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

    Report No. 1

    1 Sep­tem­ber, 2015

    Min­sk, Belarus


    1. Introduction

    The report sum­maris­es the find­ings of the mon­i­tor­ing for a time span of two weeks – from 17 to 31 August, 2015. Accord­ing to the sched­ule of the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (CEC) of Belarus, it is a time when prospec­tive pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls should col­lect 100,000 vot­ers’ sig­na­tures endors­ing their nom­i­na­tion and sub­mit them to the CEC, while the CEC should check the valid­i­ty of the sig­na­tures, etc.

    The mon­i­tor­ing aims to raise the jour­nal­ist community’s and vot­ers’ aware­ness of:

    – the impor­tance of com­pre­hen­sive and bal­anced cov­er­age of the elec­tion;

    – the code of ethics in jour­nal­ism and inter­na­tion­al stan­dards that are indis­pens­able for cov­er­ing elec­tions;

    –and jour­nal­ists’ duty to give vot­ers undis­tort­ed, impar­tial and com­plete infor­ma­tion about the elec­toral cam­paign, the can­di­dates’ agen­das and their sup­port­ers’ and oppo­nents’ opin­ions.

    The mon­i­tor­ing focus­es on media items that are about the elec­toral cam­paign and prospec­tive pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates (to be referred to as ‘can­di­dates’ from the moment of their for­mal reg­is­tra­tion onwards)[1]. The items are analysed both quan­ti­ta­tive­ly and qual­i­ta­tive­ly. We also report instances of par­tial, incom­pre­hen­sive or biased cov­er­age that does not meet pro­fes­sion­al stan­dards, breach­es ethics in jour­nal­ism, and depar­ture from inter­na­tion­al­ly accept­ed stan­dards of report­ing on elec­tions.[2]


    2. Summary

    •  The mon­i­tored state-owned elec­tron­ic media gave more atten­tion to the elec­tion than they did in 2010. This is evi­dent from the pro­por­tion of air time they allo­cat­ed to the elec­tion cov­er­age as com­pared to weath­er and sport. At the same stage in the run-up to the 2010 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, it had received twice or thrice less cov­er­age than weath­er, where­as this time their shares became more or less equal. The pro­por­tion of air time giv­en to the elec­tion cov­er­age in com­par­i­son to sport went up, too.
    •  At the same time, the elec­tron­ic and print­ed state-owned media did not bring into the spot­light the process of col­lect­ing sig­na­tures to endorse the prospec­tive can­di­dates through spe­cial reports or oth­er items. The infor­ma­tion about the poten­tial nom­i­nees’ teams was scarce.
    •  Just like in the pre­vi­ous elec­tion, it was only one pres­i­den­tial hope­ful – name­ly the incum­bent – who dom­i­nat­ed the state-owned media. More often than not they fea­tured him out­side the con­text of him per­form­ing his duties. The oth­er prospec­tive can­di­dates were either men­tioned in pass­ing or alto­geth­er ignored.
    •  The state-owned media gave rather exten­sive cov­er­age of the CEC, region­al elec­tion com­mis­sions and local author­i­ties organ­is­ing the elec­tion process. The polit­i­cal par­ties that are par­tic­i­pat­ing in the elec­tion did not receive so much atten­tion.
    • At this stage, quite a lot of air time and space in the print­ed media was giv­en to both the CIS and OSCE/ODIHR observers.
    •  The state-owned media pre­sent­ed some pro-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions and their activ­i­ties in a pos­i­tive light. At the same time, they ignored inde­pen­dent civ­il soci­ety organ­i­sa­tions.
    •  The state-owned media also demon­strat­ed instances of imbal­anced elec­tion cov­er­age that clear­ly favoured one actor.
    •  The inde­pen­dent media focussed their atten­tion on the polit­i­cal actors, fea­tur­ing most promi­nent­ly the prospec­tive pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls.
    •  Their assess­ments of the polit­i­cal actors ranged from neu­tral to pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive. At the same time, they did not show any bias or par­tial­i­ty.

    All the con­clu­sions are sub­stan­ti­at­ed by the quan­ti­ta­tive data and con­tent analy­sis of the mon­i­tored media, as well as some def­i­nite state­ments that were made in the media and are cit­ed below.


    3. Major findings

    3.1 The state-owned media

    As we have point­ed out, this time the state-owned elec­tron­ic media changed the share of elec­tion cov­er­age as com­pared to weath­er and sport. For exam­ple, Panara­ma news pro­gramme on Belarus 1 TV sta­tion gave 3% of its air time to weath­er and about 5% to the forth­com­ing elec­tion. Mean­while, sports news received 17.2% of the air time. At the same stage of the 2010 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion the pro­por­tion was dif­fer­ent, with 0.86% of the air time allo­cat­ed to the elec­tion, 3.45% – to weath­er and 17.4% – to sport.

