#Report
Behind a camera. Photo by Bicanski on Pixnio

Uneven access and unbalanced coverage: media monitoring findings after eight weeks of the campaign

Equality of rights of candidates in media coverage of their election campaign is one of the most important conditions for holding free and democratic elections. For a significant part of Russians, television remains to be one of the main sources of information. During the election campaign, the influence of television in shaping the attitude of the majority of voters towards elections and candidates is often decisive.

The 'Movement for the Defense of Voters' Rights "Golos"' launched the monitoring of state-controlled federal TV channels during the elections of the Russian State Duma deputies. Below you will find a summary of the first eight weekly monitoring reports. More details about the methodology and the findings you can find here: https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145391 (RU).

Lack of comprehensive campaign coverage in state-controlled TV

Between June 28 and July 18, TV channels have reported relatively little about the election campaign – from one-third to one-fifth of the total news airtime was dedicated to the activities of political parties – despite the gradual unfolding of the election campaign and the holding of such significant events as election congresses of parties. For example, if in the second week (June 28 – July 4) of the campaign the TV channels devoted 215 minutes to stories about elections and parties, and 176 minutes on the third, then in the fourth week this figure dropped to 96 minutes – more than twice as compared to the modest indicators of the second week. 1

A sharp increase in news coverage of the elections, their total and average duration, occurred on federal channels only in the fifth week of the election campaign (July 19-25). However, this is largely due to the negative campaign launched by the TV channels against the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) and not the attempt to cover the election campaign comprehensively. 2

At the same time, a significant proportion of the broadcast was devoted to various procedural issues, such as the recruitment of observers by state-controlled Civic Chambers. For example, although the seventh week (Aug. 2-8) was the most extensive in terms of informing voters about ongoing elections in the entire campaign period to date, this increase was not due to an increase in time spent informing voters about party activities, but to other election-related issues. 3

Uneven TV coverage of parties and candidates

During the monitoring period, the coverage of parties' campaigns was extremely uneven: United Russia was the undisputed leader in terms of the number of mentions and the total duration of stories in the coverage of federal channels.

In the second week of the campaign (June 28 – July 4), United Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) became the leaders in terms of coverage on TV channels, while the CPRF was never mentioned. 4 In addition, the June 30 'direct line'5 with Vladimir Putin was used for propaganda purposes in favor of United Russia, which was endorsed by the President during the television program. Both before and after the 'line', the event was widely covered by all channels, but only United Russia and its deputies received airtime in this context.

In the third, fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth weeks of monitoring, United Russia remained the leader in terms of the number of references, the amount of airtime allocated to it, and the share of positive stories.

For example, in the fourth week (July 12-18), more than 32 minutes of airtime was devoted to covering its activity on all five federal TV channels, and the party was mentioned 61 times. New People, LDPR, the Russian Ecological Party "Greens," Just Russia, and the Party of Pensioners were mentioned in total on all TV channels only 13 times, of which nine regarded New People and the LDPR. The CPRF, Rodina/Fatherland, Civic Platform, Yabloko, Communists of Russia, the Russian Party of Freedom and Justice (RPSS), Russian All-People's Union (ROS), Green Alternative, and the Party of Growth were never mentioned in news programs. 6 And in the fifth week, the number of references to the 'party of power' jumped from 61 to 150 during the week, while the total volume of airtime tripled. 7

It was not until the sixth week of the campaign that 14 of the 15 parties that had nominated their lists of candidates were named at once. This diversity was evident for the first time since the elections began. However, despite the increased diversity, one cannot speak of the even access of all participants to the state-controlled media. For comparison: the leader in terms of mentions, United Russia, had 113 mentions in a week, the LDPR – 34, and Just Russia-For Truth – 27, for the Communist Party – 23. 8,9 In the seventh (August 2-8) and the eighth (August 9-15) weeks of the election campaign, United Russia again overtook the rest of the parties combined both in the number of references and in the total amount of airtime allocated to it.10

It is also worth noting that parties that are not part of the 'parliamentary four' are mentioned much less often, with the possible exception of New People, which, with the help of Channel One, were in the lead in terms of attention to them for two weeks. 11

For example, in the fifth week of the campaign, all non-parliamentary parties completely dropped out of the television agenda, despite a sharp increase in airtime devoted to the elections. All of them were either never mentioned at all (Rodina, Civic Platform, Yabloko, Party of Pensioners, ROS, Green Alternative, Party of Growth), or they got one or two mentions each and were given from six to 37 seconds of airtime per week (New People, Communists of Russia, RPSS, "Greens"). 12

Unequal approach to political parties in the tone of coverage

During the entire monitoring period, United Russia was generally covered in a positive manner. For instance, in the second week, three parties with predominantly (or exclusively) positive references included Just Russia, United Russia, and New People. The LDPR received a mixture of neutral and negative coverage this week and turned out to be the only party that went negative on this indicator. 13

In the fifth week of the campaign, TV channels launched a negative information campaign against the CPRF and its candidate Pavel Grudinin, who was removed from the elections by the Russian Central Election Commission that week. It is indicative that in parallel, the number of references (primarily positive) has increased for another party oriented towards the left electorate – Just Russia-For Truth. Federal TV channels seemed to hasten to offer some of the Communist party voters an alternative on the same political flank. 14

In the sixth week, such an insignificant campaign event as the signing of the 'For Safe Elections' agreement initiated by United Russia held in the conference room of the Central Election Commission became a pass from oblivion to the zone of frequent and positive references for six parties. As a result, United Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party, Rodina, Civil Platform, New People, and the REP 'Greens' have earned positive comments. The last four of them collectively received nearly double the mentions of the previous five weeks of the campaign. The only party in the zone of predominantly negative comments was the CPRF. This time, due to the refusal to sign the abovementioned agreement. 15

During the eighth week of monitoring16, the CPRF was also the only party that received negative references (about 35% versus 65% of positive comments).

In the seventh week, all federal TV channels began to actively create a positive picture of the ongoing elections. As a result, a rare situation occurred when all the parties that were mentioned during the week ended up in a positive or neutral zone. The TV channels practically staged a 'festival of positivity.' New People literally drowned in the positive comments with a record relative rate of 94% of positive mentions, and the LDPR enjoyed 93%. Just Russia-For Truth got 87% of positive mentions, and United Russia was mentioned in a positive way in 81% of messages. Even the CPRF, in terms of the positive-negative ratio, was able to break into the 'green zone' from the 'red' one, where it had been in the previous weeks. At the same time, the CPRF and Just Russia-For Truth were the only parties that also received negative comments. 17

In the eighth week, all election participants, except the CPRF, received more than 80% of positive stories. As a result, the 'positivity' this week was the highest in all eight weeks of the campaign. 18

References:

1 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145314

2 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145330

3 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145383

4 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145295

5 An annual televised program centered on Q&A with the President

6 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145314

7 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145330

8 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145375

9 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145375

10 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145383;

https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145391

11 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145295

12 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145330

13 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145295

14 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145330

15 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145375

16 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145391

17 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145383

18 https://www.golosinfo.org/articles/145391

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