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  • The Coverage of the 2016 Parliamentary Election in the Belarusian Media. Report 2 (25 July – 14 August, 2016)

    See illus­tra­tions and method­ol­o­gy in attached PDF

    1. Introduction

    This report sums up the find­ings of the sec­ond stage of the par­lia­men­tary elec­tion mon­i­tor­ing, which was con­duct­ed between 25 July and 14 August, 2016. It was a time span when the poten­tial can­di­dates’ teams fin­ished col­lect­ing vot­ers’ sig­na­tures to endorse their nom­i­na­tion, the elec­tion com­mis­sions checked the valid­i­ty of the doc­u­ments sub­mit­ted by the hope­fuls seek­ing reg­is­tra­tion and reg­is­tered them as par­lia­men­tary can­di­dates, and cam­paign­ing began.

    2. Summary

    Just like in the pre­vi­ous time span, the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion and con­stituen­cy com­mis­sions remained the key news­mak­ers of the elec­tion. Their chair­per­sons were the main sources of infor­ma­tion about the upcom­ing elec­tion, the hope­fuls and the polit­i­cal par­ties stand­ing for par­lia­ment. As for the polit­i­cal forces, they had no voice in the state-run media, which gave no essen­tial infor­ma­tion what­so­ev­er about them.

    The state-owned media most com­mon­ly gave deper­son­alised pre­sen­ta­tion of the prospec­tive can­di­dates and polit­i­cal par­ties – a tac­tic that made their recog­ni­tion by the elec­torate high­ly prob­lem­at­ic. The infor­ma­tion in the state-run media did not give a clear pic­ture of the polit­i­cal forces’ stand­ing or each party’s sup­port base.

    As a rule, the state-owned media referred to the deper­son­alised ‘oppo­si­tion’, pre­sent­ing it in a pre­dom­i­nant­ly neg­a­tive light.

    At the same time the trend towards overt­ly pro­mot­ing some pro-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions became more pro­nounced. This was par­tic­u­lar­ly true of the Belaru­sian Nation­al Youth Union (BNYU). Unlike the polit­i­cal par­ties and move­ments, its mem­bers were grant­ed imme­di­ate media pres­ence, while the BNYU and its role in the par­lia­men­tary cam­paign were high­ly praised.

    In terms of the amount of air­time, such top­ics as sport and weath­er either pre­vailed over the upcom­ing elec­tion or were com­men­su­rate with it in the state-run media dur­ing the analysed time span. Quite often sport received much more cov­er­age than the elec­tion.

    As for the nation­al and inter­na­tion­al observers, the state-owned media main­ly por­trayed both of them in a neu­tral or pos­i­tive light.

    As we have point­ed out in the pre­vi­ous report, the inde­pen­dent media, by con­trast, endeav­oured to avoid deper­son­alised rep­re­sen­ta­tion of var­i­ous elec­tion actors. They did not only speak of the polit­i­cal par­ties stand­ing for par­lia­ment or ignor­ing the elec­tion, but also fea­tured some high­ly recog­nis­able hope­fuls who stood good chances of gain­ing vot­ers’ sup­port in the Belaru­sian polit­i­cal field. At the same time, some inde­pen­dent print­ed media did not focus much on elec­tion-relat­ed issues, either.


    3. Key Findings

    3.1 State-run Media


    Panara­ma pro­gramme on Belarus 1 TV sta­tion allot­ted about 22% of its elec­tion cov­er­age to the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion. This actor also received 17% of the elec­tion-relat­ed air­time on Nashi Novosti on ONT and 23% on Radyjo­fakt on the 1st Chan­nel of the Nation­al Radio. No oth­er mon­i­tored actor except the BNYU had any­where near the same share of air­time. For pur­pos­es of com­par­i­son: at the pre­vi­ous stage, between 4 July and 24 July, 2016, Nashi Novosti on ONT and Radyjo­fakt had allot­ted the CEC 24% and 54% of the total cov­er­age giv­en to all the elec­tion actors, respec­tive­ly.

    These find­ings sup­port our premise that the CEC and con­stituen­cy com­mis­sions remained the key actors of the elec­tion and were the main news­mak­ers for the state-run media. Their deci­sive role became even more explic­it when con­trast­ed with the anony­mous pre­sen­ta­tion of the oth­er elec­tion actors. More often than not, reporters made use of such gen­er­alised terms as a ‘prospec­tive can­di­date’, a ‘candidate’s team’, ‘polit­i­cal par­ties’ and ‘non-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions’ with­out giv­ing the names of the hope­fuls, polit­i­cal par­ties or NGOs.

