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  • Monitoring: The Coverage of the 2015 Presidential Election in the Belarusian Media (1–20 September, 2015)

    Report No. 2

    24 Sep­tem­ber, 2015

    Min­sk, Belarus

    1. Introduction

    The mon­i­tor­ing sum­maris­es the find­ings of the sec­ond stage of the mon­i­tor­ing, i.e. between 1 Sep­tem­ber and 20 Sep­tem­ber, 2015. Accord­ing to the sched­ule of the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (CEC) of Belarus, it was dur­ing this time span that the CEC fin­ished check­ing the vot­ers’ sig­na­tures endors­ing poten­tial pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls; the can­di­dates were for­mal­ly reg­is­tered and launched their cam­paigns.

    2. Summary

    As we have already point­ed out, this time the mon­i­tored state-owned online media gave more promi­nence to the upcom­ing elec­tion than they had in the pre­vi­ous 2010 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

    As the cam­paign­ing began, some pos­i­tive changes could be traced in the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the incum­bents’ oppo­nents and the cov­er­age of their activ­i­ties. For exam­ple, the state-owned media came up with some neu­tral reports of the can­di­dates’ tele­vised address­es to the vot­ers and their cam­paign­ing. The state-owned media also pre­sent­ed an overview of the pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls’ agen­das. At the same time, they stuck to the old mod­el of elec­tion cov­er­age, which is char­ac­terised by focussing on the incum­bent and giv­ing him pos­i­tive assess­ment. They also fea­tured the CEC and region­al elec­tion com­mis­sions, local author­i­ties and their work, as well as some tech­ni­cal aspects of get­ting the polling sta­tions ready for the vot­ing day, com­pil­ing the lists of vot­ers, etc.

    Like in the pre­vi­ous mon­i­tored time span, the key actors of the cam­paign were the incum­bent and the CEC. The oth­er can­di­dates stood no chance of com­pet­ing with them in terms of the air time and space they received.

    Dur­ing the mon­i­tored peri­od, the pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls were giv­en free access to state-owned media that the CEC had cho­sen, in order to address the vot­ers direct­ly and present their agen­das. How­ev­er, these media appar­ent­ly had no inten­tion of bring­ing the can­di­dates’ speech­es into the spot­light, as the address­es had not been adver­tised in advance, and TV guides did not give the names of the pres­i­den­tial con­tes­tants who were to go on air.

    Mean­while, the state-owned media went on active­ly pro­mot­ing a num­ber of pro-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions that had pub­licly endorsed the incum­bent. The voic­es of his oppo­nents or vot­ers who sup­port them could not be heard in the state-owned media.

    As for the inde­pen­dent media, they cen­tred on the can­di­dates and their agen­das, the polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion, the CEC and oth­er actors. They were crit­i­cal of all the pres­i­den­tial run­ners, albeit mush less so of Ms Karatkievič.

    3. Major findings

    3.1 The State-owned Media

    Like in the pre­vi­ous time span, the state-owned elec­tron­ic media gave more cov­er­age to the upcom­ing elec­tion as com­pared to the 2010 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. For exam­ple, Panara­ma news pro­gramme on Belarus 1 TV sta­tion allo­cat­ed about 6% of its air time to the elec­tion, 3% to the weath­er and 17% to sports news. (In 2010 Panara­ma gave 0.86% of its air time to the elec­tion cov­er­age, 3.45% to the weath­er and 17.4% to sport.) Near­ly the same pro­por­tions were typ­i­cal of the oth­er mon­i­tored media that are cov­er­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

    Anoth­er spe­cif­ic fea­ture of the 2015 elec­tion cov­er­age dur­ing the mon­i­tored time span was the fact that the state-owned media began to take slight­ly more notice of the incumbent’s oppo­nents. More­over, in the ear­li­er cam­paigns the oth­er con­tes­tants had been pre­sent­ed in a neg­a­tive light and most com­mon­ly in a deper­son­alised form, where­as this time they were pre­sent­ed in a neu­tral or even pos­i­tive light. For instance, Panara­ma on Belarus 1 TV sta­tion and Nashi Novosti on ONT TV sta­tion gave all the oppo­nents of the incum­bent neu­tral or pos­i­tive cov­er­age.

