From February 20 to February 26, 2020, the Public Television of Armenia allocated 243 minutes 50 seconds of of its air to the topic of the constitutional referendum, 57 minutes 9 seconds of which were allocated to the “NO” campaign, 80 minutes 50 seconds to the “YES” campaign and 105 minutes 51 seconds were neutral remarks. The Public TV also aired “YES” and “NO” campaign video clips of up to 7-minute duration each.
During the monitoring period, the main news issue presented a report on public discussion on “Constitutional Amendments in Armenia”. During the discussion, Artur Sakunts, head of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor office, supported the “YES” side of the referendum on amendments to the constitution. “Asparez” Journalists Club non-governmental organization board chairman Levon Barseghyan also shared Sakunts’s point and spoke in favour of the constitutional referendum.
Both Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and human rights activist Ruben Melikyan, who also coordinates the “NO” headquarters of the referendum, have been guests of the program “Interview with Petros Ghazaryan”. Petros Ghazaryan was guided by double standards during the programs. For example, in an interview with Ruben Melikyan on February 21, Petros Ghazaryan attempted to divert the interviewee from the main topic being discussed and tried to discuss topics which were only partially related to the “NO” campaign, while when hosting Nikol Pashinyan within 37 minutes one could notice no tendency to deviate from “YES” propaganda.
On February 22, in a video on the involvement of members in the Referendum Precinct Commissions on behalf of the “NO” campaign, the Public Television referred only to the request sent to the 4 parties without referring to the February 21 public announcement on the acceptance of relevant applications by individual citizens.
On February 21, the topic of the constitutional referendum was also discussed during the “Rules of the Game” program of public TV. The program lasted 43 minutes and 30 seconds. The guests of the program were Chairman of the Aware and Protected Consumer NGO Babken Pipoyan, Head of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia Avetik Ishkhanyan, ethnographer Hranush Kharatyan and CEC (Central Electoral Commission) Secretary Armen Smbatyan.
On February 23, within the framework of the program “Public Discussion” Petros Ghazaryan hosted former deputy of the Supreme Council Vigen Khachatryan, Vice President of the Heritage Party Narine Dilbaryan and member of the Executive Body of the Citizen’s Decision Party Mikayel Nahapetyan. During the program, former deputy of the Supreme Council Vigen Khachatryan was in favor of the “YES” campaign of constitutional referendum. Heritage Party representative Narine Dilbaryan and CD Party representative Mikayel Nahapetyan were neutral. In fact, during this program, neither public figures nor politicians supporting the “NO” side of the campaign were hosted.
During the monitored period, the Public TV’s also covered the statement of the “Vernatun” public-political club and the speech of the ARF (Armenian Revolutionary Federation) representative. They have defined the referendum process unconstitutional. The news on the fundraising campaign organized by the “YES” headquarters and Suren Papikyan’s remarks, in which, Papikyan noted that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan will take part in the campaign were also covered.
Thus, as a result of the first week monitoring of the constitutional referendum campaign conducted by “Media Advocate” Initiative, the Public Television of Armenia, operating at the expense of taxpayers, provided more airtime to “YES” propaganda, that is no equal airtime was given to the “YES” propaganda party, furthermore, certain issues arose when presenting the views of “NO” side of the campaign.