    In describ­ing the hope­fuls, the state-run media lim­it­ed them­selves to giv­ing the sta­tis­tics about their gen­der, social sta­tus and age and just said whether they were nom­i­nat­ed by the staff of organ­i­sa­tions and enter­pris­es or by polit­i­cal par­ties. Here is a typ­i­cal report giv­en by a jour­nal­ist of Naviny-rehi­jon on the Mahiloŭ Region­al TV and Radio Com­pa­ny, ‘Besides the intel­li­gentsia, peo­ple employed in indus­try, trans­port and con­struc­tion, are going to stand for par­lia­ment; they account for 8% of all the can­di­dates. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of state insti­tu­tions also make up 8%.  A quar­ter of all the can­di­dates are women. 8% are young peo­ple under thir­ty. It was said at the news con­fer­ence that eighty five prospec­tive can­di­dates sub­mit­ted to the con­stituen­cy com­mis­sions of the region one hun­dred and eight appli­ca­tions for reg­is­tra­tion. The dis­tri­b­u­tion of the types of nom­i­na­tion was as fol­lows: forty two were nom­i­nat­ed by vot­ers’ signed endorse­ments, and eigh­teen were nom­i­nat­ed by the staff of organ­i­sa­tions and com­pa­nies.’

    The offi­cials in charge of organ­is­ing the elec­tion spoke in the same man­ner. For exam­ple, this is what the CEC Chair­per­son Lidz­i­ja Jar­mošy­na said on Glavny Efir on 7 August, 2016, ‘Just have a clos­er look, all our par­ties have increased the num­bers of their mem­bers nom­i­nat­ed to stand for par­lia­ment. This means that the par­ties are not dead, they are func­tion­ing. Even those that we nor­mal­ly think of as ‘couch par­ties’, because one can hard­ly hear of them between elec­tions, have still made an effort… and nom­i­nat­ed a cer­tain num­ber of can­di­dates.’ 

    Here is anoth­er exam­ple of this char­ac­ter­is­tic style employed by reporters and offi­cials, as pre­sent­ed by a Panara­ma reporter, All the par­ties that have declared their will­ing­ness to par­tic­i­pate in the elec­tion com­mis­sions in Min­sk and have their rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the elec­tion com­mis­sions in Min­sk have their rep­re­sen­ta­tives there,’ said Pavieł Skała­ban, Head of the Chief Depart­ment of Ide­ol­o­gy of the Min­sk City Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee to reporters today. In so doing, he dis­proved the infor­ma­tion that had appeared in some media which claimed that rep­re­sen­ta­tives of cer­tain polit­i­cal par­ties were not includ­ed in elec­tion com­mis­sions.’ (Panara­ma, Belarus 1, 29/07/2016; bold type by the BAJ).

    In line with a long-estab­lished tra­di­tion, the ‘oppo­si­tion’ was also pre­sent­ed in a deper­son­alised man­ner. How­ev­er, this actor either received min­i­mal media atten­tion or was ignored alto­geth­er. Its activ­i­ties most com­mon­ly did not receive pos­i­tive assess­ment.

    It is the Belaru­sian Nation­al Youth Union (BNYU) that has become a real cen­tral char­ac­ter of the 2016 par­lia­men­tary elec­tion. It was not so much under the spot­light dur­ing the last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. The work of this pro-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tion was pre­sent­ed in a pos­i­tive light and its rep­re­sen­ta­tives were giv­en an oppor­tu­ni­ty to appear on air on Nashi Novosti on ONT on 3 August, 2016, to give just one exam­ple, by con­trast with their coun­ter­parts from all the oppo­si­tion polit­i­cal forces and NGOs.

    The increased media atten­tion to the BNYU can prob­a­bly be attrib­uted to the organisation’s ver­sa­tile activ­i­ties dur­ing the elec­tion. Accord­ing to its First Sec­re­tary Andrej Bielakoŭ, ‘the Youth Union has always tak­en quite an active part in all polit­i­cal cam­paigns, includ­ing the cur­rent one… Six BNYU mem­bers have been includ­ed in the region­al and Min­sk City elec­tion com­mis­sions, nine­ty BNYU peo­ple are mem­bers of con­stituen­cy com­mis­sions and about thir­ty-five hun­dred are on polling sta­tion boards. As of 1 August, one hun­dred and eight observers have received their accred­i­ta­tion and we are plan­ning to have accred­it­ed at least fifty-five hun­dred BNYU mem­bers by 20 August… we are going to join in the cam­paign­ing.’ (Radyjo­fakt, 08/08/2016.) In oth­er words, the BNYU is not only mobil­is­ing young vot­ers, going to count bal­lots and observe the count, but is also plan­ning to cam­paign for their can­di­dates.

