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Azerbaijan29 September 2008

First four days of monitoring shows government hogging election campaign coverage

The government is over-represented in the Azerbaijani media’s coverage of the campaign for the 15 October presidential elections, Reporters Without Borders found in its first four days of monitoring the campaign coverage, the results of which it released today. The monitoring is part of a comprehensive “Media pluralism in the electoral period” project that is co-financed by the European Commission.

The qualitative and quantitative monitoring of the three TV channels, two radio stations and four dailies started on 17 September, the day that the state-funded media started airing free access programmes for the registered presidential candidates. It will continue until the campaign ends on the eve of election day.

The Reporters Without Borders team is monitoring news and current affairs programmes, including talk shows on social and/or political subjects on radio and television between 3 and 10 pm every day. In the print media, the team is monitoring all articles relating to news and current affairs in Azerbaijan.

Summary of findings for 17-20 September

The team found that most of the editorial air time in the state and public broadcast media was given over to the government and organizations or persons connected with President Ilham Aliev, including the late president, Heydar Aliev (the current president’s father), and the foundation named after him, which is chaired by First Lady Mehriban Alieva.

The state and public radio stations IR and AzR covered a broader range of subjects that the state TV stations. This was also the case with the only privately-owned media monitored, ANS television.

The only candidate covered in the news programmes was President Aliev, whose party, Jeni Azerbaijan Partiyasi, held a rally in Baku on 17 September. The opposition parties that are boycotting the election received no coverage.

The main news of the week included the activities of international organizations regarding a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Azerbaijan’s integration into the international arena and the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly. Aside from the main news bulletins, there were special features on the president’s trips outside the country.

Special election programmes providing candidates with free access time were only aired on ITV, a public television station, at 6:50 pm, and on the public radio station IR, at 9 pm. The order of appearance was decided by drawing lots. These programmes take the form of round tables in which all the candidates or their designated representatives are asked the same questions and are allowed the same time to reply.

TV stations

The state television channel AzTV allocated 31.84 per cent of the air time in its news programmes to the president, 25.08 per cent to the Heydar Aliev Foundation and its chairperson (the First Lady), 16.65 per cent to the late president himself, 5.07 per cent to the interior ministry, 8.89 per cent to other ministries and 2.21 per cent to the Central Electoral Commission. No less than 60.47 of the station’s direct speech allocation went to the president.

The allocation of air time on the public television station, ITV, was significantly less skewed, with more time going to international affairs and actors, including 14.04 per cent to the OSCE Minsk Group, 7.69 per cent to the foreign ministry and 7.49 per cent to the EU. The CEC got 17.89 per cent of the monitored editorial time, the president got 12.85 per cent and the Heydar Aliev Foundation got 6.39 per cent. The share-out was quite different as regards direct speech allocation, with the CEC getting 43.57 per cent, followed by the Heydar Aliev Foundation with 23.21 per cent, the EU with 22.32 per cent and the president with 10.89 per cent.

On ANS, the privately-owned TV station, the president got 9.66 per cent of editorial time. Diplomatic activities related to Azerbaijan’s conflict with Armenia and its international integration received a substantial amount of coverage. Foreign companies also featured prominently, because it was the anniversary of the “contract of the century” between a consortium of international oil corporations and the Azerbaijani state oil company. And government ministries did quite well, getting 16.79 per cent of the coverage and 26.74 per cent of the direct speech allocation.

Radio stations

On state radio AzR, the president (16.95 per cent) and other ministries (19.4 per cent) were the main players, with the CEC (5.78 per cent) and the armed forces (6.33 per cent) following domestically and the United States (6.69 per cent) and other nations (9.26 per cent) internationally. Only the CEC received a direct speech allocation.

The editorial air time allocation was similar on the other state radio station, IR, with 11.46 per cent for the president, 15.12 per cent for government ministries, 7.30 per cent for the armed forces, 5.09 per cent for the CEC and 5.52 per cent for the Heydar Aliev Foundation. In international coverage, Russia got 5.15 per cent, the EU got 4.60 per cent, other countries got 15.47 per cent and foreign companies got 4.71 per cent.

IR’s direct speech allocation was different, on the other hand. The CEC got 14.75 per cent, the armed forces got 11.34 per cent and government ministries got 26.74 per cent. Civil society organisations (6.70 per cent) and international NGOs (5.49 per cent) also got a chance to speak.

Print media

The situation in the monitored dailies was fairly uniform, with the president’s domination of the news coverage ranging from 40.19 per cent in Respublika to 88.99 per cent in Bakinskii Rabochii. Photographically, he was even more dominant, being the subject of 69.46 per cent of the photos in Azerbaijan and 93.17 of the photos in Bakinskii Rabochii.

The only other political actors to get coverage in the print media were former President Heydar Aliev (who was, for example the subject of 27.16 per cent of the stories and 3.44 per cent of photos in Respublika) and the Heydar Aliev Foundation (which was, for example the subject of 5.34 per cent of the stories and 3.70 per cent of the photos in Bakinskii Rabochii). In other words, the coverage in the monitored dailies was dedicated almost entirely to the president and his family.

Background

The campaign coverage and, specifically, the allocation of free access programmes and space to the registered candidates are regulated by the Electoral Code and the CEC’s directives, based on article 47 of the constitution and on the mass media and advertising laws.

A CEC directive of 18 July states that the campaign begins 28 days before the election date and that the publicly-funded broadcast media shall provide at least three hours a week of free air time to the registered candidates. Similarly, the publicly-funded print media are required to provide free space to the candidates that is equivalent to at least 10 per cent of the total weekly editorial space before start of the campaign (para 3.6). Candidates must also be able to buy media space and air time. The privately-owned media may only provide paid access to candidates.

The CEC is supposed to create a special press team to supervise the media’s compliance. The rights of candidates and procedure to be adopted in the event of complaints of inadequate media coverage are not spelled out, although the Electoral Code specifies that candidate complaints should be referred to the courts.

Monitored media

Broadcast media Az TV (state TV station), ITV (public TV station), AzR (state radio station), IR (public radio station) and ANS (privately-owned TV station)

Print media Halq (an Azerbaijani-language daily, published Tuesday to Saturday), Respublika (an Azerbaijani-language daily, Tuesday to Sunday), Azerbaycan (an Azerbaijani-language daily, Tuesday to Sunday), Bakinskii Rabochii (a Russian-language daily, Tuesday to Friday)

Candidates

The leaders of the main opposition groups are boycotting the elections. They are Isa Gambar of Musavat, Ali Kerimli of the Azerbaijan Popular Front and Sardar Jalaloglou of the Democratic Party. The Azadlyg opposition bloc also boycotts the election.

The CEC has given its permission for seven candidates to stand in the presidential election, after they each collected at least 40,000 signatures. Aside from President Ilham Aliev of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Partiyasi, they are Gudrat Hasanguliev of the Popular Front of United Azerbaijan, Fazil Gazanfaroghlu of the Great Creation Party, Fouad Aliev of the Liberal Democratic Party, Igbal Agazade of the Umid (Hope) Party, Hafiz Hadjiev of the Musavat Modern Party and Gulamhusein Alibeyli, a former chair of Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (PFPA).




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