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  • Monitoring of Media Coverage of Parliamentary Elections 2019. Report 1

    On October 23, 201, the Belarusian Association of Journalists presented the first 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 1

    (16 Sep­tem­ber – 18 Octo­ber 2019)


    1. Introduction

    The mon­i­tor­ing, which is con­duct­ed by the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists (BAJ), aims:

    - to pro­mote a high­ly pro­fes­sion­al mod­el of elec­tion cov­er­age in Belaru­sian media;

    - to draw jour­nal­ists’ atten­tion to their duty to pro­vide unbi­ased and com­pre­hen­sive infor­ma­tion about the elec­tion process, can­di­dates’ agen­das, as well as present their sup­port­ers’ and oppo­nents’ opin­ions;

    - to find out to what extent media con­tri­bu­tions meet the inter­na­tion­al­ly recog­nised prin­ci­ples and stan­dards of elec­tion cov­er­age and ethics in jour­nal­ism;

    - and to reveal the over­all nature of elec­tion cov­er­age, assess­ing the roles played by state-run and inde­pen­dent media in this process, on the basis of qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive analy­sis.

    The mon­i­tor­ing cov­ers four­teen Belaru­sian media, both state-run and inde­pen­dent, elec­tron­ic and print­ed, nation­wide and region­al.

    Dur­ing the analysed peri­od of time, elec­tion com­mis­sions were formed, ini­tia­tive groups for can­di­date nom­i­na­tion were reg­is­tered, and aspir­ing can­di­dates were nom­i­nat­ed and reg­is­tered to stand for par­lia­ment.

    2. Key Findings

    1. Elec­tion cov­er­age in the analysed state-run media was dom­i­nat­ed by tech­ni­cal­i­ties, such as CEC meet­ings, the for­ma­tion of elec­tion com­mis­sions and ini­tia­tive groups for can­di­date nom­i­na­tion, as well as observers’ arrival, etc. As a rule, these media offered sta­tis­tics instead of names or actu­al cas­es when the rules of col­lect­ing sig­na­tures for can­di­date nom­i­na­tion were alleged­ly breached.
    2. The main actors of the elec­tion process were the Pres­i­dent and the CEC, rep­re­sent­ed by its Chair­woman Lidz­i­ja Jar­mošy­na. They gave guide­lines on how the elec­tions should be held and what the com­po­si­tion of par­lia­ment should be.
    3. An over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of oth­er actors, such as polit­i­cal par­ties, aspir­ing can­di­dates and groups for their nom­i­na­tion or NGOs, were pre­sent­ed anony­mous­ly or not pre­sent­ed at all. How­ev­er, a few excep­tions to this rule includ­ed CIS and OSCE/ODIHR observers and sev­er­al pro-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions.
    4. The media cov­er­age did not show that elec­tions are first and fore­most about com­pet­ing polit­i­cal ideas and visions or con­test­ing polit­i­cal par­ties with their pro­grammes and agen­das. Instead, the state-run media often employed Sovi­et-era rhetoric of elec­tions as a cel­e­bra­tion and cit­i­zens’ hon­orary duty.
    5. The mon­i­tored inde­pen­dent media were quite ret­i­cent in elec­tion cov­er­age. They allot­ted only a lit­tle space to tech­ni­cal­i­ties and main­ly kept a neu­tral tone.

    These and oth­er con­clu­sions are based on the fol­low­ing quan­ti­ta­tive and qual­i­ta­tive data.


    3. Quantitative and qualitative data

    3.1 State-run media

    The Panara­ma news pro­gramme on Belarus 1 nation­al TV sta­tion fea­tured the Pres­i­dent (nearly16 per­cent of the total cov­er­age giv­en to all mon­i­tored actors) and the CEC (near­ly 13 per­cent) as the main elec­tion actors. They received pos­i­tive cov­er­age. The oth­er actors were left a long way behind, except for the oppo­si­tion (near­ly 6 per­cent), which was pre­sent­ed in a deper­son­al­is­ing man­ner and cast in a neg­a­tive light. Only a few pro-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions, such as the Belaya Rus’ (White Rus’), the Belaru­sian Nation­al Youth Union (BNYU) and the Belaru­sian Women’s Union, were recog­nis­able.

    Panara­ma allot­ted a bit less than 3 per­cent of its total air­time to the elec­tions. Mean­while, weath­er fore­cast made up 7 per­cent, and sports account­ed for 10 per­cent of the total air­time.

