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 legislature 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".
Since 23 August, joint campaign events of the parties (debates) have started, which are not included in the monitoring.
Week 12, the penultimate week of the campaign for the State Duma, was marked by a sharp decrease in the share of election-related and party-related stories on some federal TV channels, except Ren TV and Russia-1: the share of election-related news items on Ren TV reached 72%, and 62% on Russia-1. A significant decrease was noticeable on Channel One Russia (down to 54%). On 5TV and NTV, the share of such stories decreased to 39% and 35%, respectively (see Figure 1).
The total airtime devoted to the electoral campaign according to the results of the last week continues to decrease: 347 min. (During the previous week, it was 468 min.) The airtime allocated by the TV channels to the coverage of party activities also reduced, though insignificantly: it amounted to 172 minutes, i.e., only half of the "pre-election" airtime.
The aggregate duration of stories on Channel One Russia is still the highest, at 132 minutes. Ren TV ranked second with 83 minutes, while Russia-1 had 79 minutes. NTV devoted 36 minutes to elections and parties, while 5TV allocated a total of 17 minutes. The average duration of stories was highest on Ren TV, averaging 2.86 minutes, and 2.75 minutes on Channel One Russia. The shortest stories were broadcast by 5TV, with a total of 0.95 min (see Table 1).
Table 1. Items on parties in TV newscasts, 06.09-12.09
"United Russia" remained the most frequently mentioned party, with 171 mentions, slightly more than in the previous week. The KPRF remained in second place, with 77 mentions (also at the same level as in the previous week). "A Just Russia – For Truth" was in third place, with 42 mentions. As in the previous week, alternative parties to the KPRF, oriented towards the 'left-wing' electorate, were mentioned more frequently than usual: the "Party of Pensioners" (13) and "Communists of Russia" (32). Environmental parties were also frequently mentioned: REP "The Greens" were mentioned 12 times, and "The Green Alternative" 7 times (see Figure 2). The number of mentions of the "Yabloko" party also increased from 16 to 25. "Rodina" and Russian Party of Freedom and Justice were mentioned once each.
The trend of last week continued: the comparable total airtime allocated to "United Russia" and the KPRF were 68 minutes and 49 minutes, respectively (see Fig. 3). Both parties remain the key actors in the campaign. The figure for "New People" decreased from 20 minutes to 15 minutes. Overall, the TV channels in the last two weeks of the electoral campaign were very sparing in their coverage of the activities of the parties, probably believing that this should be compensated by the debates taking place.
The KPRF remained the leader in terms of the average number of minutes of airtime, 1.44 min. It was followed by "New People" with 0.91 minutes, and "United Russia" with 0.68 minutes. The shortest news items concerned "The Green Alternative", 0.15 min on average (see Fig. 4).
Channel One Russia and Russia-1 accounted for the lion's share of all references to parties. On all five channels not only "United Russia" was mentioned, but also the KPRF, „A Just Russia - For Truth" and the LDPR. " New People" was mentioned on four channels – all except NTV. It was also the first time that "Yabloko" was mentioned on more than one channel (all channels except Ren TV). "Rodina", "Civic Platform", "Communists of Russia" and RPFJ were mentioned exclusively on Russia-1 (see Figure 5).
In the twelfth week of the campaign, the political airwaves were immersed in "negativity". For the first time, negative references appeared for the "Yabloko" party (29%). LDPR received 14% of negative references, and the KPRF broke the record for the share of "negative" references: 68% of all such mentions in the last week. Against this background, the proportion of positive mentions of the "United Russia" increased to almost 80%. "New People" continued to be mentioned predominantly in a positive tone: 97%. Notably, the parties of "leftist" orientation were mentioned more often in a neutral tone: 92% of all mentions of the "Party of Pensioners" were neutral, as were 35% of mentions of the "Communists of Russia" and "A Just Russia - For Truth" (see Fig. 6).
As a result, the KPRF reached a positive-negative ratio of -50% for the second time during the election campaign, while the "New People" were at the peak of the "positive" trend. "United Russia" continued its policy of "unobtrusive dominance" of the media agenda (see Fig. 7).
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. Thus, during the week of 6-12 September 2021, 154 newscasts 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:
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.