Media Coverage of the 15 October presidential election in Azerbaijan

September 16th, 2008

Report n.1
15 August – 12 September 2008

Composed by the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety

Baku, 16 September – Institute for Reporters` Freedom and Safety, an independent, non-partisan Azerbaijani NGO dedicated to freedom of expression and the media, has been systematically monitoring media coverage of the 15 October presidential election. IRFS seeks to evaluate the mass media’s performance in providing objective and balanced coverage of the candidates and their platforms so the citizens of Azerbaijan can make well-informed choices at the ballot box.

The project’s findings are determined through a well-defined and rigorous methodology and are not intended to support any one candidate or political party, but the integrity of the media environment as a whole during the campaign season. This project is conducted with support from MEMO 98, a Slovak media monitoring organization. Within the framework of this support, a MEMO 98 consultant provided training and consultancy to help IRFS in conducting its media and elections-focused project, and analyzing the broadcast and print media.

Since 15 August, IRFS has been monitoring seven TV channels  and four newspapers . The monitoring team has been analyzing TV programming and daily newspapers, and assessing findings on the time or space allocated to all candidates running in the election, as well as the time/space allocation given to all political actors (the incumbent president, official candidates for president and those politicians who have chosen to boycott the elections). The tone of the coverage is also being evaluated. Quantitative analysis measures the total amount of time devoted to monitored subjects on all programming between 6 p.m. and midnight. Qualitative analysis evaluates the tone in which the monitored subjects have been portrayed – positive, neutral or negative.

This first report encompasses TV programming and newspaper articles from 15 August to 12 September, a period during which election campaigning has not officially begun. The second report will encompass 13 September – October 10, including the official campaigning period and the third and final report will encompass 11 October -20 October, and will include a final summation of media coverage of the 2008 presidential elections in Azerbaijan, and assessments of adherence to the blackout period before the election and post-election coverage, including the presentation of the results.

1. ANS, ATV, AZTV (State TV), ITV (Public TV), Khazar, Lider and Space. 
2. Khalg, Azerbayjan, Zerkalo and Yeni Musavat.

 

Background

Officially, there are seven candidates running for president in Azerbaijan’s 2008 elections, however besides Ilham Aliyev, who represents the ruling “Yeni Azerbayjan Party,” the other candidates are largely unknown people. This resulted from the fact that several key opposition parties decided to boycott the presidential election. 

Highlights

 There is little variation in the TV coverage of the candidates for Azerbaijan’s 2008 Presidential election.
 On three channels 100%  of coverage of political actors was dedicated to Aliyev, while ANS, which dedicated 86% to Aliyev, displayed the most political diversity in comparison with the other TV channels.
 The results for the two state newspapers are strikingly similar to the tabulations for the TV channels; in Azerbayjan 98% of politically significant coverage focuses on Ilham Aliyev and in Khalg – 100%.
 Political diversity was observed during this monitoring period in Zerkalo, and even more so in Yeni Musavat.

TV Channels

Over 80% of Azerbaijan’s population receives its news from the television, thus TV channels play a pivotal role in forming public opinion. Azerbaijan has both a public TV channel, ITV, and a state TV channel, AZTV. The public TV channel has a broad mandate to give coverage of the entire spectrum of opinions that people in Azerbaijan hold, however State TV’s mandate in much narrower. None of Azerbaijan’s seven nationwide TV channels are known to be sympathetic to the opposition.

Incumbent president Ilham Aliyev dominated all TV channels, even receiving 100% of coverage on the State TV channel AZTV, and private TV channels ATV and Space. On the Public TV channel, known locally as ITV, 97% of programming focusing on political actors during this monitoring period was dedicated to Aliyev. It is noteworthy that ITV was the only channel to give coverage of the press conference in which the five opposition parties formally announced their decision to boycott the election.

On the private TV channel Khazar 95% of programming dedicated to political actors focused on Aliyev, on Lider 94% and on ANS this figure was 86%. Thus for this monitoring period, ANS appears to be the most pluralistic TV channel, but even 86% cannot be interpreted as the indicator of any genuine attempt to show politically diverse programming. In addition to Ilham Aliyev, Arif Aliyev was given 3%, Fazil Gazanfaroglu – 4%, Gulamhuseyn Alibeyli 2% and Teymr Guliyev, Igbal Agazade, Isa Gambar, Intigam Mammedov, Fikret Ahadov, and Aliyar Safarli each 1% of coverage of political actors on ANS

 

3.    It should be noted that although the pie chart indicates that 100% of politically significant coverage was dedicated to Aliyev, this does not mean that other candidates and/or the boycotting opposition were never mentioned, but rather that references to them were so infrequent and limited that they do not make up even 1% of politically significant TV programming. On the same note, people not listed (thus receiving in effect 0%), might have been referred to but, not enough times to make up 1% of politically significant TV programming. The same is true with regards to the percentages reflected in the newspaper section of this report.

