’ teams and the hopefuls themselves in a depersonalised manner. The coverage these categories received oscillated between 5% and 15% of the total airtime given to all the election actors.

While this depersonalised representation of the election actors was a prevailing trend in the state-run media, some of them, e.g. Naviny Homiel of the Homiel TV and Radio Company on 7 July and Radyjofakt on 21 July in fact campaigned for pro-governmental nominees and those pro-governmental organisations that were collecting voters’ signatures to endorse them. state-owned Internet resource offered a more diverse picture of the forthcoming election, presenting not only the election commissions of various levels, depersonalised prospective candidates’ teams and the depersonalised ‘electorate’, but also a number of political parties, such as the United Civic Party and the BPF Party, as well as the depersonalised ‘opposition’. presented the BPF Party and the ‘opposition’ for the most part in a negative light. The latter was treated in a similar key by the presidential Belarus Segodnya. The paper also spoke negatively of the OSCE/ODIHR observers. 

The other state-owned media most typically gave both national and international observers neutral coverage.

The monitored regional papers mainly limited themselves to official information the CEC gave on the upcoming election.


3.2 Independent Media

In contrast to the state-run media, and the Narodnaja Vola paper offered a clearly personified election picture. These did not only report on what the CEC, the government or polling station boards were doing in preparation to the voting day, but also focused on prospective candidates, giving their names, and offered their readers an insight into the agendas of some of them.

The Narodnaja Vola wrote about eight personalities, and featured or mentioned six prospective candidates. Both the media in some cases gave these actors about the same share of their space as the prospective candidates’ teams and the government. These personalities received chiefly neutral coverage.

The other monitored independent printed media did not essentially focus on the forthcoming parliamentary election at this stage.


4. Assessments

The state-run media gave some assessments of the initial phase of the parliamentary election.

CEC Secretary Łazavik on how the regional and constituency election commissions were formed: ‘I hope the following stages of the election are just as democratic and open. I mean the formation of the polling station boards in particular.’ (Viciebski Vieśnik. 7 dzion of the Viciebsk TV and Radio Company, 10/07/2016)

Head of the CIS Observation Mission Lebedev: ‘At present we can describe the election as peaceful and quiet…’ (Radyjofakt on the 1st Channel of the National Radio, 13/07/2016). CEC Chairperson Lidzija Jarmošyna aired the same opinion.

‘The candidates’ teams are quite active’, ‘the election commissions function in their normal way’, and ‘at the same time, we observe that Belarusian citizens are showing relatively little interest in candidates representing all manner of opposition organisations. They are facing serious problems concerning the collection of voters’ endorsement signatures and the citizens’ low interest in them,’ said KGB Chairperson Valery Vakulčyk in a meeting with the President. (Radyjofakt on the 1st Channel of the National Radio, 19/07/2016)

The information given above supports the conclusion that this year’s parliamentary election is going to be even more low-key and lacklustre than the previous ones. In all probability, it is the CEC, other election commissions and state institutions that are going to be its primary driving force, instead of political parties or movements.

The voting day on which parliamentarians are to be elected to the Chamber of Representatives is scheduled for 11 September, 2016.

The monitoring covers Panarama (Panorama) news programme on Belarus 1 TV station; Nashi Novosti (Our News) news programme on ONT TV station; Glavny Efir (Most Important Air) weekly programme on Belarus 1 TV station, Radyjofakt (Radiofact) on the 1st Channel of the National Radio; news on Radyjo Stalica radio station, Naviny. Homiel of the Homiel Regional TV and Radio Company, Naviny-rehijon (Regional News) of the Mahiloŭ Regional TV and Radio Company; Viciebski Vieśnik. 7 dzion (Viciebsk Herald. 7 days) weekly programme of the Viciebsk Regional TV and Radio Company; and online media; and such printed media as the Belarus Segodnya (Belarus Today), the Narodnaja Vola (People’s Will),  the Komsomolskaya Pravda v Belorussii  (YCL Truth in Belarus), the Zarya  (Dawn) (Brest)and the Mogilevskaya Pravda (Mahiloŭ Truth); the Hazieta Słonimskaja (Słonim Paper), the Intex-press and Słonimski Vieśnik (Słonim Herald).

See Monitoring Methodology (Appendix 2).

The documents that provide the framework for qualitative analysis are as follows: The Code of Ethics in Journalism (adopted at the Convention of the BAJ in 2006); The Declaration of the Guidelines of Journalists’ Professional Ethics; Media Coverage of Elections (Belarus) 2016 and International Standards of Election Coverage in the Media.

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