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Новость13 September 2021, 10:38
Collage: Ksenia Telmanova

Report on monitoring of federal TV channels during the eleventh week of the election campaign for the Russian State Duma (30 August — 5 September), scheduled for 19 September 2021

As the Russian Constitutional Court rightly pointed out, elections can be considered free only when the right to information and freedom of expression are actually guaranteed. Therefore, the legislator is obliged to ensure the rights of citizens to receive and disseminate information about elections, observing the balance of values — the right to free elections and freedom of speech and information, and disallowing inequality and disproportionate restrictions.

At the same time, the media perform the social function of information support of elections in Russia. This function is designed to contribute to the conscious expression of the will of citizens and the transparency of the elections. The use of freedom of mass information imposes on the media special duties and responsibilities. Representatives of these organizations should take ethical and balanced positions and cover election campaigns in a fair, balanced and impartial manner, including ensuring that candidates have equal access to the media. 

The distortion of the information field caused by administrative control over the media ultimately leads to a distortion of the will of the voters.

Television is one of the main sources of information for a significant number of Russians. During the election campaign period, the influence of television on the formation of attitudes towards elections and candidates is often decisive for the majority of voters.

This is why the «Golos» movement launched a program of weekly monitoring of federal TV channels during the elections to the State Duma of Russia. The purpose of media monitoring is to identify and prevent on a regular basis cases of violations of equal rights of parties in the coverage of their election campaign in terms of the amount of airtime and the tone of information presented.

The legal basis for media monitoring is the provision of the electoral legislation regarding information and campaigning. According to part 2 of Art. 45 of the Federal Law No. 67-FZ «On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Participate in the Referendum of the Citizens of the Russian Federation», «the content of information materials placed in mass media ... must be objective, reliable, [and] must not violate equality of candidates [and] electoral associations». Part 5 of the same article states that «in information TV programs ... announcements of pre-election events ... shall be given solely as a separate newscast, without commentary .... They must not give preference to any candidate [or] electoral association ... no discrimination (derogation of rights) shall be allowed, including the time of coverage of their pre-election activities».

The results of media monitoring are published on a weekly basis.

Conclusions on the eleventh week of the campaign

As the election campaign approached its climax, the share of news items with stories about the elections in the period from 30 August to 5 September exceeded 50% on all five federal TV channels monitored. Paradoxically, the time allocated by the TV channels to stories about party activities was halved. As a result, 60% of the «pre-election» airtime was devoted not to the parties, candidates and their programs, but the preparation for the elections in general. The citizens, for example, were actively made to fear foreign interference in the elections and dissemination of «fakes». Thus, while the share of newscasts containing information about elections increased, the amount of time devoted to political parties collapsed by half within a week.

In the eleventh week of the election campaign, the tactics of covering the activities of «United Russia» changed: the number of references to it and the amount of airtime devoted to it decreased sharply, while the tone became more neutral. It seems that the messages about the «party of power» were no longer intended to attract attention and promote party messaging, but rather serve as a neutral media backdrop. In terms of the number of references and the total volume of airtime, the party formally even equalled the KPRF, and in some ways conceded to its main competitors. However, at the same time, the TV channels actively covered the activities of the leaders of the party list outside of the elections (these indicators are not included in the above calculations). Such «official» mentions of ministers Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Shoygu, chief doctor Denis Protsenko, head of the Talent and Success Foundation Elena Shmeleva, and children’s rights ombudsman Anna Kuznetsova almost doubled the indicator of the «party of power» and again confidently put it in the lead.

The TV channels started mentioning the KPRF almost twice as often as last week. It was also formally the one that received the most coverage. This can be explained by the fact that the KPRF became the main target of federal airtime: it received 58% of negative stories, 12% of neutral and only 30% of positive ones. For the third week in a row, the party remained in the zone of predominantly negative references. At the same time, the presence of the KPRF’s main rivals in the «left-wing» electorate — «A Just Russia — For Truth» and the «Communists of Russia» — was increasing in the airwaves.

Number and duration of news items

Since 23 August, joint campaign events of the parties (debates) have started, which are not included in the monitoring.

