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  • Coverage of the 2019 Parliamentary Elections in Belarusian Media. Report 2

    On November 14, the Belarusian Association of Journalists presented the second stage of its Monitoring of the Media Coverage of the Parliamentary Elections-2019.

    Belarusian Association of Journalists

    Coverage of the 2019 Parliamentary Elections in Belarusian Media

    Report 2

    (19 Octo­ber – 11 Novem­ber 2019)

    1. Introduction

     This report sum­maris­es the find­ings of the sec­ond stage of the mon­i­tor­ing.

    It was the time span when nom­i­nees were reg­is­tered as can­di­dates and began cam­paign­ing. They were giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to address vot­ers via TV and the radio, as well as have their pro­grammes print­ed in the press.


    2. Key Findings

    There were hard­ly any changes in the way the mon­i­tored state-run media cov­ered the upcom­ing elec­tion. They still made a point of focus­ing on tech­ni­cal­i­ties and giv­ing deper­son­alised infor­ma­tion, depoliti­cis­ing the elec­tion and mar­gin­al­is­ing its key actors.

    All can­di­dates had equal oppor­tu­ni­ties to appear in the media. How­ev­er, their appear­ances on air had not been pub­li­cised in advance. TV and radio guides did not inform vot­ers about the exact day and time when their par­lia­men­tary hope­fuls were to appear on air. 

    Belarus 3 TV sta­tion, which reserved air­time for most of the can­di­dates, does not stand very high in media rat­ings. It is a Belaru­sian ver­sion of a TV sta­tion fea­tur­ing cul­ture, whose audi­ence is not focused on pol­i­tics. The par­lia­men­tary hope­fuls’ radio address­es were broad­cast at off-peak slots, from 7.00 a.m. to 7.30 a.m., when a vast major­i­ty of vot­ers were prepar­ing to go to work or com­mut­ing.

    The mon­i­tored state-run media did not host any shows where mem­bers of polit­i­cal par­ties stand­ing for par­lia­ment or their sup­port­ers could debate on their can­di­dates’ polit­i­cal agen­das or sim­ply dis­cuss how the cam­paign was being held.

    Fur­ther­more, any range of opin­ions on social or polit­i­cal mat­ters was con­spic­u­ous by its absence in these media, as their jour­nal­ists gave voice to only one stance, which they sided with.

    Although the inde­pen­dent media pub­lished a much wider spec­trum of opin­ions, includ­ing crit­i­cisms, they could not mean­ing­ful­ly com­pete with their state-oper­at­ed coun­ter­parts in elec­tion cov­er­age.

    Media con­tri­bu­tions to both state-run and inde­pen­dent out­lets could not lead to a con­clu­sion that the elec­torate took any active inter­est in the upcom­ing elec­tion. 


    3. Facts and Data

    3.1 State-run media

    Can­di­dates’ media appear­ances and debates are undoubt­ed­ly the core of cam­paign­ing. A num­ber of state-run out­lets were oblig­ed to pro­vide equal media access to all can­di­dates.

    Each can­di­date had 5 min­utes to address their vot­ers. The media appear­ances were broad­cast on TV at prime time, from 7.00 p.m. to 8.40 p.m., with the excep­tion of 22 and 29 Octo­ber, when elec­tion cov­er­age on Belarus 3 was lim­it­ed to thir­ty min­utes, from 7.00 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. The same TV sta­tion also broad­cast debates at the same time. Each candidate’s active con­tri­bu­tion to the debates could not exceed 5 min­utes. In addi­tion, they could have their agen­das print­ed in state-run papers.

    Tech­ni­cal­ly, the state-run media played a role in cam­paign­ing.

