The Media Monitoring Institute (MMI) presented its final report on the media coverage of the November Parliamentary Elections at a conference today. A seminar for journalists was held as part of the event.
MMI representative Samir Ismayiov reported that the Institute had monitored media coverage of the 7 November parliamentary elections. Monitoring began on 7 October, a week before the official start of the election campaign, and the covered election issues, as well as candidates' campaigns and other issues.
MMI expert Rasul Jafarov presented the TV and newspaper monitoring report.
“AzTV ‘s election coverage constituted 14% of the total coverage. Only Public TV allocated general airtime for elections, and that is attributed to allocation of free airtime for candidates. ANS aired “Ehate dairesi (Coverage area)” and “Gulp” programs which focused on the elections. Gulp showed a satirical approach to the elections. Lider conducted a smear campaign against members of the opposition,” said Jafarov.
“Yeni Azerbaijan newspaper only covered the ruling parties and conducted a smear campaign against the opposition. Zerkalo allocated the least space to the elections. Only Bizim Yol gave a reasonable amount of space for election coverage,” Jafarov added.
“The media play an essential role during election periods. Media outlets are crucial in educating voters and enabling them to make an informed choice, in addition to enabling candidates to communicate political messages to the voters”, said Richard Carver, a CoE expert.
Turan News Agency Director Mehman Aliyev said that all private TV channels are financed and controlled by the government, and therefore cannot be deemed independent.
“Azadig” newspaper editor Rovshan Hajiyev also said that Azerbaijan does not have any independent TV channels. He added that these elections had been the most fraudulent in Azerbaijan’s history.
Head of East-West Researches Center Arastun Orujlu said that there have been multiple crimes against journalists, and yet they remain uninvestigated. Journalist Shahveled Chobanoglu spoke about the role of new media in these elections, commenting that a number of candidates benefited from new media.
“The statements by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe are similar to positive comments by the CIS observers on the falsified elections,” said Azadlig newspaper editor Ganimat Zahid.
“The state media is becoming ever more powerful. AzTV [a government corporation] now has three channels. The newspapers are also government controlled,” noted lawyer Alasgar Mammadli.
Director of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Training Center Bashir Suleymanli pointed out that there were no televised political debates during the election period.
Media Monitoring Institute expert Nizami Jafarov said that the TV channels focused their coverage on Ilham Aliyev and Heydar Aliyev.
Extreme Journalism Institute Head Idrak Abbasov spoke about the grim situation for media and human rights in Azerbaijan. “The former parliamentary candidate running in Nakhchivan Sakhavat Aliyev and his family are under serious political pressure. Anyone known to have voted for this candidate for the opposition has lost his or her job,” he noted.
“The media monitoring has been running for two years and has now reached its end. We have collected a number of observations on legal violations by TV channels. Political parties can go to the court based on the libellous nature of the smear campaign, and we would endorse such an action,” said the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety Chairman Emin Huseynov.
To conclude the event, Mehman Aliyev presented the recommendations of Media Monitoring Institute:
• The Media would benefit from a voluntary code of conduct, enshrining the principles of balance and fairness in electoral coverage, along with a commitment to provide information to voters.
• All media should offer the right of reply to criticism of candidates, preferably through seeking the viewpoint of all affected parties in any given story, or by offering a subsequent opportunity to reply with equal prominence.
• Media should broadcast impartial voter information programmes.
• Media outlets should seek training for editors and journalists in the skills required for election reporting.
• With regard to Section IV of Recommendation No. R(99)15 of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, public authorities need to take appropriate steps to guarantee the safety of the media and individual journalists, to help ensure impartial reporting of election campaigns.
• The decision of the CEC to allocate free airtime is to be welcomed and should be enshrined in law for future parliamentary elections.