    Anoth­er nation­wide news pro­gramme, Nashi Novosti on ONT, gave the Pres­i­dent about 25 per­cent of the time allot­ted to all elec­tion actors.

    It gave elec­tion cov­er­age a bit more than 3 per­cent of its air­time, while sports and weath­er fore­cast received about 14 per­cent. (The charts offer a clear visu­al pic­ture of these and oth­er fig­ures, show­ing the cov­er­age giv­en to dif­fer­ent elec­tion actors.)

    Radyjo­fakt on the First Nation­al Chan­nel of the Belaru­sian Radio offered a large­ly deper­son­alised pic­ture of the elec­tions, with the excep­tion of the coun­try leader, gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives, elec­tion com­mis­sions and CIS observers. The oth­er actors were giv­en no voice or were not men­tioned alto­geth­er.

    Radyjo­fakt allot­ted about 5 per­cent of its air­time to the elec­tions, while sports received about 9 per­cent and weath­er fore­cast was giv­en a bit more than 6 per­cent of the total air­time.

    There were no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in elec­tion cov­er­age on BelTa inter­net por­tal (www.belta.by), except for prompt­ness, com­pared to the oth­er state-run media.  The state-owned papers cov­ered the elec­tions in the same low key.

    Some quotes dis­sem­i­nat­ed by the elec­tron­ic media and the press are worth clos­er atten­tion.

    They wide­ly pub­li­cised the President’s opin­ions on the elec­tion process and the future com­po­si­tion of par­lia­ment. For exam­ple, on 16 Sep­tem­ber 2019 Panara­ma (Belarus 1) quot­ed the Pres­i­dent, ‘Par­lia­ment should rep­re­sent all seg­ments of our soci­ety, from fledg­lings just embark­ing on adult life to old peo­ple. All groups should be rep­re­sent­ed. Sec­ond­ly, I would like active NGOs and par­ties, if they are real par­ties, in accor­dance with the law, to rep­re­sent and back up their can­di­dates. Start­ing with the trade unions. I have already dis­cussed this with Orda [Michail Orda, Chair­per­son of the Fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions of Belarus – translator’s note], and they are nom­i­nat­ing a lot of their can­di­dates. Start­ing with the Belaru­sian Nation­al Youth Union, which I call ‘the youth par­ty’. Women, women’s par­ty. The mil­i­tary, offi­cers. The Com­mu­nist par­ty. If we have real oppo­si­tion par­ties, they must rep­re­sent their can­di­dates, nom­i­nate them and back them up in the cam­paign.

    A few days lat­er, on 20 Sep­tem­ber 2019, Nashi Novosti (ONT) report­ed on the President’s vis­it to Kare­ličy, quot­ing him say, ‘We will hold the elec­tion cam­paign smooth­ly and qui­et­ly, as usu­al.’

    On 22 Sep­tem­ber 2019 Kon­tu­ry (ONT) quot­ed the head of state say, I have nev­er been cagey about the fact that there are peo­ple the gov­ern­ment sup­ports. The Pres­i­dent wants to see such par­lia­ment.’

    At the same time the media occa­sion­al­ly com­pared elec­tions in dif­fer­ent coun­tries. Accord­ing to col­leagues from the state-run media, elec­tions in oth­er coun­tries left much to be desired in com­par­i­son with Belarus. For exam­ple, report­ing on the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and ‘pow­er reset in Ukraine’ on 19 Sep­tem­ber 2019, Radyjo­fakt spoke of the Ukrain­ian CEC stop­ping func­tion­ing amid alle­ga­tions of par­tial­i­ty and engag­ing in pol­i­tics. On 21 Sep­tem­ber 2019, an ONT com­men­tary stat­ed, The Belaru­sians are in the habit of vot­ing in elec­tions in the same old and thought­ful way. This explains why elec­tions are always smooth in this coun­try. Elec­tions in the US and neigh­bour­ing Rus­sia and Ukraine are more of a high-stake game with no holds barred.’

    In their assess­ment of the elec­tion, sev­er­al media quot­ed a CIS Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee spokesman Mr Khutaryan, ‘I have been [as an observ­er] to Belarus twice, and I can say that, based on my obser­va­tions, elec­tions in Belarus are held like a cel­e­bra­tion’ (Panara­ma on Belarus 1, 4 Octo­ber 2019).  Head of the CIS Observ­er Mis­sion Lebe­dev was quot­ed say­ing, ‘Frankly speak­ing, we are hap­py to see these qui­et and order­ly prepa­ra­tions for the elec­tions’ (Panara­ma on Belarus 1, 16 Octo­ber 2019).

