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  • Coverage of the 2020 Presidential Elections in Belarusian Media. Report 2

    The Belarusian Association of Journalists presented the second interim results of monitoring the media coverage of the 2020 presidential election.

    The Belarusian Association of Journalists

    Monitoring: The 2020 Presidential Election Coverage in the Belarusian Media

    Report 2 (5 July – 2 August, 2020)


    1. Introduction

    The report sums up the find­ings of the sec­ond stage of the mon­i­tor­ing. Dur­ing this time span five of the pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nees were reg­is­tered as can­di­dates and began cam­paign­ing. They were grant­ed an oppor­tu­ni­ty to address vot­ers on TV and the radio, as well as pub­lish their pro­grammes in the press.


    2. Summary

    Just like at the first stage, the state-run media con­tin­ued to present the incum­bent, who has also been run­ning for pres­i­den­cy since 14 July, in a high­ly pos­i­tive light.

    Before the reg­is­tra­tion, some state-run media increased the share of items that gave neg­a­tive assess­ments of Vik­tar Babary­ka, at the time the most pop­u­lar oppo­nent of the cur­rent regime. The same media went on por­tray­ing him in a neg­a­tive light even after he was denied reg­is­tra­tion.

    The reg­is­tered can­di­dates were grant­ed access to the state-run media. How­ev­er, the incum­bent, who is seek­ing re-elec­tion, refused to record media address­es to vot­ers or take part in debates.

    The can­di­dates’ media appear­ances were broad­cast at off-peak slots. Their sup­port­ers and oppo­nents couldn’t dis­cuss the con­tents on the state-run TV and radio sta­tions.

    The can­di­dates’ media appear­ances were not pro­mot­ed and the TV and radio guides did not give their names. There was no infor­ma­tion about the order and exact time when each of the can­di­dates was to go on air. The TV and radio guides just men­tioned ‘Media appear­ances of pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates’.

    The pres­i­den­tial cam­paign began to draw a lot of atten­tion. How­ev­er, apart from the direct access, the reg­is­tered pres­i­den­tial con­tenders received a mea­gre amount of air­time and space in the state-run media.

    The over­all infor­ma­tion back­ground for the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign cov­er­age was about the country’s suc­cess­es in econ­o­my, social wel­fare, med­i­cine, and cul­ture. Accord­ing to the state-run media, all the achieve­ments became pos­si­ble only thanks to the tal­ent of the incum­bent pres­i­dent and the Belaru­sian nation.

    At the same time, the state-run media claimed that for­eign desta­bil­is­ing forces had man­aged to put the country’s sov­er­eign­ty and integri­ty under threat and Belarus could lose its inde­pen­dence and dis­in­te­grate if their agents rose to pow­er.

    Any alter­na­tive view­points were con­spic­u­ous by their absence from the state-run media. Their jour­nal­ists and guest experts aired and prop­a­gat­ed just one stance, sup­port­ed by the gov­ern­ment. More­over, they enjoyed an exclu­sive right to inter­pret the posi­tions and opin­ions of their oppo­nents, who were nev­er giv­en an oppor­tu­ni­ty to air their views in per­son.

    The inde­pen­dent media focused on the key actors of the pres­i­den­tial race, as well as its progress and dynam­ics. They cer­tain­ly put the spot­light on the can­di­dates and their polit­i­cal agen­das. Ral­lies held by the can­di­dates, pub­lic ini­tia­tives for elec­tion obser­va­tion and vote count, and deten­tions of peace­ful pro­test­ers and inde­pen­dents jour­nal­ists fea­tured promi­nent­ly in these media.


    3. Nominees, candidates and specific features of the election coverage

    3.1 State-run media

    The state-run media went on smear­ing the most pop­u­lar con­tender Mr Babary­ka even after he was denied reg­is­tra­tion. For exam­ple, on 15 July, 2020 Panara­ma on Belarus 1 TV sta­tion spoke of an ille­gal inter­na­tion­al mon­ey laun­der­ing net­work, which includ­ed Bel­gazprom­bank with its for­mer CEO at its head. The Glavny Efir week­ly pro­gramme on 19 July, 2020 also demon­strat­ed a clear pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al bias in the way it pre­sent­ed Mr Babary­ka.

    It is a tell­tale sign that the TV sta­tions used evi­dence pro­vid­ed by the inves­ti­ga­tion before any court hear­ings even took place, there­by gross­ly vio­lat­ing the pre­sump­tion of inno­cence and inves­ti­ga­tion secre­cy.