    Radyjo­fakt on the 1st Chan­nel of the Nation­al Radio gave near­ly 10% of its air time to the forth­com­ing elec­tion and about 9% to weath­er fore­casts. Near­ly the same pro­por­tion was typ­i­cal of Nashi Novosti on ONT TV sta­tion and the news of the Mahiloŭ Region­al TV and Radio Com­pa­ny.

    Yet, all the key actors, i.e. the prospec­tive pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, except one received very low-key cov­er­age in the state-owned media. For instance, Panara­ma gave them a mod­est 0.5% of the total elec­tion cov­er­age time, and Radyjo­fakt allo­cat­ed to them 3.4% of its elec­tion cov­er­age time. The prospec­tive pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls received only 6% of the space that The Belarus Segod­nia gave to all the mon­i­tored elec­tion fig­ures. Inci­den­tal­ly, just like in the 2010 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, the poten­tial can­di­dates were just men­tioned in pass­ing. Quite often they were not named at all.

    The media pres­ence of the prospec­tive can­di­dates’ teams and those vot­ers who endorsed them was very low, too. For exam­ple, Panara­ma (Belarus 1, 21/08/2015) pre­sent­ed the heads of the teams, giv­ing 42 sec­onds to the head of the incumbent’s team, 30 sec­onds to the head of Siarhiej Hajdukievič’s team, and 23 sec­onds to the head of Vol­ha Karatkievič’s team. The oth­ers received even less air time. The head of the incumbent’s team Michail Orda on top of that appeared in Glavny Efir week­ly pro­gramme (Belarus 1, 23/08/2015).

    Most com­mon­ly the mem­bers of the prospec­tive can­di­dates’ teams, just like the pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls them­selves, were pre­sent­ed anony­mous­ly.

    Just like in the run-up to the 2010 elec­tion, the incum­bent was the key media fig­ure at this stage. Glavny Efir on Belarus 1 launched a spe­cial TV series under the title The 21st Cen­tu­ry, which presents the twen­ty years of Pres­i­dent Lukašenka’s term in office in a pos­i­tive and high­ly pos­i­tive light as a suc­cess sto­ry, marked by great achieve­ments and vic­to­ries.

    In Panara­ma the incum­bent received 78% of the whole air time giv­en to all the mon­i­tored elec­tion fig­ures (the cor­re­spond­ing fig­ure for the 2010 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign was 75%). Radyjo­fakt, in its turn, gave the incum­bent 34% of its elec­tion cov­er­age time. The CEC and the region­al elec­tion com­mis­sions received about 6% of the elec­tion cov­er­age time in Panara­ma and 28% in Radyjo­fakt.

    Like the oth­er state-owned media, www.belta.by focussed quite a lot on the CIS and OSCE/ODIHR observers, giv­ing both the groups about the same amount of most­ly neu­tral cov­er­age. Thus, www.belta.by allo­cat­ed 15% of its space giv­en to all the mon­i­tored elec­tion actors to the OSCE/ODIHR observers and about 11% to the CIS observers. The Belarus Segod­nia gave more atten­tion to the OSCE/ODIHR observers, too, and pre­sent­ed all of them neu­tral­ly.

    As for the Belaru­sian observers, accord­ing to the CEC Chair­per­son Lidz­i­ja Jar­mošy­na, ‘624 per­sons have been accred­it­ed. Of the polit­i­cal par­ties, it is the Com­mu­nist Par­ty of Belarus that has the largest rep­re­sen­ta­tion – 46 observers… The Trade Unions Fed­er­a­tion of Belarus has the largest num­ber of observers – 113 peo­ple. The Belaru­sian Nation­al Youth Union and Biela­ja Ruś Asso­ci­a­tion actu­al­ly share the sec­ond and the third posi­tions.’ (Radyjo­fakt, 28/08/2015). Inci­den­tal­ly, the lat­ter two organ­i­sa­tions were quite often pre­sent­ed in a pos­i­tive light in the state-owned media.

    This stage of the mon­i­tor­ing was marked by the fact that the state-owned media com­plete­ly failed to notice the elec­tion actor called ‘the oppo­si­tion’.

    3.2 Inde­pen­dent media

    Unlike the inde­pen­dent print­ed media, www.naviny.by gave exten­sive cov­er­age to dif­fer­ent elec­tion fig­ures, focussing more on the prospec­tive pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, who received 25% of the space allo­cat­ed to the forth­com­ing elec­tion. They were fol­lowed by the CEC, the polit­i­cal par­ties, NGOs and the pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls’ teams.

