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  • The Coverage of the 2016 Parliamentary Election in the Belarusian Media. Report 3 (15 August – 6 September 2016)

    See illustrations in attached PDF

    1. Intro­duc­tion

    This report gives an overview of the third stage of the mon­i­tor­ing, which last­ed from 15 August until 6 Sep­tem­ber, 2016. It was the time span when par­lia­men­tary can­di­dates were run­ning their cam­paigns.

    2. Sum­ma­ry

    The mon­i­tored stage was not marked by any essen­tial changes in the tra­di­tion­al elec­tion cov­er­age mod­el prac­ticed by the state-owned media. Here are its key char­ac­ter­is­tics:

    • It was the CEC and oth­er elec­tion com­mis­sions that remained the dom­i­nant fig­ures of the elec­tion field as pre­sent­ed in the state-owned media. Their rep­re­sen­ta­tives (most com­mon­ly their chair­per­sons) had the high­est share of air­time among all the per­son­i­fied mon­i­tored actors. At the same time the state-run media pre­sent­ed the elec­tion com­mis­sions as the most com­pe­tent source of infor­ma­tion about the upcom­ing elec­tion.
    • Although the can­di­dates were able to address the elec­torate on TV and on the radio, the state-owned print­ed and elec­tron­ic media prac­ti­cal­ly did not adver­tise their media appear­ances. TV guides pre­sent­ed them under the head­ing Election’2016 or Speech­es of can­di­dates stand­ing for the Cham­ber of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Nation­al Assem­bly of Belarus of the sixth con­vo­ca­tion. No names or exact time of each candidate’s TV and radio appear­ances were giv­en.
    • The major state-run media’s web­sites did not offer any pre­cise infor­ma­tion on the date and time of the can­di­dates’ broad­casts.
    • Just like at the pre­vi­ous stages, the news pro­grammes kept to their pre­dom­i­nant­ly deper­son­alised cov­er­age of the can­di­dates. How­ev­er, once in a while the state-owned media offered a group por­trait of the can­di­dates, divid­ing them into dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories.
    • The state-run media still did not turn the spot­light on the polit­i­cal par­ties stand­ing for par­lia­ment.
    • Vot­ers were not giv­en any voice. They were typ­i­cal­ly pre­sent­ed in a deper­son­alised man­ner.
    • At this stage, the state-owned media focussed much more on both OSCE/ODIHR and CIS observers.
    • At the same time, tech­ni­cal­i­ties and organ­i­sa­tion­al details of the elec­tion process dom­i­nat­ed the mon­i­tored media.
    • When the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro were over, it entailed nei­ther a fall in the air­time giv­en to sports nor an upsurge in elec­tion-relat­ed issues.
    • At this stage, the inde­pen­dent media offered a dif­fer­ent pic­ture of the cam­paign, focussing much more on the can­di­dates and polit­i­cal par­ties than their state-run coun­ter­parts did.

    3. Key Find­ings

    State-owned Media

    In terms of the share of air­time and space, the CEC remained in the lead along­side the region­al elec­tion com­mis­sions. It received 16% of air­time giv­en to all the mon­i­tored elec­tion actors in Panara­ma on Belarus 1 and 18% in Nashi Novosti on ONT. It is the region­al elec­tion com­mis­sions that fea­tured most promi­nent­ly in the region­al TV pro­grammes, such as Naviny. Homiel of the Homiel Region­al TV and Radio Com­pa­ny, and Naviny-rehi­jon of the Mahiloŭ Region­al TV and Radio Com­pa­ny, which gave them respec­tive­ly 31% and 25% of the total air­time allot­ted to all the elec­tion actors. As for the pres­i­den­tial paper Belarus Segod­nya, it allo­cat­ed just a slight­ly high­er pro­por­tion of its space to the ‘deper­son­alised can­di­date’ than to the CEC, region­al com­mis­sions and polling sta­tion boards, name­ly 29.4% and 29.2%, respec­tive­ly.

    Just like at the pre­vi­ous stages, the elec­tion com­mis­sions were often assessed in a pos­i­tive key. For exam­ple, ‘We would like to point out,’ said the spokesman of the CIS Observ­er Mis­sion Tashibaev dur­ing the sec­ond mon­i­tored time span (25 July – 14 August, 2016), ‘how well-trained the heads of the con­stituen­cy com­mis­sions are and what high pro­fes­sion­al stan­dards the heads of the polling sta­tion boards ensure.’ (Radyjo­fakt, 02/08/16.) A few weeks lat­er, a reporter of the same pro­gramme claimed that the CIS observ­er Yury Andreev had ‘giv­en cred­it to the elec­tion com­mis­sions for their high pro­fes­sion­al skills’. (Radyjo­fakt, 24/08/16.)