    Just like before his reg­is­tra­tion as a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, the incumbent’s vis­its to a wide range of places con­tin­ued to be exten­sive­ly cov­ered by the state-run media. In the course of these vis­its Pres­i­dent Lukašen­ka held a lot of meet­ings with local office hold­ers, the mil­i­tary and local pop­u­la­tion.

    The well-known colum­nist Mr Hihin explained the rea­son for such unusu­al meet­ings, ‘Few peo­ple have seen the paper pro­duced by the Oper­a­tional and Ana­lyt­i­cal Cen­tre. The first part shows that the pan­dem­ic result­ed in a decline in trust. In which regions? The paper names Min­sk, as well as Brest and Hrod­na regions. Where did Ali­ak­san­dr Lukašen­ka hold his most impres­sive meet­ings dur­ing this time span? In Min­sk, as well as Brest and Hrod­na regions.’   (Nichego Lichno­go [Noth­ing Per­son­al], ONT, 16/07/2020)

    Thus, the incum­bent who is seek­ing re-elec­tion began cam­paign­ing at least before the mid of June by vis­it­ing Hrod­na region. One of the rea­sons for the vis­it was a fall in his rat­ing.

    A tell­tale sign: the nom­i­nees’ reg­is­tra­tion as can­di­dates had no influ­ence on the dis­tri­b­u­tion of air­time and space in the state-run media. The same one per­son, name­ly the incum­bent, con­tin­ued to dom­i­nate the most high­ly-rat­ed shows on Belaru­sian TV and state-run papers.

    This is sup­port­ed by our quan­ti­ta­tive data. After the for­mal reg­is­tra­tion, Panara­ma on Belarus 1 allo­cat­ed 56% of its air­time giv­en to all the mon­i­tored actors to Mr Lukašen­ka as pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. (The total pres­ence of Mr Lukašen­ka as both a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and the incum­bent account­ed for 82% of the cov­er­age giv­en to all the mon­i­tored actors.) Panara­ma men­tioned all the oth­er can­di­dates just in pass­ing.

    The same pat­tern was also typ­i­cal of Nashi Novosti news on ONT. Of the air­time giv­en to all the mon­i­tored actors, Mr Lukašen­ka as a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date received 53% of cov­er­age (the com­bined pres­ence of Mr Lukašen­ka both as a can­di­date and the incum­bent made up about the same per­cent­age as on Panara­ma). Mean­while, the most pop­u­lar con­tender Mrs Cichanoŭskaja’s share was only 0.03%.

    The SB. Belarus Segod­nya and the Zvi­az­da nation­wide papers rep­re­sent­ed Mr Lukašen­ka as a can­di­date and the incum­bent in a sim­i­lar way, at the same time avoid­ing any men­tion of his con­tenders.

    The elec­tron­ic media broad­cast a num­ber of par­tic­u­lar media items aimed at pro­mot­ing the incum­bent seek­ing re-elec­tion. These were spe­cial pieces and projects that demon­strat­ed Belarus’ achieve­ments under the rule of Pres­i­dent Lukašen­ka for the last twen­ty-five years.

    A ‘secret’ doc­u­ment about the incumbent/candidate Lukašenka’s rat­ing can be viewed as anoth­er spe­cial media project. It was the TV polit­i­cal ana­lyst and Lukašenka’s elec­tion agent Kry­vaše­jeŭ who uploaded this doc­u­ment on his Face­book account.

    The doc­u­ment claimed that the coun­try leader’s rat­ing was 76%. A few days lat­er the media announced the find­ings of anoth­er opin­ion poll, con­duct­ed by lit­tle-known Ecoom ana­lyt­i­cal cen­tre. On 19 July, 2020 the pre­sen­ter of Glavny Efir on Belarus 1 said, refer­ring to this sur­vey, ‘The poll showed high trust in the incum­bent Pres­i­dent. It was a bit more than sev­en­ty eight per cent. It includes not only the elec­toral rat­ing, but also the assess­ment of the social and eco­nom­ic poli­cies imple­ment­ed by the head of state, as well as the effi­cien­cy of his deci­sions.’

    Final­ly, accord­ing to anoth­er opin­ion poll con­duct­ed by the same Ecoom ana­lyt­i­cal cen­tre on 23–27 July, the pro­por­tion of vot­ers who were ready to sup­port the incum­bent rose from 69% to 72%. Mean­while, the com­bined rat­ing of all the oth­er can­di­dates was below 10%.