    The Nar­o­d­na­ja Vola and the Naša Niva focussed all their atten­tion on a small cir­cle of the elec­tion fig­ures. These were in the first place the prospec­tive pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, who received 66% of the total elec­tion cov­er­age space in both the papers. The Pres­i­dent and the OSCE/ODIHR observers were giv­en 20% and 10% of the space allo­cat­ed to all the elec­tion fig­ures in the Nar­o­d­na­ja Vola. Mean­while, the Naša Niva fea­tured the oppo­si­tion and the elec­torate more promi­nent­ly. 

    The Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da v Belorus­sii most­ly focussed on the prospec­tive can­di­dates and the Pres­i­dent.

    In pre­sent­ing the pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls and their teams, the inde­pen­dent media sought to avoid anonymi­ty.


    4. Media Effects

    By media effects we mean instances of biased or unfair cov­er­age, ground­less inter­pre­ta­tions, dis­tort­ing infor­ma­tion — whether delib­er­ate­ly or not, selec­tive or frag­men­tary vision, as well as sup­pres­sion of facts or events that could make a dif­fer­ence. We have record­ed such instances.

    Radyjo­fakt (the 1st Chan­nel of the Nation­al Radio, 17/08/2015) report­ed before the can­di­dates had obtained reg­is­tra­tion and launched their cam­paigns, that ‘Lidiz­i­ja Jar­mošy­na aired her hopes that mem­bers of the women’s organ­i­sa­tion will active­ly con­tribute to the cam­paign,’ while speak­ing at the Sixth Spe­cial Nation­wide Con­fer­ence of the Belaru­sian Women’s Union. The over­all con­text in which the infor­ma­tion was pre­sent­ed left no doubt as to the name of the can­di­date for whom mem­bers of the Belaru­sian Women’s Union were sup­posed to cam­paign.

    Panara­ma (Belarus 1 TV sta­tion, 18/08/2015): accord­ing to its reporter, Head of the CIS Observers’ Mis­sion Lebe­dev point­ed out that ‘pro­fes­sion­al skills of those who are direct­ly engaged in orga­niz­ing the elec­tion in Belarus are fur­ther improv­ing’. Head of Dziaržyn­sk Dis­trict Elec­tion Com­mis­sion Čahan high­ly praised him­self and his col­leagues: ‘The stan­dard of per­for­mance shown by the elec­tion com­mis­sions is now much high­er… In oth­er words, the elec­tion pro­ce­dures are stream­lined, well-organ­ised in full com­pli­ance with the leg­is­la­tion, and most impor­tant­ly, free from any mis­takes.’ How­ev­er, the opin­ions of oth­er elec­tion fig­ures were not pre­sent­ed.

    The state-owned media are pro­gram­ming young vot­ers to show very high turnout. In the 6 o’clock news of the Mahiloŭ Region­al TV and Radio Com­pa­ny that was on air on 20 August, 2015 Ms Zinai­da Maroza­va of Kas­tryčnic­ki dis­trict branch of the vet­er­ans’ NGO in Mahiloŭ said, ‘I have been an elec­tion observ­er many times and will be hap­py to take most active part in the obser­va­tion again. I mon­i­tored both pres­i­den­tial and local elec­tions more than once. Vot­ers were very active you know, I was even amazed that at the local elec­tion last year vot­ers rushed to the polling sta­tion at 7:55! Yes, they were rush­ing, and they were young – I was real­ly astound­ed.’  Radyjo­fakt (the 1st Chan­nel of the Nation­al Radio, 23/08/2015) quot­ed the Belaru­sian Nation­al Youth Union online activ­i­ties coor­di­na­tor Ale­sia Vińnik say­ing, ‘We also con­duct opin­ion polls to find out if young peo­ple are inter­est­ed in the elec­tion. They show that about six months ago only 70% of our young peo­ple were pos­i­tive they were going to go to the polls. How­ev­er, about a month ago we did an opin­ion poll and it showed that as much as 89% young peo­ple said, “Yes, we are going to the polls.’’’