    The CEC Chair­per­son Jar­mošy­na said, ‘I think we are mov­ing towards more and more per­fec­tion in hold­ing elec­tions, and they are becom­ing more and more civilised.’ (Panara­ma, Belarus 1, 23/08/16.) Mean­while, Mr Darhiel, Chair­per­son of polling sta­tion board no. 2 in Barysaŭ spoke high­ly of the fes­tive atmos­phere per­me­at­ing the cam­paign, ‘The elec­tion is being held won­der­ful­ly, so it is a real joy.’ (Radyjo­fakt, 01/09/16.)

    The can­di­dates were able to appear in the elec­tron­ic state-run media, such as Belarus 3 and CTV TV sta­tions and the local radio as well as had their pro­grammes print­ed free of charge in the state-owned papers appoint­ed by the CEC. The can­di­dates’ appear­ances were being tele­vised from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. and broad­cast on the radio from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. on week­days.

    They were pre­sent­ed in the TV guide for Belarus 3 as Elec­tion’2016. It deserves men­tion­ing that not only the can­di­dates’ speech­es but also debates were tele­vised under this gen­er­al head­ing. The TV guide did not give any infor­ma­tion about what was to be expect­ed on air or who the guests were.

    Admit­ted­ly, the TV guide for CTV did high­light the can­di­dates’ appear­ances on air – Speech­es of can­di­dates stand­ing for the Cham­ber of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Nation­al Assem­bly of Belarus of the sixth con­vo­ca­tion. How­ev­er, it did not give the can­di­dates’ names or the exact time of their address­es. The TV guide also had a head­ing Election’2016 with incon­spic­u­ous ‘Debates’. Nei­ther this spe­cif­ic type of info­graph­ics nor the head­ing itself, which encom­passed the can­di­dates’ appear­ances on Belarus 3, facil­i­tat­ed per­cep­tion of the infor­ma­tion by vot­ers.

    While the TV guides were not pre­cise enough about the can­di­dates and debates, they did not only high­light the titles of fea­ture films and series in bold cap­i­tals but also pro­vid­ed their brief strips with the vir­tu­al names of the pro­tag­o­nists. For exam­ple, this is how the TV guide for Belarus 2 pre­sent­ed DECEIVE ME‑2 series: ‘CRIME. ‘Mur­der Squad of the Munic­i­pal Crim­i­nal Police. The most high-pro­file cas­es are to be looked into… by Cap­tains Fil­ip­pov, Lern­er and Ilyin­sky and Senior Lieu­tenant Strel­niko­va.’ (Belarus 2, 29/08/16.)

    Final­ly, it should be point­ed out that nei­ther the TV sta­tions them­selves, nor the infor­ma­tion por­tal Election’2016 (http://vybory2016.by/), which had got a lot of hype in the state-run media, nor the BelTA spe­cial project called Par­lia­men­tary Election’2016 (http://parlament2016.belta.by/), nor the offi­cial web­site of the Belaru­sian Tele­vi­sion and Radio Com­pa­ny gave com­pre­hen­sive infor­ma­tion about the can­di­dates’ media appear­ances or debates, includ­ing the date, time and names. More­over, none of the can­di­dates’ media appear­ances were uploaded on the web­site of the Belaru­sian Tele­vi­sion and Radio, which deprived the vot­ers who could not watch or lis­ten to these broad­casts of the oppor­tu­ni­ty to get an idea of the can­di­dates’ agen­das.

    To sum it up, the absence of any mean­ing­ful infor­ma­tion­al sup­port of the can­di­dates’ media appear­ances and debates or com­pre­hen­sive infor­ma­tion about who exact­ly was going to speak and when fit­ted per­fect­ly into the gen­er­al trend towards deper­son­alised cov­er­age of the key elec­tion actors in the state-run media. Fur­ther­more, Belarus 3 also showed Sovi­et Russ­ian doc­u­men­taries under the head­ing Election’2016, for exam­ple, a forty-minute-long film fea­tur­ing the con­struc­tion of an old Sovi­et car ZIL on 29 August, 2016. Such a vague head­ing as Election’2016 is mis­lead­ing for the elec­torate, as it hin­ders the vot­ers from form­ing an informed opin­ion of the can­di­dates and their agen­das.

