Today’s Videomonitor deals with two electoral materials: one was broadcast in the newscast Obiectiv of N4, the other one – in the newscast Curier of the TV station NIT. These materials represent samples of purposefully changing the agenda of the day for the public opinion and of selective and attitudinal approach of the electoral events.
The reference materials were occasioned by the news conference held, in the first case, by the PLDM, and, in the second case – by the PL, AMN and PLDM. The topics tackled in the analyzed TV reports, as we’ll show below, were different from the leitmotifs of those electoral events.In our opinion, this discrepancy was conditioned by the intention of the N4 and NIT to set the agenda (this concept has been known since 1922 and belongs to Walter Lippmann), that is the media’s capacity to establish, by selecting, repeating and stressing some events or topics, the priorities for the public eye. These ones, by determining in their turn the value coordinates of perceiving and evaluating the surrounding world, mark the people’s mentality and behavior. In other words, the mass-media, by agenda setting, manipulate the public opinion, indicating the information consumer how to think and act.
N4 and NIT establish their own priorities for the public
The Liberal Democratic Party from Moldova, by holding a news conference on July 17, judging by the information posted on its web site and from the news stories from agencies, insisted on the topic of the involvement of the state institutions into the electoral race. Vlad Filat, we quote from the news spread at that news conference, brought about several examples of harassing and intimidating PLDM candidates, and voters, with the direct involvement of the law-enforcing structures.
In its report on the event, N4 moved the accent from the main subject of the conference to a topical derivative generated by a question of a reporter from that station: When the PLDM and the other Liberal parties are going to make public the data about rigging the April 5 elections? Certainly, the issue tackled by the reporter is of public interest and its being treated by media is indicated (going beyond the boundaries of this analysis, we will remark that the PLDM answered that question on July 24 at a rally in downtown Chisinau.) However, its momentaneous significance yielded in front of the timeliness of the central issue debated at the news conference. Consequently, tackling that subject to the detriment or instead the electoral event in question seems to be deliberate, meant to drive away the public’s attention from the topic of the news conference and to focus it on the issue requested by N4.
On another occasion, NIT resorted to similar tactics. The electoral event that served as an occasion for the analyzed material of that station was a news conference, the leitmotif of which was the address of the Liberal-oriented parties to the Moldovan civil society. The statement, we quote from AMN’s site, contained the appeal of the Liberal Party, the Liberal Democratic Party and of Our Moldova Alliance to their supporters to get more actively involved in mobilizing the electorate with democratic views in the wake of the July 29 elections. That message was mirrored in the news of several media. However, NIT did it otherwise. This station preferred to stress a subject collaterally tackled at the conference. It was triggered right by the NIT reporter, who inquired why AMN, during this electoral race, abandoned the slogan “Urechean – for president”, used in the previous race. This subject unmistakably is of public interest. However, on the value scale, it’s inferior to the key topic of the conference. In addition, it was not timely since even AMN gave up that slogan (by the way, there were also other parties that changed their options for the July 29 elections.) Bringing this topic back to the public’s attention was dictated to the smallest degree by NIT’s care for Urechean’s political destiny.The TV station pursued hidden goals, including to drive the public’s attention away from the topic of the news conference and to set it on a disfavoring lane for AMN.
Both N4 and NIT, in the analyzed materials, applied the agenda setting with electoral purposes: they redirected the public’s opinion from the issues tackled by the electoral actors in question towards areas less representative in the running race, which actually disadvantagethe parties and harm their public authority.
The reports by N4 and NIT bear an attitudinal character and are based on elements of dramatizing the documentary material
The subjects set names latin1;INSERTed into the agenda by N4 and NIT were treated in a selective and attitudinal manner. Selective – because those TV stations ignored the basic topics of the news conferences in question, and from the multitude of collateral subjects they picked up namely the ones, which, in these televisions’ opinions, best disfavor the protagonists of the electoral events in question.
The attitudinal approach is found in the accusing style of the journalistic message and, especially, in using the estimative speech:
·on N4: “PLDM again refuses to make public the frauds, which, according to them, took place at the April 5 parliamentary elections. At a news conference today, PLDM leader Vladimir Filat again was asked...”; “It’s more than 3 months after the April 5 parliamentary elections, but up to now Filat has not honored his promises made to journalists...”, “Despite their statements and promises, none from those three Liberal parties has presented at least a proof in this respect”;
·on NIT: ”Serafim Urechean, AMN leader, made a historic unveiling today: he acknowledged in front of the media he has never wanted to be a president”;
”Urechean’s statement comes a day after he learnt the results of the Public Opinion Barometer (opinion poll – transl. note), which gives him 2.6 % in the early elections. Perhaps, puzzled by this result, Serafim Urechean gives up his desire to become a president. Strange option, since Urechean has wanted to lead the country since the previous elections.”
The attitudinal approach was also expressed by dramatizing some statements of the electoral actors. In N4’s case the question is about repeating, in the end of the report, an expression by Filat, set names latin1;INSERTed in the beginning of the material: “Zayelo, zayelo, zayelo” (It stuck – Rus.) Using this method was meant, at its best, to amuse the viewer, and, at its worst – to arouse disgust for this politician.
NIT also resorted to the argument of the repetition to express its negative attitude towards the protagonist of the material. S.Urechean’s phrase (“Mr. Urechean does not ask for this office. Absolutely. I think you may be confusing something”) was used twice, in the beginning and in the end of the material. In order to strengthen the negative effects of the material, this station applied the repetition also by editing, by montage, another statement by Urechean, so that it appears as bizarre as possible and consequently to disadvantage its author (“I want, I want, I want and will become a president.”)
The attitudinal character in presenting the facts and value judgments, and in dramatizing the documentary material shows that the analyzed materials by N4 and NIT were intentionally conceived as attacks against the electoral contestants in question. Consequently, N4 and NIT proved biasness in treating the electoral events.
To conclude with, we’ll notice: the public interest for the electoral contestants grows as the electoral race gets closer to the end.The media’s duty consists in offering full and equidistant information about the electoral platforms and the parties’ activities, so that the voters may freely shape their views, and finally determine their voting option on the vote day. In this respect, the Broadcasting Code establishes in its art. 7, point 3that “In order to encourage and ease the pluralist expression of opinions, the broadcasters are obliged to cover the elections truthfully, fairly and impartially”, and point 4 of the same article reads: “In order to insure the respect for the principles of social-political balance, equidistance and objectivity in the broadcasters' newscasts, they shall air every news story so that: a) the information making the story shall be truthful; b) not to distort the sense of the reality by tricks of montage, comments, way of wording or titles; c) in the case of stories covering conflict situations, the principle of informing from several sources shall be respected”.
The analyzed materials of N4 and NIT represent deviations from those legal provisions.
The Videomonitor is produced in the Project “Monitoring the political/electoral actors’ presence on the main television channels during the electoral campaign for the early parliamentary elections in Moldova in 2009 and enhancing the impact of the monitoring by depicting the cases of severe violation of legal provisions and professional ethics.” This project is financially supported by the Eurasia Foundation from the resources provided by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of the commentary do not necessarily share the views of the Eurasia Foundation, SIDA or USAID.