While AZTV and ITV are funded with taxpayers’ money, not everyone’s views were portrayed on these channels during the first monitoring period. According to new amendments to Azerbaijan’s Election Code, AZTV is now excluded from giving free airtime to candidates, but it remains unclear if that means the channel is also excluded from providing information about the election and candidates in the form of news.  ITV’s broadcasting capability envisages at most 80% of the country, while AZTV has 100% coverage. This means, that in light of the new amendments to the Election Code, at least a small percentage of Azerbaijan’s population will not be able to view official TV campaigning carried out by candidates for president. Official campaigning starts on the morning of 17 September and ends on the morning of 14 October 

It is worth noting that the majority of time in which Aliyev is being presented on TV is in his capacity as incumbent president. At the same time, while it is to be expected that Aliyev will have the “incumbency advantage,” monitors noted that all TV channels, especially  AZTV and Lider, take great pains to give coverage of all Aliyev’s activities, even those which are of questionable relevance and importance.

For example on 28 August, Ilham Aliyev visited a metro station that was repaired, and Lider focused on this event for over three minutes.  In addition, on the same date, on the evening news, AZTV allocated over four minutes to coverage of Aliyev’s visit to the city of Sumgayit. Later, a program shown on the AZTV focused exclusively on this trip for over a half hour.

TV channels habitually allocate time to people who express their gratitude to Ilham Aliyev, while criticism of Aliyev is extremely rare.

Newspapers

Included in this monitoring initiative are two state-funded newspapers, Khalg and Azerbyjan, and two independent newspapers, Zerkalo and Yeni Musavat. Zerkalo is published in the Russian language, while the other three are published in Azerbaijani. Yeni Musvat is the most widely circulated independent newspaper in the country; however it is known to be closely aligned with the opposition political party Musavat.

Although taxpayers’ money helps to fund Azerbayjan and Khalg, it is clear that not everyone’s views were portrayed in these publications during this monitoring period. In Azerbayjan 98% of coverage of political actors focused on Ilham Aliyev and in Khalg – 100%. While Khalg gave coverage of the Central Election Commission’s decision to approve Ilham Aliyev’s candidacy, the Central Election’s Commission’s decision to approve the other people’s candidacy received absolutely no coverage.

Seventy seven percent of politically significant coverage in Zerkalo was allocated to Ilham Aliyev, however candidates Igbal Agazade, Mais Guliyev and Fazil Gazanfaroglu also received coverage. In addition unlike in TV channels, the time allocated to Ilham Aliyev, included not only positive coverage but also criticism. Approximately a quarter of the all references to Ilham Aliyev in Zerkalo were negative. 

In Yeni Musavat, 14% of politically significant of coverage is dedicated to incumbent president Ilham Aliyev, however the candidate receiving the most coverage in Yeni Musavat is “Umid” (Hope) Party Chairman Igbal Agazade – 22%.  In addition, 21% of politically significant news articles focused on Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar, who is among the boycotting opposition leaders.

Coverage of Ilham Aliyev is split almost 50/50 between positive and negative in Yeni Musavat.  Coverage of Igbal Agazade is also mixed, however many official candidates received almost exclusively negative coverage, albeit a very small amount. In contrast, the leaders of boycotting opposition parties, with the exception of Popular Front Party Chairman Ali Kermili, are receiving mostly positive coverage.  

The diversity of opinions displayed in Zerkalo and Yeni Musavat, give grounds to believe that such diverse opinions are reaching the general public, but this may not be so. Nearly every household in Azerbaijan has a television; however purchasing a newspaper is considered a luxury. Due to a difficult economic situation, newspapers suffer from localized circulation and are thus unattainable for most of the public. Azerbaijan’s population exceeds 8 million, however the circulation of Yeni Musavat is just 10,550 and Zerkalo’s circulation on weekdays is 5,000 and on Saturdays – 10,000.

Conclusion

The data shows that majority of the monitored media frequently neglects to offer Azerbaijani citizens opposing views on particular stories. It is also of concern that several disturbing trends in the way the Azerbaijani mainstream media cover candidates and other entities appear not to be the result of short-term anomalies, but genuine trends in the Azerbaijani media. These trends include the fact that the monitored media neglected to offer opposition any significant airtime and opportunities to challenge the political opinions of the current establishment.

 As recipients of public resources, state-funded media have an enhanced duty to ensure balanced and fair treatment of contestants. Contrary to their public mandate, however, the state-funded media have so far failed to grant opposition parties any meaningful opportunity to express their political views. The results indicate that the broadcast media does not serve as a forum for the exchange of opinions, public debate, confrontation, investigation and commentary that would offer the public objective, analyzed and assessed views of persons seeking elected office.