    At the same time, the mon­i­tored state-owned media were abun­dant in all kinds of expert opin­ions and covert hints as to the ‘right’ can­di­dates. On 21 August, 2016 the Chair­per­son of the Belaru­sian TV and Radio Davy­dź­ka divid­ed the can­di­dates in Glavny Efir into three groups after watch­ing their media appear­ances, ‘The first group are, you know, suc­cess­ful and expe­ri­enced peo­ple, such as school head­mas­ters and CEOs of pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies. They are self-con­fi­dent. As a rule, they are well pre­pared to make an address; they know what they are doing and why they are going to par­lia­ment. And the cam­era loves them.

    ‘The sec­ond group are those to whom their par­ty said, “you must do it,” and they answered “yes,” to put it plain­ly. They may not real­ly believe in their vic­to­ry, but they are try­ing to make their brands, their par­ties and them­selves recog­nis­able, well, to the best of their abil­i­ties.

    ‘Final­ly, the third group is the most inter­est­ing sam­ple, in my opin­ion, of new peo­ple that have made their way in our elec­toral his­to­ry in gen­er­al. These are “hap­py-go-lucky” can­di­dates. They do not rely on any expe­ri­ence, they don’t know why they are stand­ing for par­lia­ment, actu­al­ly, they can­not present them­selves and they often talk non­sense.’

    Anoth­er par­tic­i­pant in the dis­cus­sion, the Edi­tor-in-Chief of the Źvi­az­da state-run paper Kar­lukievič, offered an addi­tion to this clas­si­fi­ca­tion, ‘I think there is also a cat­e­go­ry of very well-known indi­vid­u­als in the infor­ma­tion field… Their agen­das are shaped by their pre-con­cep­tions that peo­ple know that the authors of these agen­das are only going to crit­i­cise and put for­ward cer­tain slo­gans, that these slo­gans with­out any grounds are enough.’ 

    Mr Jakubovič, the Edi­tor-in-Chief of the Belarus Segonya, aired an opin­ion that respon­si­ble can­di­dates ‘must give up all rhetoric and say things like, “I’ll help the author­i­ties with the park­ing lots, for exam­ple, if I am elect­ed, I’ll help the author­i­ties to put the fol­low­ing things right in the dis­trict…”’  It is evi­dent that this pro­pos­al lim­its the prospec­tive par­lia­men­tar­i­ans’ sta­tus as law­mak­ers; more­over, it under­mines the prin­ci­ple of the divi­sion of pow­ers in Belarus.

    When the can­di­dates began cam­paign­ing, it did not result in an increase in the share of air­time allo­cat­ed to them in the mon­i­tored pro­grammes. More­over, the state-owned media con­tin­ued to offer gen­er­al and deper­son­alised infor­ma­tion about the can­di­dates, giv­ing their col­lec­tive pro­file, polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tion, social back­ground and the num­ber of con­tenders for one seat in par­lia­ment. For instance, www.belta.by dur­ing this time span allo­cat­ed to the ‘deper­son­alised can­di­date’ 26% of its space giv­en to all the mon­i­tored elec­tion actors.

    The polit­i­cal par­ties were either pre­sent­ed as the epony­mous deper­son­alised actor, receiv­ing no more than 1% of elec­tion-relat­ed air­time in Radyjo­fakt and Nashi Novosti on ONT, or men­tioned in pass­ing, get­ting from 0.01% to 0.06% of space allot­ted to all the mon­i­tored elec­tion actors on www.belta.by.

    Both west­ern observers and their CIS coun­ter­parts received quite a lot of media atten­tion, i.e. about 10% or slight­ly more. They were por­trayed in a pre­dom­i­nant­ly neu­tral or pos­i­tive light. The nation­al observers also got a cer­tain amount of media cov­er­age, though not as much as the for­mer.

    The mon­i­tored news pro­grammes con­tin­ued to fea­ture sport­ing events promi­nent­ly. Even though the Olympics were over, the pro­por­tion of cov­er­age giv­en to sports and the elec­tion did not under­go any suf­fi­cient changes. Dur­ing the pre­vi­ous mon­i­tored time span between 25 July and 14 August their respec­tive shares were 35% v 2.2% in Panara­ma, 16% v 2.5% in Nashi Novosti on ONT, and 10.5% v 3.5% in Radyjo­fakt. This time, the cor­re­spond­ing fig­ures were as fol­lows: 30% v 2.9% in Panara­ma, 19% v 1.1% in Nashi Novosti on ONT, and about 13% v 6% in Radyjo­fakt.