    To sum it up, the state-run media pre­sent­ed the elec­tions as a well-organ­ised and smooth event, bring­ing joy to vot­ers. Inter­est­ing­ly, the reporters’ opin­ions were always in line with the offi­cial posi­tion, voiced in the same media by gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

    3.2 Inde­pen­dent media

    www.tut.by did not lim­it itself to offi­cial infor­ma­tion and tech­ni­cal details only. The online por­tal avoid­ed deper­son­al­i­sa­tion in elec­tion cov­er­age. It offered quite a lot of aspir­ing can­di­dates’ names and brief items about some of them. At the end of this mon­i­tor­ing stage it men­tioned a num­ber of reg­is­tered can­di­dates.

    At the same time, some polit­i­cal actors par­tic­i­pat­ing in the elec­tions were absent from the gen­er­al pic­ture. Cer­tain aspir­ing can­di­dates, such as Belarus beau­ty queen Mary­ja Vasilievič, and cer­tain organ­i­sa­tions, e.g. the BNYU, were much more recog­nis­able than oth­er actors.

    The Nar­o­d­na­ja Volia gave cov­er­age to the CEC, key polit­i­cal par­ties and some NGOs whose mem­bers were going to stand for par­lia­ment. These actors were por­trayed in a neu­tral light. The paper described the local author­i­ties in neg­a­tive terms and spoke of the CEC and the oppo­si­tion Unit­ed Civic Par­ty (UCP) neu­tral­ly or neg­a­tive­ly.

    The Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da v Belorus­sii informed the read­er­ship about the upcom­ing elec­tions only a few times and briefly wrote about three oppo­si­tion par­ties par­tic­i­pat­ing in them.


    Preliminary conclusions

    There have been no sig­nif­i­cant changes in the way these elec­tions are being cov­ered in state-run media as com­pared to the pre­vi­ous par­lia­men­tary cam­paign. The basic ele­ments of this mod­el include selec­tive cov­er­age of elec­tions and – most impor­tant­ly – their actors, preva­lence of tech­ni­cal details, deper­son­al­i­sa­tion of the government’s oppo­nents and sim­ply active fig­ures, pro­mo­tion of pro-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions and their can­di­dates, and focus on ensur­ing ‘smooth and qui­et’ elec­tions. Anoth­er impor­tant fea­ture of this mod­el is mar­gin­al­i­sa­tion of elec­tion-relat­ed issues.

    In their turn, the inde­pen­dent media have been ret­i­cent in their elec­tion cov­er­age. How­ev­er, they have shown a clear ten­den­cy toward min­imis­ing the tech­ni­cal­i­ties, per­son­al­is­ing par­tic­i­pants in the elec­tions, and giv­ing cov­er­age to key polit­i­cal actors and oppo­nents of the gov­ern­ment. The mon­i­tored inde­pen­dent media employed a wider scale to assess par­tic­i­pants in the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

    The doc­u­ments that form the basis for the qual­i­ta­tive analy­sis are The Code of Ethics in Jour­nal­ism (adopt­ed at the BAJ Con­gress in 2006); The Dec­la­ra­tion of Prin­ci­ples of Pro­fes­sion­al Ethics in Jour­nal­ism; Elec­tion Cov­er­age in Media (Belarus), 2016 edi­tion; and Inter­na­tion­al stan­dards of elec­tion cov­er­age in media (Legal and eth­i­cal stan­dards, rec­om­men­da­tions to media and indi­vid­ual reporters).

    It should be not­ed that state-run media account for the larg­er part of the list, as they dom­i­nate the country’s media field and in fact make part of the cur­rent regime’s ide­o­log­i­cal struc­ture. The elec­tron­ic media include the Panara­ma news pro­gramme on Belarus 1 TV sta­tion, the Nashi Novosti news on ONT, the Glavny Efir week­ly pro­gramme on Belarus 1, the Kon­tu­ry week­ly pro­gramme on ONT; the Radyjo­fakt radio pro­gramme on the First Nation­al Chan­nel of the Belaru­sian Radio, and Naviny-rehi­jon, broad­cast by Mahilioŭ TV and Radio Com­pa­ny. The online resources include www.tut.by and www.belta.by. The print media are the SB. Belarus Segod­nia, the Nar­o­d­na­ja Volia, the Kom­so­mol­skaya Pra­da v Belorus­sii, the Zvi­az­da, the Min­ska­ja Praŭ­da, and the Mahil­ioŭska­ja Praŭ­da.

    In 2016 the BAJ also mon­i­tored the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.



    The summarising charts

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