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Azerbaijan10 October 2008

Monitoring shows president’s rivals and political debate missing from media’s electoral coverage

Reporters Without Borders today released the results of its monitoring of the Azerbaijani media’s presidential election campaign coverage from 21 to 26 September. The press freedom organisation already published a report on the first four days of its monitoring (17-20 September). The elections, in which President Ilham Aliev is running for another term, are due to take place on 15 October.

The main topics covered by both print and broadcast media during this second week of monitoring were the president’s visits to the provinces, First Lady Mehriban Alieva’s activities, the work of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) and various diplomatic activities. The activities of the other candidates were largely ignored by the monitored media.

There was no coverage of the government’s refusal to allow the opposition parties that are boycotting the election to hold a rally in Baku. Social topics, if covered at all, were presented mostly in an upbeat fashion, in reports that systematically emphasised the government’s reforms. All the media carried reports on the organisation of the elections and other political activities (including governmental and presidential decisions).

The quantitative monitoring showed that Az TV dedicated more than 24 per cent of its editorial space to development and culture. ITV prioritised the Armenian occupation of the Azerbaijani territory (19.86 per cent) and diplomatic activities (14.18 per cent), leaving only 6.38 per cent to the electoral process. The monitored print media focused mostly on the organisation of the elections and political activities unrelated to the election, closely followed by Azerbaijan’s foreign relations. There was no coverage of the candidates running against the president.

Special programmes

According to the CEC’s directives and the electoral law, only the public television station ITV and the public radio station IR are allowed to offer the candidates free access programmes. These take the form of so-called round tables broadcast at 6:50 p.m. on ITV and 9 p.m. on IR. Each candidate is given 8 minutes 35 seconds to make a statement. If candidates do not use all of their time, it is not redistributed among the other candidates. The round tables are moderated by an anchor, who reminds all candidates, before they speak, that the law prohibits defamation and slander.

Both ITV and IR have so far complied with the regulations and almost all the candidates have showed up for the programmes. The exception is President Aliev, who has always sent a representative in his place. There has been no debate among the candidates and no questioning of their platforms or promises by the anchor or by their rivals. The monitoring team was not aware of any candidate spots being broadcast.

Political affairs and news programmes

There was virtually no coverage of the election campaign in the daily news programmes of the state TV stations, which limited their electoral coverage to organisational aspects such as the CEC’s preparations, the preparations of the regional and local electoral commissions, and the campaign to get voters to turn out on polling day. The print media that gave the most space to the CEC was Respublika (5.4 per cent).

Among the monitored broadcast media, the team noted a big difference in the time allocated by AZTV and ITV to the various political actors. AzTV gave President Aliev 50.86 per cent of the total air time in its monitored news programmes, and 92.93 per cent of its direct speech time. ITV, on the other had, devoted only 4.49 per cent of the total airtime in the monitored programmes to the president, while IR gave him 9.48 per cent of its total airtime and 55.60 per cent of its direct speech time. More than 37 per cent of IR’s news programmes mentioned no political actor. AzR devoted 37.30 per cent of its total air time and 44.98 per cent of its direct speech time to the president

Print media focus on same limited range of political actors

The state-owned daily Respublika allocated 56.81 per cent of its editorial space to the president, 22.61 per cent to his father, the late President Heidar Aliev, and 7.55 per cent to the Heidar Aliev Foundation. The daily Azerbaijan’s space allocation to these three actors was 62.07 per cent, 19.65 per cent and 7.81 per cent, respectively. The daily Halq gave them 48.76 per cent, 31.08 per cent and 4.13 per cent. The daily Bakinskii Rabochii’s allocation was 69.33 per cent to the president, 18.81 per cent to the Heidar Aliev Foundation and 5.93 per cent to the late president.

Similar editorial values were evident in the allocation of photos. The president was the subject of 88.53 per cent of the photos in Respublika, 82.44 per cent in Bakinskii Rabochii, 82.85 per cent in Azerbaijan, and 81.52 per cent in Halq.

Conclusions and recommendations

The monitoring team hails the efforts of ITV and IR to comply with the requirement to provide free access programmes to all the candidates. It nonetheless deplores the lack of genuine debate among the candidates and the lack of critical examination by presenters or moderators.

Similarly, the president’s excessive presence in the print and broadcast media combined with the almost total absence of the other candidates is clearly failing to give voters a full and balanced picture of the election campaign and the activities of the various contenders. The team was alarmed by the fact that, at the height of the electoral campaign, the monitored media had virtually no reporting on the president’s rivals.

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 opposition coalition Azadlig is therefore also boycotting the elections.

The CEC gave 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 Goudrat Hasangouliev of the United Popular Front, Fazil Gazanfaroglou of the Great Formation Party, Fouad Aliev of the Azerbaijan Liberal Democratic Party, Igbal Agazade of the Hope party, Hafiz Hadjiev of the Musavat Modern Party and Goulamhussein Alibeyli, an independent candidate.




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