    This does not mean, how­ev­er, that the incumbent’s con­tes­tants tan­gi­bly increased their media pres­ence in the state-owned media. For exam­ple, if we take the same stage of the 2010 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Mr Sańnikaŭ, who had the biggest share of cov­er­age in Panara­ma of all the incumbent’s oppo­nents, received 2.6% of the total air time giv­en to all the elec­tion actors. This time, the cor­re­spond­ing fig­ures were 4% for Mr Haj­dukievič, 3.6% for Mr Ula­chovič, and 3.4% for Ms Karatkievič. The per­cent­age of the candidate’s media pres­ence in the oth­er state-owned media did not diverge much from the cit­ed above. How­ev­er, it was slight­ly high­er on BelTA web­site, where Mr Ula­chovič received 6.6%, Mr Haj­dukievič was grant­ed about 6% and Ms Karatkievič had 3.8% of the total elec­tion cov­er­age.

    As for the Mr Lukašen­ka, who is seek­ing re-elec­tion, and the CEC, their pres­ence in the state-owned elec­tron­ic and print­ed media was by far more promi­nent. Thus, they received 69% and 10% of air time in Glavny Efir week­ly pro­gramme on Belarus 1, 61% and about 11% of air­time in Panara­ma, 39% and 5% of air­time in Nashi Novosti on ONT, 30% and 14% of air time in Radyjo­fakt, and 50% and 8% of space in the Belarus Segod­nia, respec­tive­ly, of the total cov­er­age of the mon­i­tored elec­tion actors.  

    These media gave pos­i­tive or neu­tral cov­er­age to the Pres­i­dent and his work. It was The 21st Cen­tu­ry series in Glavny Efir that pre­sent­ed the incum­bent in the most pos­i­tive light.

    Like in the pre­vi­ous mon­i­tored peri­od, the state-owned elec­tron­ic media fea­tured the elec­tion observers rather promi­nent­ly, as com­pared to the oth­er pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls oppos­ing the incum­bent. Both the CIS observers and their ODIHR/OSCE coun­ter­parts were pre­sent­ed in not only neu­tral but also pos­i­tive light.

    At the same time, some reporters from state-owned media were con­vinced that the west­ern observers who had tak­en part in the ear­li­er elec­tion obser­va­tion mis­sions in Belarus were biased in their assess­ment. For exam­ple, while inter­view­ing Head of the CEC Lidz­i­ja Jar­mošy­na, the pre­sen­ter of Glavny Efir asked her about the ODIHR/OSCE 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?’ (Glavny Efir, Belarus 1 TV sta­tion, 13/09/2015).

    Panara­ma enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly wel­comed the Alliance Mon­i­tor­ing Group, ‘Hein­rich Kro­ne, the Head of the Alliance Mon­i­tor­ing Group, spoke today to reporters. He described the elec­tion leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­la­tions for the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in two words: trans­par­ent and fair. The experts […] had arrived in Belarus a day before and said at once that they were here as friends.’ Anoth­er quote: ‘The observers admit­ted being sur­prised that all can­di­dates are enti­tled to free air time and can buy extra time from their cam­paign funds. The rea­son is that in most Euro­pean coun­tries access to elec­tron­ic media is lim­it­ed to free air time only, while in the USA all cam­paign­ing is done on mon­e­tary basis.’ (Panara­ma, Belarus 1, 17/09/2015).

    The state-owned media con­tin­ued to present a num­ber of pro-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions in a pos­i­tive light. A reporter of the 1st Chan­nel of the Nation­al Radio revealed the rea­son for this selec­tive­ness in the media atten­tion, ‘Belaru­sian NGOs have begun to take an active part in the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. The Fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions, the Belaru­sian Nation­al Youth Union and the Women’s Union have open­ly endorsed Ali­ak­san­dr Lukašen­ka as their can­di­date. Bela­ja Ruś NGO joined in by open­ing the pres­i­den­tial candidate’s offices in the cap­i­tal city and in Belarus’ regions.’ (Radyjo­fakt, 14/09/2015). Just like the two instances quot­ed above, this one can be regard­ed as a media effect.[1]

    As we have point­ed out, by con­trast to the 2010 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, the state-owned media, with a few excep­tions, basi­cal­ly ignored the Belaru­sian oppo­si­tion, which can also be viewed as anoth­er spe­cif­ic trait of this pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