    The state-owned media give a high­ly pos­i­tive assess­ment of one prospec­tive can­di­date. The pre­sen­ter of Panara­ma (Belarus 1 TV sta­tion, 18/08/2015) said, ‘It has already become a good tra­di­tion among the Belaru­sians to help those who are not so well-off. It was ini­ti­at­ed by the Pres­i­dent, who launched a cam­paign called “Pre­pare a school bag a first grad­er”. At the meet­ing with the Min­is­ter of Edu­ca­tion today Alak­san­dr Lukašen­ka once again called upon all the coun­try to join in.’  A report from a series enti­tled We did it togeth­er in the same Panara­ma (Belarus 1 TV sta­tion, 19/08/2015) showed Hor­ki State Agri­cul­tur­al Acad­e­my hav­ing a new lease on life thanks to the President’s inter­ven­tion. After describ­ing the Academy’s prob­lems the reporter said off screen, ‘In 1995 Alak­san­dr Lukašen­ka attend­ed the anniver­sary of his alma-mater… It was a land­mark in the his­to­ry of the Acad­e­my, as new depart­ments were opened and it start­ed teach­ing not only agri­cul­tur­ists but also busi­ness­men to work in the field of agri­cul­ture.’

    As for the oth­er prospec­tive pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls, they were pre­sent­ed in a total­ly dif­fer­ent light, their names either men­tioned in pass­ing or ignored. Accord­ing to the cov­er­age they received in the state-owned media, none of them had a dis­tinct polit­i­cal pro­file. Some of them were pre­sent­ed in a neg­a­tive or high­ly neg­a­tive light. For exam­ple, in her inter­view to Glavny Efir (Belarus 1 TV sta­tion, 23/08/2015) Chair­per­son of the CEC Lidz­i­ja Jar­mošy­na said, ‘I was under the impres­sion that all the lead­ers of polit­i­cal par­ties would get past this bar­ri­er [col­lect­ing 100,000 sig­na­tures of their sup­port­ers – translator’s note] Yet, it turned out that the lead­ers of two polit­i­cal par­ties that claim every­thing in our coun­try, includ­ing pub­lic opin­ion, did not only fail to col­lect [100,000] sig­na­tures, but also refused to sub­mit them. It is a grave mis­take; it is reck­less­ness, since this type of behav­iour reminds me of a gram­mar school girl’s tantrums. You see, it is a way of boy­cotting the elec­tion. They could have improved their stand­ing and demon­strat­ed their poten­tial at this elec­tion, but now they will be mar­gin­alised instead.’

    In the next item of the same pro­gramme its polit­i­cal ana­lyst shared his views of what ‘the Belaru­sians were stung by as sig­na­tures were being col­lect­ed,’ to quote the pre­sen­ter. Here are some of the expres­sions the state-owned media used to char­ac­terise the prospec­tive pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates and their teams, ‘light­ly dressed young women har­vest­ing polit­i­cal crops,’ ‘the politician’s pub­lic image alter­nate­ly bulged in and bulged out,’ ‘Mr Labiedź­ka, who was in pos­ses­sion of a chieftain’s loud­speak­er, was wear­ing the yel­low jer­sey of a los­er on  this occa­sion’.

    Dur­ing the analysed time span, the state-owned media also ignored the news of the release of the 2010 pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mikoła Statkievič and oth­er polit­i­cal pris­on­ers.

    Final­ly, we have tracked cer­tain spe­cif­ic traits of the elec­tion cov­er­age as com­pared to the 2010 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. How­ev­er, it is too ear­ly to make any pro­found con­clu­sions from them.


    [1] The mon­i­tor­ing cov­ers Panara­ma (Panora­ma) news pro­gramme on Belarus 1 TV sta­tion; Nashi Novosti (Our News) news pro­gramme on ONT TV sta­tion; Glavny Efir (Most Impor­tant Air) week­ly pro­gramme on Belarus 1 TV sta­tion, Radyjo­fakt (Radio­fact) on the 1st Chan­nel of the Nation­al Radio; Naviny-rehi­jon (Region­al News) of the Mahiloŭ Region­al TV and Radio Com­pa­ny; Ablas­no­je Radyjo (Region­al Radio) of the Mahiloŭ Region­al TV and Radio Com­pa­ny; www.naviny.by and www.belta.by online media; and such print­ed media as the Belarus Segod­nia (Belarus Today), the Nar­o­d­na­ja Vola (People’s Will), the 7 Dniey (7 days), the Naša Niva (Our Field), the Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da v Belorus­sii  (YCL Truth in Belarus), and the Mogilevskaya Prav­da (Mahiloŭ Truth).

    [2] The doc­u­ments that pro­vide the frame­work for qual­i­ta­tive analy­sis are as fol­lows: The Code of Ethics in Jour­nal­ism (adopt­ed at the Con­ven­tion of the BAJ in 2006); The Dec­la­ra­tion of the Guide­lines of Jour­nal­ists’ Pro­fes­sion­al Ethics; Media Cov­er­age of Elec­tions (Belarus). 2015  and Inter­na­tion­al Stan­dards of Elec­tion Cov­er­age in the Media.

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