MEDIA MIRROR – PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS 2011
Under the auspices of its “Media Mirror” programme, the NGO Infocentreimplements continuous monitoring of the reporting of the media in the Republic of Macedonia, with the aim to acquire a clear picture of professional standards and criteria of reporting applied by the media, and on the manner in which they cover and interpret the key social processes and events. The NGO Infocentre has monitored the media coverage in all election cycles in Macedonia since 2005. This edition of the “Media Mirror” presents the results of the monitoring and the analysis of the media coverage of the Parliamentary Elections 2009, for the period betweenMay 11 and May 19 – four days before the official start of the election campaign and the first four days of the official campaign.
The monitoring of the media coverage of Parliamentary Elections 2011 shows that the media dedicated great attention to the early Parliamentary Elections 2011. In comparison with the early Parliamentary Elections 2008, when over the same period of observation – several days before and after the start of the election campaign – the media dedicated an average of 66 articles and reports daily, this year the average has increased to 116 articles and reports daily.
The official start of the campaign didn’t have any discernible effects on the actual intensity of the coverage. The figures for the period before the official start of the and the first week of campaign activities shows very small difference in the numbers of published and aired news reports and stories. That finding confirms the fact that political parties and candidates have launched the campaign activities in earnest much earlier than its official start, and that there is a perpetual political campaigning going on in Macedonian media.
Government officials and institutions carried almost a half of the load of the campaign so far. Their activities overcompensate for the ruling parties and are responsible for the unbalanced presence in the media, in favour of the parties in government. That also illustrates the high degree of collusion between ruling parties and state institutions. The State Election Commission and the Broadcasting Council were named as sources of information extremely rarely, a fact that demonstrates the lack of interest in the actual electoral processes by the media, which focused on the parties’ campaign contest.
The media emerge as superficial reporters of campaign activities, making no effort to engage in in-depth analysis of key political issues. They cover the campaign, but not the actual political platforms on offer. The media have placed themselves in a position of passive actors that don’t create their own agenda, but follow and comment on the agendas of the political parties. Therefore, they generally underachieve in their role of organizers and instigators of political debate in the society and turn into mere transmitters of political propaganda.
The key issues – NATO and EU, the name-dispute, the economy, are almost completely missing from the coverage. The greatest attention is given to subjects and issues related to campaign activities. In addition, the huge number of reports and stories dedicated to the possibility of violence during the elections create tensions and bring about concerns regarding the regularity of the electoral process.
In terms of professional standards in the reporting on Elections and campaign activities, a high percentage of unsigned articles was noted. In the print media, almost a third of all articles have not been signed by the author, and in the electronic media more than a quarter of all articles are not properly credited. That trend is a cause of concern, having in mind that the lack of transparency regarding the authorship of a significant portion of all contents helps avoid the responsibility for the published information, which seriously undermines the quality and validity of information.
When reporting on the elections, the journalists commonly list their sources precisely. However, in majority of cases, the information comes from one source or several similar and related sources. The reliance on a single source of information is likely due to the fact that the media mostly report on campaign activities of political entities – campaign rallies, press-conferences, etc. It should be noted, however, that only a fraction of journalistic reports and articles venture beyond pure reporting of events and make an effort at analytical and comparative approach to the key issues of the election campaign. That approach has had negative effects on the quality of information on the platforms and activities of political actors available to the citizens.
The coverage is dominated by the reporting genres, with notable incidence of mixing of genres and reliance on “non-pure” genres. The domination of the extended news indicates a trend to mix commentary into the news reports, which illustrates a higher level of unprofessional coverage and violation of the basic journalistic standard that requires that news and comments shall not be mixed in a single article. The absence of interviews and large portrait pieces indicates a depersonalized campaign and the general lack of interest in the personality of candidates running in the elections, exhibited by the media. They cover the personalities only in the context of parties’ campaign activities. That is a high level of depersonalisation of campaign coverage.
The monitoring methodology is based on a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis of the coverage. The monitoring forms (for electronic and print media) are the main methodological instrument and are combined with a qualitative analysis of the contents. The forms are structured into a number of variables and indicators which focus on the extent to which the media follow the standards of professional journalistic reporting, editorial policies and thematic framing. The quantitative analysis of the contents is based on previously coded specifics of media coverage by a team of coders that work with inter-coder reliability of 85%.
The monitoring programme covers eight print media (“Vest”, “Utrinski vesnik”, “Koha”, “Špic”, “Dnevnik”, “Večer“, “Nova Makedonija” and “Vreme” dailies) and eight broadcast media (A1 TV, Sitel TV, Telma TV, MTV1 and MTV2 (news in Albanian), Alsat M TV, Kanal 5 TV and Alfa TV), selected on basis of their actual and/or perceived influence on the public opinion in Macedonia. All articles in the print media and in the central new programmes of the television broadcasters that cover the topics related to the early Parliamentary Elections 2011 have been subject to this analysis.