    Anoth­er spe­cif­ic fea­ture of the 2020 elec­tion cov­er­age is numer­ous state­ments in the state-run media that this elec­tion might lead to a loss of state sov­er­eign­ty and the country’s ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­in­te­gra­tion. Until recent­ly the state-run media high­light­ed a for­eign con­spir­a­cy and ‘pup­peteers’ from East and West, but dur­ing this mon­i­tored time span allu­sions to con­spir­a­cies were less pro­nounced. This time, it turned out that the key destruc­tive forces were con­cen­trat­ed inside the coun­try. On 16 July, 2020 Panara­ma on Belarus 1 quot­ed Andrej Raŭkoŭ, State Sec­re­tary of the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil of Belarus, as say­ing, ‘You must under­stand one clear thing. Most com­mon­ly war in these con­flicts did not start spon­ta­neous­ly by an air attack, an impact of radio-elec­tron­ic means of destruc­tion or a ground inva­sion. As a rule, it began in the streets and in the square. And this square – take Tahrib [sic! – translator’s note], take Syr­ia, take the rad­i­cal actions in Ukraine. (…) And our task is to pre­vent ruin­ing the state! To pre­vent blood­shed among the peo­ple!’  

    Some inde­pen­dent Belaru­sian and for­eign media were also accused of con­flict orches­tra­tion. Appear­ing on Klub Redak­torov (Edo­tors’ Club) TV show, Head of the Belaru­sian TV and Radio Com­pa­ny Ivan Ejs­mant claimed, ‘Some media, which are quite pop­u­lar, have tak­en an anti-state posi­tion.’ Mr Žuk, the SB. Belarus Segod­nya Edi­tor-in-Chief, clar­i­fied, ‘They are prepar­ing a coup.’  

    ‘Non-state media are wag­ing a war against a dif­fer­ent opin­ion,’ the show summed up Mr Žuk’s words.

    Final­ly, an inter­est­ing detail: dur­ing the dis­cus­sion of inde­pen­dent media and jour­nal­ists, ser­vice car­tridges or a grenade and a pen fea­tured in the back­ground of the news­room inte­ri­or. (Klub Redak­torov, Belarus 1, 24/07/2020)

    3.2 Direct access

    Can­di­dates’ media appear­ances and debate are the most cru­cial part of cam­paign­ing. The Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (CEC) oblig­ed the state media to pro­vide direct access to their audi­ences for the can­di­dates.

    Com­pared to the 2015 pres­i­den­tial race, these broad­casts went on air at worse time slots. While the can­di­dates’ media appear­ances began to be broad­cast at 19.30 in 2015 and at 19.00 in 2010, this time they went on air start­ing from 17.00.  A large pro­por­tion of work­ing pop­u­la­tion was undoubt­ed­ly deprived of the oppor­tu­ni­ty to watch them at this time.

    Mean­while, the state-run print and elec­tron­ic media did not adver­tise in advance the can­di­dates’ TV and radio address­es. The TV and radio guides did not give their names. There was no infor­ma­tion about the order and exact time when each of the can­di­dates was to go on air.

    Belarus 1 also broad­cast the can­di­dates’ debates at off-peak slots, start­ing at 17.00.

    The state-run media tech­ni­cal­ly grant­ed direct access to all the pres­i­den­tial run­ners. How­ev­er, by broad­cast­ing their media address­es and debates at worse time slots these media brought down the voter’s atten­tion to them.

    The can­di­dates’ media appear­ances were not uploaded to the web­site of the Belaru­sian TV and Radio Com­pa­ny. Search­es for ‘pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates’ media appear­ances led to the 2015 spoil­er can­di­dates’ video address­es. (https://www.tvr.by/videogallery/informatsionno-analiticheskie/vystupleniya-kandidatov-v-prezidenty/).

    As for the con­tents of the con­tenders’ media address­es, it was Head of the Belaru­sian TV and Radio Com­pa­ny Ejs­mant who aired the state-employed jour­nal­ists and the state media’s opin­ion, ‘Some can­di­dates’ cam­paign­ing speech­es are just lie-sod­den, which we have demon­strat­ed more than once in our shows.’ (Pony­at­naya poli­ti­ka [Pol­i­tics Made Clear], Belarus 1, 29/07/2020) It goes with­out say­ing that the can­di­dates were not invit­ed to the shows that Mr Ejs­mant meant, so they were deprived of the right to rebut.

    Apart from direct access, the con­tenders’ pres­ence in the state-run media was not just low but mea­gre.


    3.3 Independent media

    The inde­pen­dent media brought key actors in the focus of their atten­tion. These includ­ed the can­di­dates and their cam­paigns, the CEC and the oppo­si­tion. They gave exten­sive cov­er­age of cam­paign ral­lies, first and fore­most led by the most pop­u­lar pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Mrs Cichanoŭska­ja, who was vir­tu­al­ly ignored by the state-run media.