    On 27 July, 2016 the Słon­im­s­ki Vieśnik allo­cat­ed a whole page to an inter­view with the Słon­im deputy of the Cham­ber of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Nation­al Assem­bly Ała Sopika­va, but it did not give any infor­ma­tion about the oth­er can­di­dates stand­ing for par­lia­ment in this con­stituen­cy, nor did it say that Ms Sopika­va was seek­ing re-elec­tion. This was an instance of covert­ly cam­paign­ing for a pro-gov­ern­men­tal can­di­date while ignor­ing her con­tenders. By con­trast, the inde­pen­dent Hazi­eta Słon­im­ska­ja pub­lished a com­plete list of all the par­lia­men­tary can­di­dates in the local con­stituen­cy twice.

    We not­ed in the pre­vi­ous report that 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 they have obtained reg­is­tra­tion while the Olympics are still in full swing. For this rea­son, the par­lia­men­tary cam­paign is going to over­lap with Olympic TV broad­casts. As a result, the respec­tive pro­por­tions of the air­time giv­en to sport and the elec­tion in the nation­wide elec­tron­ic media dur­ing the mon­i­tored time span looked as fol­lows: on Glavny Efir – 18% v 1.3%, on Panara­ma – 35% v 2.2%, on Nashi Novosti – 16% v 2.5% and on Radyjo­fakt – 10.5% v 3.5%. The ten­sion of the com­pe­ti­tions in Rio de Janeiro has so far been much high­er than that of the par­lia­men­tary race in Belarus.

    The par­lia­men­tary cam­paign in Belarus also over­laps with the pres­i­den­tial race in the USA. Some pro­grammes of the Belaru­sian nation­al TV gave a lot of their atten­tion to the lat­ter. For exam­ple, Glavny Efir report­ed on Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign for 5’ 7’’ on 24 July, 2016, where­as the par­lia­men­tary elec­tion got a mea­gre three-sec­ond men­tion in pass­ing. The next Glavny Efir on 31 July, 2016 cov­ered Hillary Clinton’s cam­paign for 11’ 46’’, while the par­lia­men­tary elec­tion in Belarus received 6’ 27’’, i.e. near­ly twice less air­time.

    Panara­ma on Belarus 1 also report­ed on the US pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in some of its news broad­casts, for exam­ple, on 28 July, 2016 and even cov­ered the ref­er­en­dum in Thai­land on 1 August, 2016, but these news broad­casts com­plete­ly ignored the Belaru­sian par­lia­men­tary elec­tion. Panara­ma said noth­ing on the sub­ject on 25, 27 and 30 July, 2016, either. Elec­tion-relat­ed issues were con­spic­u­ous by their absence in some oth­er issues of the mon­i­tored pro­grammes and papers.

    The state-run media cov­ered the CIS observ­er mis­sion and its work in a pos­i­tive or neu­tral light. They also gave main­ly neu­tral or pos­i­tive cov­er­age to the west­ern observ­er mis­sions of the PACE and the OSCE/ODIHR, though there were some instances of neg­a­tive assess­ment of their work. In the 2015 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, some jour­nal­ists were con­vinced that the west­ern observers were biased in their assess­ment of the elec­tion in Belarus. This time a reporter claimed, for instance, that ‘the CIS mission’s west­ern coun­ter­parts attempt to impose their own rules and crit­i­cise some stan­dards and cri­te­ria that guide the CIS mis­sion in elec­tion mon­i­tor­ing’. (Radyjo­fakt, 08/08/2016.)

    The nation­al observers received less media atten­tion, but they were also pre­sent­ed in a neu­tral or pos­i­tive light.

