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Azerbaijan14 October 2008

Monitoring shows president continuing to dominate state media’s electoral coverage

Reporters Without Borders today released the results of its monitoring of the state-owned media’s presidential election campaign coverage from 27 September to 3 October. The press freedom organisation already published reports on the first 10 days of its monitoring (17-26 September). The monitoring is part of a comprehensive “Media pluralism in the electoral period” project that is co-financed by the European Commission.

The president’s visits to various regions of the country and the government’s diplomatic activities continued to be the leading stories in the state-owned media during the third week of monitoring. Election coverage was also plentiful but it focused mainly on the preparations being carried out by the regional and local electoral commissions.

The activities of the other candidates were either not mentioned at all or were referred to summarily, without any detail.

The head of the state television station ITV gave an interview to the news agency APA in which he mentioned ITV’s refusal to give air time to opposition parties that are boycotting the election. His own channel did not report his comments. An OSCE statement on the electoral preparations was covered in an upbeat fashion by state broadcaster AzTV.

The quantitative monitoring showed state radio stations IR and AzR covering a bigger range of topics than the state television channels, AzTV and ITV. In their domestic coverage, the radio stations included anti-corruption measures, the aftermath of the war with Armenia, the regional security situation, religion, energy, culture, the election and political activities not related to the election.

AzTV devoted 26 per cent of its air time to infra-structural development and construction, 16.67 per cent to Azerbaijan’s international integration and 11.33 per cent to culture, religion, economic reforms and the electoral process. ITV focused on the electoral process (30 per cent), diplomatic activities (26.67 per cent), the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani territory (22.22 per cent) and religion (7.78 per cent).

Print media focus on President Aliev

When not covering the president, the monitored print media focused on Azerbaijan’s diplomatic activities (33.33 per cent in Xalq, for example) and the country’s integration into international bodies (27.27 per cent in Azerbaijan). A great deal of space was given over to the president’s decrees and letters. Other topics covered included education, border demarcation, the Armenian occupation and culture.

President Aliev’s activities dominated the print media. In Bakinskii Rabochii, 60.44 per cent of space and 84 per cent of the photos were devoted to this subject. In Azerbaijan, it was 53.94 per cent of space and 80.5 per cent of the photos. In Xalq, it was 61.86 per cent of space and 84.66 per cent of the photos. Respublika, on the other hand, allocated a more restrained 12.74 per cent to the president and gave priority (39.38 per cent) to the work of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), compared with Bakinskii Rabochii’s allocation of 1.13 per cent to the CEC.

The activities of the foundation named after the president’s late father, President Heydar Aliev also faired well, occupying 28.19 per cent of the space in Bakinskii Rabochii, 29.15 per cent of the space in Halq, 12.12 per cent in Respublika and 17.26 per cent in Azerbaijan.

Only Bakinskii Rabochii assigned space to the election candidates, giving 2.89 per cent to President Ilham Aliev (as a candidate) and 2.68 per cent to Fazil Qazanfaroglu. Halq was the most limited in the range of political actors it chose to cover, allocating space only to President Aliev, the Heydar Aliev Foundation, the CEC, the parliament and the foreign ministry.

Broadcast media

ITV led the way in the broadcast media as regards news items in which no political actors were mentioned, with 55.47 per cent as against AzTV at the other end of the range with just 6.73 per cent. AzTV dedicated 40.62 per cent of its news coverage and 67 per cent of its direct speech allocation to President Aliev.

ITV provided some coverage to four of the seven candidates (giving them air time shares ranging from 0.70 to 1.31 per cent). AzTV allocated 4.63 per cent of its coverage to the foreign ministry and 24.52 per cent to other government ministries. The foreign ministry was the only government department covered by ITV, which gave it 11.75 per cent.

“Other” programmes ignore elections

By “other programmes,” the monitoring team means talk shows and programmes on culture, history or important social issues that are not part of the main news bulletins. They are tabulated separately and are not included in the air time charts. As teacher’s day was celebrated during this period, there was a significant amount of coverage of education, including the ceremony itself and the presentation of awards to individual teachers. The radio stations included round tables with experts on the development of education in Azerbaijan.

AzTV broadcast special features on the president’s trips to the regions after the news bulletins. ITV aired documentaries on various topics, while its one-hour “Compromise” programme included an item on the role of the media in the election campaign, with several editors taking part in a discussion.

Conclusions and recommendations

The monitoring team was concerned to see the state broadcaster AzTV regularly airing special reports on the president’s trips to the interior after the news programmes. This editorial practice gives the incumbent an undue advantage during an election campaign, especially when the other candidates’ activities are not being covered. The team recommends this practice should be dropped in future campaigns.

The team finds it commendable that the organisation of the election and the work of the electoral commissions are covered at length by the state-owned broadcasters. But it does not think this type of reporting can replace coverage of the candidates’ activities and analysis of their platforms.

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 applied 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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