    How­ev­er, they actu­al­ly nev­er focused on com­pet­ing ideas or made an effort to dis­sem­i­nate infor­ma­tion about agen­das of the can­di­dates or polit­i­cal par­ties stand­ing for par­lia­ment. More­over, they were instru­men­tal in restrict­ing and even block­ing polit­i­cal activ­i­ties. This claim is sub­stan­ti­at­ed by the fol­low­ing facts:

    – the can­di­dates’ appear­ances on TV and the radio were not uploaded to the TV and radio sta­tions’ web­sites or YouTube chan­nels, in con­trast with many oth­er items;

    – TV and radio guides did not give the can­di­dates’ names or exact times of their address­es to vot­ers. The Belarus 3 TV guide said noth­ing more than ‘The 2019 par­lia­men­tary elec­tion’. The same was true about the debates. The STV TV guide sim­ply said, ‘The 2019 par­lia­men­tary elec­tion. Debates’;

    – the can­di­dates appeared on TV and radio sta­tions that do not stand very high in media rat­ings. In the same vein, the par­lia­men­tary hope­fuls’ agen­das were pub­lished in nation­wide papers with not very high cir­cu­la­tions;

    – the mon­i­tored state-run elec­tron­ic and print media did not pro­vide any infor­ma­tion that could help the elec­torate get an idea of dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal forces’ stand­ing or polit­i­cal par­ties’ visions of how the nation’s most burn­ing prob­lems should be solved;

    – although these media gave voice to poten­tial vot­ers in the form of vox pop­uli, the reporters, judg­ing by the replies, did not ask any clear­ly polit­i­cal ques­tions;

    – the state-run media shaped an image of the would-be par­lia­ment main­ly not in con­nec­tion with its leg­isla­tive and polit­i­cal role but through for­mal gen­er­alised pro­files of a would-be MP, i.e. their age, gen­der, mar­i­tal sta­tus, ear­li­er expe­ri­ence of par­lia­men­tary work and even their per­son­al­i­ty traits.

    Last but not least, the quan­ti­ta­tive data assem­bled at this mon­i­tor­ing stage, do not indi­cate that elec­tion-relat­ed top­ics were among pri­or­i­ties in media cov­er­age.

    For exam­ple, the Panara­ma dai­ly news on Belarus 1 gave only 1.6% of its total air­time to elec­tion-relat­ed issues, which indi­cates a drop from 2.7% at the pre­vi­ous mon­i­tor­ing stage.

    For pur­pos­es of com­par­i­son: weath­er fore­cast and sports took up 7% and 11% of the Panara­ma total air­time, respec­tive­ly. Nashi Novosti on ONT left the upcom­ing elec­tion out of the spot­light even more marked­ly, allot­ting it a mere 1% of its air­time.

    Radyjo­fakt on the First Nation­al Chan­nel of the Belaru­sian Radio cut down its elec­tion cov­er­age from 5% to 2% of the total air­time.

    The same trend was man­i­fest in the state-run papers. A tell-tale sign: sev­er­al issues of the SB – Belarus Segod­nya, which has the high­est cir­cu­la­tion among nation­wide papers, did not fea­ture any elec­tion-relat­ed con­tri­bu­tions at all.

    This over­all lack-lus­tre cov­er­age only empha­sised a pos­i­tive por­tray­al of pro-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions such as the Belaru­sian Nation­al Youth Union (BNYU), the Belarus Trade Unions Fed­er­a­tion (BTUF) and the Belaya Rus’ (White Rus’), which have their can­di­dates run­ning for par­lia­ment and are par­tic­i­pat­ing in elec­tion obser­va­tion. (See the charts for visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the quan­ti­ta­tive data show­ing the cov­er­age giv­en to these and oth­er mon­i­tored actors.)

    Dur­ing this stage of mon­i­tor­ing, state-run media quite active­ly dis­cussed the pro­file of a would-be par­lia­men­tar­i­an. Below, we offer some typ­i­cal quotes.

    On 23 Octo­ber ONT launched a new project, Obyek­tivNo. In its first issue, the host asked the audi­ence, ‘Have you decid­ed on the traits a can­di­date should pos­sess so that you can cast your bal­lot for him?’

    It is evi­dent that the ques­tion diverts the focus from polit­i­cal agen­das and ideas to per­son­al­i­ty traits.

    Next comes a trail­er for a report that went on air in Radyjo­fakt on 6 Novem­ber: ‘A per­fect deputy pro­file. The Youth Union encour­ages vot­ers to speak about the most impor­tant fea­tures in the people’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive.’

    Final­ly, the Obyek­tivNo host won­dered on 6 Novem­ber, ‘I imag­ine one of our view­ers going to the polls on 17 Novem­ber. He sees – how can he tell a blath­er­skite from… some­one who is a com­pe­tent pro­fes­sion­al that can meet the require­ments for the sta­tus of par­lia­men­tar­i­an?’