    There was an essen­tial infor­ma­tion block about the arrest­ed pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Mr Babary­ka, the head of Mrs Cichanoŭskaja’s cam­paign, her arrest­ed hus­band Siarhiej Cichanoŭs­ki, impris­oned blog­gers and activists, as well as the facts of deten­tions of jour­nal­ists.

    The inde­pen­dent media offered more analy­sis and crit­i­cal opin­ions of accu­sa­tions against some pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls, elec­tion obser­va­tion organ­i­sa­tions, and opin­ion poll find­ings that were prop­a­gat­ed by the state-run media.

    Naviny.by pre­sent­ed the largest num­ber of elec­tion actors among all the mon­i­tored state-run and inde­pen­dent media, includ­ing BelTA. Inter­est­ing­ly enough, Mr Cichanoŭskaja’s cam­paign received more cov­er­age than the can­di­date in per­son.

    Although the chart shows that the can­di­dates were giv­en just a few per­cent of the total space, it was quite a lot in absolute terms. For exam­ple, the pres­ence of Mrs Cichanoŭska­ja and her cam­paign made up 62 000 char­ac­ters. The inter­net resource assessed the elec­tion actors in a bal­anced man­ner, offer­ing neu­tral, pos­i­tive and crit­i­cal judge­ments.

    Just like dur­ing the 2019 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, naviny.by held debates between the can­di­dates.

    The Nar­o­d­na­ja Vola paper gave the oppo­si­tion and its activ­i­ties quite a lot of cov­er­age, assess­ing them in a neu­tral and crit­i­cal man­ner, and spoke about the CEC neu­tral­ly and crit­i­cal­ly. The paper pre­sent­ed the pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls Mr Dźmit­ry­jeŭ (6%) and Mr Čer­ačań (2%) neu­tral­ly, spoke neg­a­tive­ly about Mrs Kana­pack­a­ja (about 2%), and cov­ered Mrs Cichanoŭska­ja in a neu­tral light, at the same time speak­ing pos­i­tive­ly about her cam­paign (the com­bined share was about 8%). The Nar­o­d­na­ja Vola spoke crit­i­cal­ly and neu­tral­ly about incumbent/presidential can­di­date Lukašen­ka, allo­cat­ing to him about 6% of the space giv­en to all the mon­i­tored actors.

    The Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da v Belorus­sii wrote about each of the can­di­dates, most­ly giv­ing them neu­tral cov­er­age. Incumbent/presidential can­di­date Lukašen­ka received max­i­mal atten­tion (43% of the total space allo­cat­ed to all the mon­i­tored actors). At the same time, the paper spoke crit­i­cal­ly about some of his state­ments. Mr Dźmit­ry­jeŭ came sec­ond (8%). Mrs Kana­pack­a­ja, Mrs Cichanoŭska­ja with her cam­paign and Mr Čer­ačań each received about 4% of the total space allo­cat­ed to all the mon­i­tored actors.

    4. Conclusions

    The state-run media active­ly worked for the cam­paign of one can­di­date, Pres­i­dent Lukašen­ka. Even though his con­tenders were grant­ed an oppor­tu­ni­ty to address the elec­torate via TV and the radio live, they remained over­shad­owed by the cov­er­age giv­en to the incum­bent.

    These media were not a plat­form for air­ing crit­i­cal opin­ions and dis­cus­sions con­cern­ing the Belaru­sian real­i­ty and the country’s future. More­over, they did not per­ceive the pres­i­den­tial race as a con­test of ideas and visions of Belarus’ devel­op­ment and its prospects.

    The assess­ments the state-run media gave to the coun­try leader (who is at the same time a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date) and his work led to the con­clu­sion that there is no alter­na­tive to the incum­bent. The mes­sage was that if he was not re-elect­ed, Belarus would face chaos, war, par­ti­tion and a loss of inde­pen­dence.

    As for the inde­pen­dent media they focused on pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion in their elec­tion cov­er­age, clear­ly defined each candidate’s posi­tions and treat­ed them either neu­tral­ly or crit­i­cal­ly. They also pre­sent­ed opin­ions of dif­fer­ent par­tic­i­pants in the elec­tion process.

    Dur­ing all the pre­ced­ing elec­tions, both par­lia­men­tary and pres­i­den­tial, the state-run media had a deci­sive impact on the elec­tion process. How­ev­er, this cam­paign has made it obvi­ous that they have lost some of their influ­ence. This is sub­stan­ti­at­ed by the num­bers of views and com­ments on Youtube media prod­ucts owned by the state-run TV sta­tions. We can speak of a new bal­ance between trust and dis­trust that the upcom­ing elec­tion has revealed.

    More illustrations and methodology — in the attached files:




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