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Action Plan Pre-electoral assistance in Azerbaijan, media component

 

 
Budget 77 410
 
Funding Voluntary contributions, ordinary budget
 
Implementation Media Section (Directorate of Co-operation, Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal Affairs
 
Duration 1 April - 31 December 2010
 
Objective General objective:
To assist Azerbaijan in conducting the 7 November elections in line with the international standards on the matter.

Media component:
To assist with measures to achieve fair, balanced and impartial media coverage of the election campaign.
 
Activities and results in 2010   In the run-up to the presidential elections, TV, online and print journalists were trained in Baku and in Mingachevir on the fair and balanced media coverage of election campaigns.

  A TV debate between an international expert and local professionals raised awareness amongst journalists and the general public on the responsibilities of media in the run-up to the presidential elections, critically assessed the media performance and considered ways of improving the coverage.

  The monitoring of coverage elections by selected TV channels and printed media started on 7 October, and lasted for a month. This monitoring resulted in two reports an interim one and a final one. The final report was presented at a dedicated seminar (Baku, 13 December 2010) where conclusions and lessons learned were discussed.

  The monitoring reports concluded that the media, especially the television channels, largely failed to provide voters with the fair and balanced information they needed to make an informed choice in the elections. Only the ruling party met the legal threshold of 60 registered candidates that would have allowed free airtime on TV and free space in state-owned newspapers. The Central Election Commission decided to provide each candidate with four minutes of free airtime, a welcome decision which the authorities could consider enshrining in law for future parliamentary elections.

  According to the monitoring reports, TV generally under-reported the election. They focused to a considerable extent on technical and procedural issues rather than political substance.

  Newspapers devoted a larger proportion of their space to election coverage, but this too tended to be highly partisan in most instances. Papers which attempted some balance between parties and candidates were a distinct exception. 
 
Assessment and follow up An important achievement of the project was that it raised the awareness mainly of media professionals but also of public authorities and the general public of the importance and the substance of fair, balanced and impartial media coverage of election campaigns.

The following recommendations were proposed in the Council of Europe report on the action plan:

Media would benefit from enshrining the principles of balance and fairness in electoral coverage, along with a commitment to provide information to voters, into a widely-respected single voluntary code of conduct respected and followed by media professionals.

Media should consider offering 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 aim at broadcasting impartial voter information programmes.

  Media outlets should consider 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, the 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 the authorities should consider enshrining it in law for future parliamentary elections.