    3 Inde­pen­dent Media

    We point­ed out in our pre­vi­ous report that the inde­pen­dent media were using a dif­fer­ent mod­el of elec­tion cov­er­age. This was par­tic­u­lar­ly true of www.tut.by and the Nar­o­d­na­ja Vola paper. These media out­lets tried to min­imise ref­er­ences to gen­er­alised notions and deper­son­alised actors, such as ‘polit­i­cal par­ties’, a ‘can­di­date’ or the ‘elec­torate’. Fol­low­ing the offi­cial reg­is­tra­tion of can­di­dates, www.tut.by began giv­ing a lot of can­di­dates’ names and infor­ma­tion about them. The same can be said of the polit­i­cal par­ties, which were more or less pre­sent­ed under their offi­cial names. The por­tal has a spe­cial video pro­gramme Госць.tut.by, which shows inter­views of the lead­ers of the par­ties par­tic­i­pat­ing in the elec­tion. Each pro­gramme lasts from 35 to 55 min­utes, the guests being one to three lead­ers of both oppo­si­tion­al and pro-gov­ern­men­tal par­ties. The host nor­mal­ly takes a crit­i­cal stance on the par­ties’ agen­das and can­di­dates.

    At this stage, the mon­i­tored region­al inde­pen­dent press, such as the Intex-press and the Hazi­eta Słonim­ska­ja, showed much more inter­est in the par­lia­men­tary cam­paign, fea­tur­ing indi­vid­ual can­di­dates and adher­ing to a neu­tral man­ner of pre­sen­ta­tion.

    The Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da v Belorus­sii also wrote about the cam­paign and some can­di­dates in a neu­tral light and men­tioned some of the polit­i­cal par­ties stand­ing for par­lia­ment.

    4. Con­clu­sions

    The mode of elec­tion cov­er­age prac­ticed by the state-run media leaves no room for any seri­ous engage­ment of the vot­ers in the cam­paign. This premise is sup­port­ed both by the deper­son­alised cov­er­age giv­en to the can­di­dates and the absence of any suf­fi­cient infor­ma­tion about their media appear­ances dur­ing the cam­paign.

    When tech­ni­cal and orga­ni­za­tion­al details are accen­tu­at­ed and the key elec­tion actors are deper­son­alised, it results in the vot­ers’ detach­ment from the elec­tion and has a neg­a­tive impact on their engage­ment in the cam­paign.

    Anoth­er tan­gi­ble ele­ment of a ‘low-key’ elec­tion is the mar­gin­al­i­sa­tion of the polit­i­cal par­ties, par­tic­u­lar­ly those oppos­ing the cur­rent regime, who have no voice in the main­stream media.

    As nei­ther the elec­torate nor the expert com­mu­ni­ty dis­cuss the polit­i­cal par­ties’ plat­forms or the can­di­dates’ agen­das, the elec­tion is depoliti­cised and deprived of any mean­ing­ful polit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion. This is a major hin­drance to the devel­op­ment of the Belaru­sian polit­i­cal sys­tem.

    By con­trast with the state-run media, the inde­pen­dent ones have a more pro­duc­tive strat­e­gy of elec­tion cov­er­age. How­ev­er, their influ­ence is not strong enough to have any suf­fi­cient impact on the par­lia­men­tary cam­paign and its out­come.

    For pur­pos­es of com­par­i­son: dur­ing the 2012 par­lia­men­tary elec­tion, the can­di­dates’ speech­es were tele­vised at the same time, while the radio address­es were broad­cast from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

    A tell-tale fact: when some of the can­di­dates uploaded their media appear­ances on the Inter­net, this was how the Belaru­sian TV and Radio Com­pa­ny react­ed, ‘Cer­tain par­tic­i­pants in the cam­paign even went so far as to decide to pro­mote them­selves at the expense of our media hold­ing by upload­ing their TV appear­ances, pro­fes­sion­al­ly record­ed by the Belaru­sian TV employ­ees, on the Inter­net, with­out ask­ing per­mis­sion from the pro­pri­etor of the video mate­ri­als, name­ly the Belaru­sian Nation­al TV and Radio Com­pa­ny,  and then went on to blame it for block­ing the ille­gal­ly uploaded con­tent.’ (http://naviny.by/new/20160819/1471612696-bt-vozmushcheno-razmeshcheniem-v-seti-vystupleniy-kandidatov-v-deputaty).

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