Media Battle v. Corruption: Illusion of Choice

31.03.2017, Critique

Writer, screenwriter

 

Mediamart (Media Battle) is a digital game developed by the Media Initiatives Center [also responsible for this site] for journalism enthusiasts. Independent Armenia’s media already has more than a quarter of a century of history, but media coverage of corruption (the fight against corruption) is more like a game in terms of effectiveness. 

1. The illusion of choice

First of all, to what extent election bribes and other election violations can be considered corruption should be clarified.

Established by Armenia’s Prosecutor General in 2008 and amended in 2013 is the the list of corruption-related crimes, a number of points of which directly refer to the elections: abuse of official authority (RA Criminal Code Article 308); use of real or assumed influence for mercenary interests (Article 311 Section 2); abuse of power, transgression of authority or administrative dereliction (Article 375); and so on.

The parliamentary elections are on April 2. If the government applies the entire aforementioned spectrum of crimes (the opposition cannot, for instance, abuse its official authority, which is purely a tool of the ruling authorities), it will be a manifestation of corruption resulting in its reproducing itself, ensuring the smooth operation of the same system of corruption.

If we consider that there haven’t been any serious changes in government after the last national election, media coverage of the constitutional referendum in December 2015 may help us make predictions for the upcoming National Assembly elections.

And so we see in a video by Hetq.am a gross electoral violation.

From the accompanying news story: “The lights were shut off for about 20 minutes; while the lights were off, the committee member said, ’The No’s were a lot.’” As shown in the photos taken after the electricity came back on, a number of ballots with ‘no’ votes go missing during that time.”

Transparency International Anticorruption Center legal adviser Heriknaz Tigranyan confirms that the referendum was a disappointment for the public in terms of reviving some forgotten types of election violations.

On this backdrop, through more moderate means (by distributing sandwiches), a video depicting the “cultivating” of voters turned into a meme. 

There were numerous violations recorded by the media and by election observers, which gave a significant segment of the public hope that these may lead to election results being disputed later. But, a Haykakan Zhamanak (Armenian Times) February 4, 2016 news article titled “The referendum full of election fraud has been forgotten” shows that those hopes were illusory.

The paper was surprised to find out that in the 455 pages of the RA Human Rights Defender’s annual report, “newly elected ombudsman Arman Tatoyan did not mention at least a single sentence about the December 2015 constitutional referendum, during which journalists and election observers were attacked.”

That the majority of biting reports find their place in online media or newspapers is a feature characteristic of Armenian media today. Armenian Helsinki Committee Chair Avetik Ishkhanyan considers the coverage of “traditional” TV stations unsatisfactory.

Of course, expert opinions can also be subjective, but Ishkhanyan’s assessment is confirmed by Yerevan Press Club’s monitoring results: “Closer to the end of the campaign the ‘yes’ parliamentary camp kept gaining advantage over the ‘no’ camp. According to the results of the whole monitoring period (October 26 – December 4), the coverage of the supporters of the reform exceeded the coverage of their opponents roughly 1.5 times, both in terms of airtime volume and frequency of references.” 

It’s important to note that there was innovation in the television coverage of the referendum: the Ayo ev Voch (Yes and No) reality show produced by ArmNews and A1+ TV channels. This is how the project was presented on YouTube: “A large-scale television project was implemented for the first time in Armenia — supporters and opponents of the constitutional amendments went on a joint campaign to the regions, where their meetings and the ‘Yes and No’ debate could be followed through live broadcasting.”

This is all true, but there were two concerns with the project. Were the members of the ‘no’ camp members of the pro-government opposition, which would make the debate false? Did the sworn defenders of the ‘no’ camp have a sufficient supply of trust not to assume that this was another maneuver by the government and so they would avoid participating?

According to the Central Elections Commission’s summary document, the ‘yes’ supporters won the referendum by a ratio of 63.37% to 32.36%, but new media platforms allow us to compare the official results of the referendum and the public response.

Mentioned in the Civilnet video “Election Campaign and Social Media” are the “thousands of ‘dislikes’” compared with the few ‘likes’ of a ‘yes’ promotional video by the Republican Party of Armenia’s youth wing.

Understandably, in such cases we’re not talking about the quality of the video, but about the ‘Yes’ message, about which a user recalled ArmComedy in his comments. 

As for the election observers’ reactions, how the media applies double standards can be shown with one example. 

One month before the constitutional referendum, Armenpress state agency and Panorama.am extensively reported on the European Platform for Democratic Elections’ final report, which cast doubt on the positive election observation assessments of Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections. But when the same organization announced that Armenia’s constitutional referendum results “do not reflect the free will of Armenian citizens and should not be considered to be legitimate,” the aforementioned media outlets kept silent. 

Just a few more days of patience and we will be able to talk about coverage of the 2017 parliamentary elections, about the results of yet another “media battle” against corruption, which are conditioned by both the degree of professionalism and independence of the media, and the government’s civilized or criminal behavior.

Vahram Martirosyan
(as per materials from the Media Initiatives Center’s Lratun media museum)

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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