Q&A with Visiting Fellow and Press Secretary of the Central Election Commission of Armenia Hermine Harutyunyan
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) is hosting the Press Secretary of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Armenia Hermine Harutyunyan as part of the American Councils Professional Fellowship Program funded by the United States State Department. In this Q&A, Harutyunyan describes the CEC’s approach to countering disinformation and the most effective methods of sharing information with reporters covering elections.
What are the greatest challenges you face as press secretary for Armenia’s CEC?
The CEC is a state organization in charge of organizing and holding elections and referendums. I have been responsible for maintaining the relationship between media representatives and the CEC and promoting its visibility and transparency since 2011.
The greatest challenge I face during my work is the time constraint of the electoral cycle and the huge amount of information that needs to be communicated to voters and other electoral stakeholders through the media on behalf of the CEC.
Another challenge for me as a press secretary is the ongoing process of finding new ways, such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, of reaching a wider audience to convey the important messages of my organization. But I always try to see such challenges as opportunities from which I learn a lot.
How is the CEC countering disinformation?
The CEC has always been very transparent and open to the public. With the aim to increase the transparency of its work and to avoid disinformation, the CEC tries to be proactive in disseminating election-related information throughout the whole electoral process.
The CEC also undertakes different initiatives like organizing workshops and meetings with various electoral stakeholders to enhance its credibility. The CEC holds open sessions, which are streamed online and attended by observers, media and other stakeholders. It conducts voter education campaigns to encourage voting, educate voters on Election Day procedures and warn against vote buying, including through media and social networks.
The CEC also sets up a Situation Analysis Center, including a hotline, on Election Day to monitor mass media and to respond to allegations of irregularities during the voting process.
These are all actions taken by the CEC to avoid the spread of disinformation that may impact the electoral process negatively.
What are the most effective methods of sharing information with reporters covering elections?
Throughout the whole electoral cycle, the CEC tries to be as open as possible to the media representatives. To that end, the CEC uses several communication tools to share information with reporters, namely, holding press conferences, giving interviews, sending out press releases and announcements, producing handbooks, holding online sessions, posting all election-related information on the official website, social media, etc.
But the most effective method of sharing information with reporters are the 24-hour press briefings organized in the CEC’s modernized media center on Election Day, where local and international journalists are provided with all the necessary conditions for working and reporting on elections.
Apart from the CEC members and staff, representatives from other government organizations and institutions that are also in charge of organizing elections are invited as speakers to the briefings in the CEC’s media center.
Please describe your proudest moment working with the media.
Ahead of the elections to the National Assembly in 2017, the CEC conducted a wide-scale voter education campaign on new Election Day procedures, including the use of voter authentication devices. The CEC, acknowledging the role of the media as a public educator, cooperated closely with all media outlets in disseminating these materials with the aim to reach a wider audience.
As a result of the CEC’s hard work with media outlets, the media campaign was a success, and on Election Day voters were well-informed on the voter registration and voting procedures and could make an educated choice. This made me feel proud of the organization I work for and the joint work we have carried out with media representatives.
IFES is currently working in Armenia under a four-year assistance agreement, “Strengthening Electoral Processes and Political Accountability in Armenia," funded by the United States Agency for International Development through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening. Project activities aim to promote the integrity of elections through electoral reform and professional development of election administration and to foster broader citizen engagement in elections and political processes.