    The sce­nario envis­aged by the host is actu­al­ly evi­dence of the fact that some ten days before the polling day, a major­i­ty of vot­ers knew noth­ing about the par­lia­men­tary hope­fuls or their pro­grammes, or those of the polit­i­cal par­ties par­tic­i­pat­ing in the elec­tion, for that mat­ter.


    3.2 Independent Media           

    There were undoubt­ed­ly a num­ber of strik­ing dif­fer­ences in the way inde­pen­dent media cov­ered the upcom­ing elec­tion.

    First­ly, they avoid­ed pre­sent­ing elec­tion actors anony­mous­ly;

    sec­ond­ly, they gave voice to key actors, includ­ing both oppo­si­tion and non-oppo­si­tion can­di­dates and polit­i­cal fig­ures;

    third­ly, the mon­i­tored inde­pen­dent media, with the excep­tion of the Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da v Belorus­sii, marked­ly increased their elec­tion cov­er­age; 

    fourth­ly, they sought to present a wide range of opin­ions and assess­ments regard­ing the upcom­ing elec­tion;

    fifth­ly, they offered polit­i­cal analy­ses and crit­i­cisms of the gov­ern­ment, the CEC and the way the elec­tion was organ­ised;

    sixth­ly, they voiced the wide range of vot­ers’ opin­ions and polit­i­cal views, which were absent from the state-run media.

    Here are some fig­ures and facts.

    tut.by infor­ma­tion por­tal pre­sent­ed 71 can­di­dates, giv­ing their names. For pur­pos­es of com­par­i­son, dur­ing the pre­vi­ous stage, there were only sev­en can­di­dates named. Infor­ma­tion aimed at the elec­torate dra­mat­i­cal­ly increased. tut.by fea­tured some elec­tion-relat­ed ana­lyt­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions. There were also videos about the upcom­ing elec­tion.

    The Nar­o­d­na­ja Volia paper ‘spoke’ to sev­er­al oppo­si­tion can­di­dates, high­light­ed cer­tain prob­lems in cam­paign­ing and crit­i­cised the gov­ern­ment.

    Even though inde­pen­dent naviny.by is not on the list of the mon­i­tored media  this time, we can­not help prais­ing its skil­ful project Debates’2019 (https://naviny.by/plot/debaty-2019), which meets the high­est pro­fes­sion­al stan­dards, giv­ing voice to the widest spec­trum of can­di­dates, both par­ti­san and those with no par­ty affil­i­a­tion, pro-gov­ern­men­tal and pro-oppo­si­tion.


    4. Conclusions

    Elec­tion cov­er­age in the state-run media was marked by the absence of any mean­ing­ful con­flict, clash­es of ideas or com­pe­ti­tion between polit­i­cal agen­das and plat­forms. They did not turn the spot­light on the upcom­ing elec­tion.

    Although cam­paign­ing was tech­ni­cal­ly at its peak, the key actors, such as polit­i­cal par­ties and most of the par­lia­men­tary hope­fuls, remained invis­i­ble to the elec­torate.

    Only a few pro-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions were recog­nis­able in state-run media. As for oppo­nents of the gov­ern­ment, their posi­tions were not aired in the state-owned media. They received only neg­a­tive cov­er­age, if any at all.

    By con­trast, inde­pen­dent media were deter­mined to present a wide spec­trum of can­di­dates with their polit­i­cal beliefs and par­ties. In doing so, these media helped cit­i­zens who take an inter­est in pol­i­tics and are going to vote, to make an informed choice.

    How­ev­er, these media did not have an essen­tial influ­ence on the cam­paign, as it is the state-run elec­tron­ic and print media that con­tin­ue to shape and con­trol the polit­i­cal agen­da in the country’s media field.


    Offi­cial infor­ma­tion about the media des­ig­nat­ed to broad­cast can­di­dates’ address­es to vot­ers is avail­able at: https://minsknews.by/kto-voshel-v-sostav-nablyudatelnogo-soveta-po-kontrolyu-za-predvybornoj-agitacziej-v-smi/ and http://rec.gov.by/sites/default/files/pdf/2019/pred_prog.pdf

    Can­di­dates’ appear­ances in elec­tron­ic and print­ed media were not mon­i­tored.

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