The election campaign is approaching its climax. In its eleventh week, the share of news programs with stories about elections was more than half on all five federal TV channels. The share of stories about elections and parties on NTV rose sharply from 39% to 58.5% and on 5TV from 50% to 58%. Channel One Russia is the leader in terms of this indicator (62% of news stories), but overall, all TV channels have levelled off (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Proportion of TV newscasts containing stories about elections in the eleven weeks of the election campaign (19.06.2021 — 05.09.2021)

The aggregate duration of stories was the highest on Channel One Russia: 164 minutes, about 20 minutes more than in the previous week. Russia-1 was in second place with 120.5 minutes. As before, on Channel 5 the aggregate index was the most modest: only 32.2 minutes. However, the total airtime devoted to the election campaign, according to the results of the eleventh week, was slightly less than in the previous week: 468 min. (During the previous week, it was 480 minutes). At the same time, only 190 minutes were allocated directly to parties. In this case, the airtime devoted to parties was only 190 minutes (41%, or exactly twice as little as the week before). Thus, while the share of newscasts containing information about elections increased, the amount of time allocated to political parties dropped by half.

The longest stories were again on Channel One Russia, 3.42 minutes, followed by NTV and Ren TV with the same average duration of stories, almost 3 minutes. This time the shortest stories were on 5TV, 1.5 minutes on average (see Table 1).

Table 1. Items on parties in TV newscasts, 30.08-05.09

 

Channel One Russia

Russia-1

NTV

5TV

Ren TV

Number of news items with electoral subjects and their share in the total number of items

23 out of 37 (62%)

17 out of 30 (56.5%)

21 out of 36 (58.5%)

16 out of 28 (57%)

15 out of 25 (60%)

Average duration of stories on elections

3.42 min.

1.59 min.

2.95 min.

1.53 min.

2.98 min.

Cumulative duration of electoral subjects

164,19

min.

120.54 min.

67.9 min.

32.19 min.

83.55 min.


Number of references to parties in the pre-election news items and volume of airtime devoted to them

«United Russia» continued to lead in the number of references, but this figure dropped by 46 points compared with the record of the previous week, when the party was mentioned 167 times (see Fig. 2). The KPRF took second place for the fourth time in the campaign, with 79 mentions, 32 more than in the past week (and half as many as for «United Russia»). «A Just Russia — For Truth» and «New People» shared third place (with 44 mentions each). The frequency of mentions of the LDPR did not change significantly over the past few weeks, with 31 mentions on the air. Small parties, with the exception of «New People», disappeared from the air again. «Rodina» appeared four times, «The Green Alternative» six times, REP «The Greens» seven times, «Civic Platform» one time, and Russian Party of Freedom and Justice (RPSS) disappeared from the air altogether. The number of mentions of the «Communists of Russia» increased 19 times, compared to three mentions the previous week. The number of times RUDP «Yabloko» was mentioned was once again reduced, from 36 to 16 (see Fig. 2). Thus, the opposition between «United Russia» and its main competitor, the KPRF, was clearly visible on the air. The presence on the air of the KPRF’s main rivals in the field of the «left-wing» electorate — «A Just Russia — For Truth» and «Communists of Russia» — is increasing. The campaign to promote the «New People» was more modest, but did not lose momentum.

Figure 2. Number of references to parties in election-related stories of TV newscasts in the eleven weeks of the election campaign (19.06.2021 — 05.09.2021)

The mounting antagonism between the KPRF and the «party of power» was particularly evident in terms of the total airtime allocated to each party. Most of the time was unexpectedly allocated to the KPRF, almost 63 minutes, and to «United Russia», slightly more than 58 minutes, which was four times less than the figure from the tenth week of the campaign (see Fig. 3). This does not take into account the time devoted to the leaders of «United Russia’s» list — Sergey Lavrov, Denis Protsenko, Elena Shmelyova, Anna Kuznetsova and Sergey Shoygu — when they were mentioned as officials rather than as candidates. Such mentions almost doubled the figure of the «party of power», adding another 47 minutes of airtime (i. e. about 81% of the figure) and again put it firmly in the lead. In other parties such situations are almost non-existent. Such use of party candidates as officials further violates the principle of equality of rights of candidates and parties.

«United Russia» was followed by «New People» (20.49 minutes), «A Just Russia — For Truth» (20.01 minutes) and the LDPR (12.04 minutes). For the other parties, this indicator does not exceed five minutes (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Total airtime in minutes allocated to parties in election-related stories of TV newscasts in the eleven weeks of the election campaign (19.06.2021 – 05.09.2021)

The average number of minutes of airtime was also the longest for the KPRF: two minutes. Other parties, including «United Russia», had an average of less than 0.5 minutes. (see Figure 4). Only the «New People» averaged 1.5 minutes. However, this did not mean equal presence on the air, but rather an intensification of the «negative» campaign against the KPRF. Stories about the KPRF abounded in sharply negative messages.

