Azerbaijani Press Council has concluded its monitoring of the media coverage of the 9 February early parliamentary elections
Azerbaijani Press Council has conducted a monitoring of the media during the 9 February early parliamentary elections. The purpose of the monitoring was to assess the professional tendencies displayed by influential media outlets whilst covering the elections and the opportunities provided for candidates to run their campaigns.
Further, the monitoring assessed whether Mass Media acted in line with the ‘’Professional Conduct Guidelines of Azerbaijani Journalists’’. In this vein, a separate cases of campaign techniques, negative campaigning and ‘black PR” practices have been carefully examined.
The monitoring has been carried out in three stages:
1. From the official announcement of the early parliamentary elections to the date of the start of the official campaign, in other words, from 5 December 2019 to 16 January 2020;
2. An official campaign period - from 17 January 2020 to 7 February 2020;
3. The media coverage of the 9 February elections, the assessment of the media’s role and that of a general media environment - 9 February 2020
The preliminary results of the monitoring, which focused on 20 newspapers and 30 information sources, suggest that there has been quite a wide room for electoral campaigning. Each candidate was given a fair chance to express his or her political creed through Mass Media.
It is also noteworthy that the media has placed a huge emphasis on these elections, as in comparison with the previous elections, media interest has been far greater, which could be ascertained through the number of published articles and the style and means of election coverage. On the whole, a conspicuous degree of professionalism was shown in presentation of events. Some instances of unprofessionalism and bias have also been reported.
The results also show a certain superiority of electronic media outlets over the print media. The former’s coverage of the election did appear to be more extensive and wide-ranging.
1. During the first stage, namely, the period from the announcement of the elections to the start of the official campaign, the 30 percent of all the articles published by media outlets were election-related.
During this phase, electronic media outlets have conducted a more wide-ranging and elaborate coverage of the elections, and surpassed newspapers. Yet the print media was better in terms of relying on official sources - 75-80 percent of the articles published by them were of official nature and they were mostly directly taken from the Central Election Commission (CEC).
Internet information sources did also rely on the official sources, yet their coverage did entail quite a number of news based on materials shared through social networks. To this effect, the mutual accusations of candidates through the medium of facebook have been the focus of the Electronic media. There have been instances of the use of some materials, circulated through social networks, for ‘black PR’ purposes by the Electronic media. Regrettably, the cases of the ‘Black Piar’ have increased in number when compared to the previous elections. This could be regarded as a negative part of the media activity. A damage to the reputation of candidates has been noted as one of the most emblematic trends in the breach of the Professional Code of journalists. This element was conspicuous in 50 percent of the cases.
2. In terms of the number of articles, from the start of the official campaign to 30 January, election-related developments have been covered more extensively. If during the pre-campaign stage, 30 percent of all the articles published were election-related, this percentage went to almost 70% within the campaign phase.The instances of damage to reputation, the violation of the honour and dignity of individuals and the use of ‘Black PR’ techniques did exponentially increase during this stage. Yet the positive thing was that Mass Media extensively covered campaign materials shared through individual social media accounts of different candidates.
3. The coverage of the 9 February parliamentary elections: the purpose of the monitoring with regard to this phase was to establish if media representatives were able to fulfill their professional duties and to what extent the media environment was of satisfactory level.
Understandably, media activity reached its pick on election day, as the 80 percent of the news conveyed via the media were about the elections which could be seen as a clear indication of the importance attached to the event the significance of which was undoubtedly colossal. The ‘electoral silence’ requirements were largely satisfied.
On the day of the 9 February parliamentary elections, the Press Council has focused its activity on two key areas. Firstly, a hotline did operate under the auspices of the Council which were contactable via (012) 441 35 96 and 206 06 02 (mob) from 8 am to 7pm. The purpose of the hotline was to ensure that journalists were able to fulfill their mission in terms of covering the elections and that any immediate issue could be dealt with efficiently and promptly. The Council has prepared and shared three statements via Mass Media on the day of the elections.
The hotline of the Press Council of Azerbaijan has received 4 appeals from journalists covering the snap parliamentary elections from 8am to 7pm.
Out of all the appeals, three were related to the 3rd, 5th and 20th polling stations of the 57th Kurdemir election constituency, whereas one appeal was from the 15th polling station of the 47th Mingachevir election constituency. Those who made appeals included Murad Musayev ('7news' website), Rumiyye Miraslan ('ayna.az' website), Mirjelal Majidov ('femadia.az’ website) and Konul Aypara ('mediapress.az' website). As to all of the four cases, the Central Election Commission has been contacted and the issues have been dealt with accordingly.
On the whole, it could be asserted that the overall conditions for media coverage of the elections were of sufficiently desirable level. In particular, videos shared via social networks and websites were rather reassuring. Yet it should also be noted that in some polling stations journalists have faced difficulties while fulfilling their professional duties; some were not allowed to use their video cameras, some unnecessary discussions and instances of interferences with journalistic activities have unfortunately been the case, which, in most cases, were due to the fact that some of the officials of the polling stations lacked the competence in working with media representatives. At the same time, journalists sometimes failed to act dutifully; there have been the cases of journalists interfering with what they considered to be unfair election practices, yet it should always be remembered that the primary function of a journalist to cover an event by acting strictly within the confines of his professional duties, which inter alia include, covering an event, asking questions and getting answers. The Council has also conducted a monitoring on the fulfillment of professional activities of journalists during the parliamentary elections. With this purpose in mind, the members of the Board of the Press Council were directly observing the elections in regions and in Baku. Since no irregularity has been noted, it could be said that the overall result of the monitoring is to be regarded as overwhelmingly plausible.