    3.2 Independent Media

    Unlike their state-run coun­ter­parts, the inde­pen­dent media gave marked­ly less atten­tion to the organ­i­sa­tion­al and pro­ce­dur­al aspects of the elec­tion. On the con­trary, they focussed more on the polit­i­cal par­ties and move­ments tak­ing part in the elec­tion. For exam­ple, www.tut.by allot­ted 6% of its total space giv­en to the elec­tion actors to ‘Tell the Truth!’ cam­paign, 2.4% to the Unit­ed Civic Par­ty, 1.9% to the move­ment ‘For Free­dom’, 1.7% to the Belaru­sian Chris­t­ian Democ­ra­cy, 1.2% to the BPF Par­ty, etc.

    The Nar­o­d­na­ja Vola paper tried to avoid such deper­son­alised terms as a ‘poten­tial can­di­date’ or a ‘candidate’s team’, too.

    The region­al inde­pen­dent press, such as the Intex-press and the Hazi­eta Słon­im­ska­ja gave lit­tle cov­er­age to elec­tion-relat­ed issues.

    The Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da v Belorus­sii did not pub­lish any­thing on the sub­ject of the upcom­ing elec­tion.

    4.    Conclusions

    The deper­son­alised and anony­mous pre­sen­ta­tion of the key actors in the elec­tion, i.e. the polit­i­cal forces and indi­vid­u­als sup­port­ed by vot­ers does any­thing but bring them in the spot­light. A sit­u­a­tion in which the state-owned media make them unrecog­nis­able by no means helps the elec­torate make a well-informed choice. When the agen­das and posi­tions of dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal par­ties are pre­sent­ed in such a man­ner that they all appear to look the same, it deprives all polit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion between them of any mean­ing­ful­ness in the eyes of the vot­ers.

    Until can­di­dates are reg­is­tered they cer­tain­ly can­not launch their cam­paigns. At the same time, each prospec­tive can­di­date is at least enti­tled to their name, a brief descrip­tion of their polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tion or its absence and oth­er neu­tral media infor­ma­tion.

    When the media use elec­tion com­mis­sions and their spokesper­sons as the main source of infor­ma­tion about the upcom­ing elec­tion, it under­mines the val­ue of report­ing. More­over, such prac­tices result in an over­sim­pli­fied pic­ture of the elec­tion. The oth­er side of the exces­sive focus on pro­ce­dur­al and organ­i­sa­tion­al issues is the inevitable mar­gin­al­i­sa­tion of the key elec­tion actors, such as polit­i­cal forces and indi­vid­u­als stand­ing for par­lia­ment.

    When mon­i­tor­ing the 2015 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, we point­ed out that the mode of its cov­er­age in the state-owned media aimed to pro­mote just one run­ner, name­ly the incum­bent. For this rea­son, ‘In the long run, this mode invari­ably under­mines the polit­i­cal impor­tance of elec­tions and hin­ders com­pe­ti­tion between polit­i­cal ideas and agen­das, so the elec­tion turns into a ‘low-key’ and ‘easy’ event. As oppo­nents of the cur­rent regime are mar­gin­alised, the vot­ing becomes a mean­ing­less rit­u­al, in which ‘vot­ers per­form their hon­orary pub­lic duty,’ to quote an old Sovi­et cliché,’ we con­clud­ed in 2015. A sim­i­lar frame­work is man­i­fest in the 2016 par­lia­men­tary elec­tion. The only dif­fer­ence is that this time the state-run media favour pro-gov­ern­men­tal can­di­dates and the organ­i­sa­tions sup­port­ing them.

    The inde­pen­dent media, in their turn, may have giv­en a more var­ied cov­er­age of the upcom­ing elec­tion and its key actors, but they did not pri­ori­tise the par­lia­men­tary cam­paign. This could tes­ti­fy to its mar­gin­al impor­tance in the polit­i­cal field, at least at the present stage of our mon­i­tor­ing.

    This pro-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tion received 17% of the total air­time allot­ted to all the mon­i­tored elec­tion actors on Radyjo­fakt.

    While inter­view­ing the CEC Chair­per­son Lidz­i­ja Jar­mošy­na on 13 Sep­tem­ber, 2015, the Glavny Efir pre­sen­ter asked her the fol­low­ing ques­tion con­cern­ing the OSCE/ODIHR and PACE observers, ‘Do you have an impres­sion that their reports have already been writ­ten a long time before the elec­tion, as was the case ear­li­er?’

    For pur­pos­es of com­par­i­son: state-owned www.belta.by gave 0.5% of the total cov­er­age of the elec­tion actors to ‘Tell the Truth!’ cam­paign, 0.5% to the Unit­ed Civic Par­ty, 0.5% to the BPF Par­ty and some oth­er polit­i­cal forces.


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

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