Figure 4. Average number of minutes of airtime allocated to parties in election-related stories of TV newscasts during the eleven weeks of the election campaign (19.06.2021 — 05.09.2021)

The coverage of the parties’ activities during the past week was also difficult to call even in terms of the distribution of references across the five federal channels. «United Russia» and KPRF were the only parties that appeared on the air of all five channels. However, the «party of power» was mentioned in the vast majority of stories on Channel One Russia, while the KPRF was mentioned on Ren TV. «A Just Russia — For Truth» and the «Communists of Russia» were mentioned on almost all channels. «New People» was already traditionally most frequently promoted on Channel One Russia.

Figure 5. Distribution of references to parties by TV channels in the election-related subjects of newscasts on the eleventh week of the election campaign (30.08.2021 — 05.09.2021)


Peculiarities of Party Coverage

As before, the main tone of the campaign in the eleventh week was characterized by predominantly positive references to all the players, with the exception of the KPRF, RUDP «Yabloko» and «Rodina» («Civic Platform» was mentioned only once). The KPRF was the main target of the federal airwaves last week. It received 58% of negative stories, 12% of neutral ones, and only 30% of positive ones. Remarkably, the proportion of positive stories also decreased for «United Russia», at 62%, which was lower than for most parties. In comparison, the «New People» were mentioned in a positive tone in 77% of news items, while «A Just Russia — For Truth» was positively mentioned 86% of the time (see Fig. 6). Thus, it seems that new items about the «party of power» were designed not to attract attention and promote party messaging, but rather serve as a neutral media backdrop.

Figure 6. Tone of messages about the parties in the election newscasts of TV channels in the eleventh week of the election campaign (30.08.2021 - 05.09.2021)

As a result, the KPRF is again the only party in the «red zone» in terms of the positive-negative ratio (see Figure 7). The other parties remain in the «green zone». In particular, 5TV and Ren TV aired several times a story about a KPRF deputy in the Omsk region filming «child pornography». It was also mentioned that a journalist in Izhevsk was forcibly removed from a party press conference. Ren TV broadcast a story about deputy Artem Samsonov, who caused a scandal in Primorye because a campaign banner he had paid for was replaced by the banner of a charitable foundation affiliated with «United Russia». Finally, the Sunday analytical program «Dobrov on Air» covered the joint work of Communists and Alexei Navalny’s supporters, talking about the criminal past of some KPRF members and the «incompetence» of party leader Gennady Zyuganov.

Overall, the week was marked by a number of more general reports on the quality of the elections. In particular, Channel One Russia broadcast a meeting of the Commission Council Federation for the Protection of State Sovereignty on election fakes.

In one of the programmes on Russia-1, an 8-minute block covered all parties except «Civic Platform», Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice, RPSS and the Party of Growth. There was also a news item with representatives of the REP «The Greens» and «The Green Alternative», as well as the «Communists of Russia», which talked about the differences between the parties and how voters should not confuse them.

Figure 7. Rating of the tone of messages about the parties in the election stories of TV newscasts in the eleven weeks of the election campaign (19.06.2021 – 05.09.2021).


Methodology

Five federal TV channels that are part of the first multiplex and are most popular among viewers — Channel One Russia, Russia-1, NTV, 5TV, and Ren TV — were selected for media monitoring.

For each of the five TV channels, newscasts available in the channels’ video archives were analysed. A summary of the list of analysed newscasts is presented in Annex 1. Thus, during the week from 30 August to 5 September 2021, 156 news bulletins were studied.

We analysed each newscast for the presence of stories about the parties that have nominated their candidates for the elections to the Russian State Duma.

If there were stories about parties, we were interested in the following indicators:

  • number of mentions;
  • the time allocated for each party;
  • the tone of the information (positive, neutral, negative);
  • availability of direct speech of party representatives;
  • presence of voters’ opinions about parties and their candidates (not including headquarters staff and proxies) in the story;

The characteristics of the parts voiced by the announcer or voice-over narration.

Due to the fact that the elections were scheduled late in the evening of Thursday, 17 June, the first week is considered extended (Week 1+) and includes monitoring data from 19 to 27 June. The data for 19-20 June were added, starting from the report on the fourth week of TV channel monitoring.