    3.2 Direct Access

    In accor­dance with the estab­lished pro­ce­dure, the can­di­dates who obtained reg­is­tra­tion were grant­ed an oppor­tu­ni­ty to address the vot­ers twice on Belarus 1 TV sta­tion and the 1st Chan­nel of the Nation­al Radio, as well as pub­lish their pro­grammes in the state-owned papers des­ig­nat­ed by the CEC. The pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls’ address­es were admit­ted­ly tele­vised dur­ing prime time, start­ing at 7.30 p.m., which is evi­dence of improve­ment in terms of their chances to draw big­ger audi­ences. (Dur­ing the 2010 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, the can­di­dates’ address­es were tele­vised from 7.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.) As for the radio address­es, it is high­ly unlike­ly that a lot of vot­ers will be able to hear them between 6.10 a.m. and 7.10 a.m. (Dur­ing the 2010 cam­paign the can­di­dates’ radio address­es were sched­uled for the same time.)

    TV guides present the pres­i­den­tial run­ners’ address­es as Speech­es of Can­di­dates for Pres­i­den­cy of the Repub­lic of Belarus, with­out giv­ing their names. Fur­ther­more, TV guides always high­light the most pop­u­lar shows, such as soap operas and films, in bold type, while the can­di­dates’ address­es were not high­light­ed.

    The Belarus Segod­nia dai­ly began pub­lish­ing the pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls’ agen­das. Mr Ulachovič’s agen­da was the first to be pub­lished, with 717 cm2 allo­cat­ed to it (Belarus Segod­nia, 17/09/2015). Mean­while, the incumbent’s agen­da took up 919 cm2 (Belarus Segod­nia, 18/09/2015).

    3.3 The Independent Media

    www.naviny.by gave Ms Karatkievič the biggest cov­er­age, i.e. 10% of its space allo­cat­ed to all the elec­tion actors. The oth­er can­di­dates’ shares were as fol­lows: Mr Lukašen­ka – 7%, Mr Haj­dukievič – 5% and Mr Ulasievič – 2%. The pres­i­den­tial con­tes­tants and their actions received a whole range of assess­ments, from pos­i­tive to neu­tral and neg­a­tive.

    The Nar­o­d­na­ja Vola focussed its atten­tion on the oppo­si­tion, giv­ing it 25% of its elec­tion cov­er­age and pre­sent­ing it main­ly in neu­tral light, but also pos­i­tive­ly and neg­a­tive­ly. Of all the can­di­dates, the paper fea­tured most promi­nent­ly Mr Lukašen­ka, who received 8% of the elec­tion-relat­ed space, while Ms Karatkievič was giv­en twice less.

    The Naša Niva week­ly brought into the spot­light Mr Lukašen­ka (34%) and Ms Karatkievič (19%).

    The Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da v Belorus­sii gave pref­er­ence to Mr Haj­dukievič and Mr Ula­chovič.

    The inde­pen­dent media may have allo­cat­ed much more space to cer­tain can­di­dates, but we can­not argue that in doing so they sup­port­ed any­one of them.


    We have spot­ted some pos­i­tive traits in the elec­tion cov­er­age of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, such as an increased share of elec­tion-relat­ed sub­jects and pos­i­tive or neu­tral rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the incumbent’s oppo­nents. How­ev­er, they do not tes­ti­fy to any sig­nif­i­cant change in the mode of elec­tion cov­er­age by the state-owned media. It still aims to pro­mote only one run­ner for pres­i­den­cy, name­ly the incum­bent. In the long run, this mode invari­ably under­mines the polit­i­cal impor­tance of pres­i­den­tial 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.


    [1] By media effects we mean instances of one-sided or biased cov­er­age, ground­less inter­pre­ta­tions, and dis­tort­ing infor­ma­tion – whether delib­er­ate­ly or not, selec­tive or frag­men­tary vision, as well as sup­pres­sion of facts or events that change or could change the pub­lic opin­ion and influ­ence the vot­ers’ elec­toral choice.

    Mon­i­tor­ing: The Cov­er­age of the 2015 Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion in the Belaru­sian Media (17–31 August, 2015)

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