The 2019 presidential campaign: Who dominated the media?

Šefčovič’s team deleted comments and the conspiracy media embraced Harabin, but Čaputová managed to take over the media.

Zuzana Čaputová and Maroš Šefčovič during a debate for the Sme daily.Zuzana Čaputová and Maroš Šefčovič during a debate for the Sme daily. (Source: Sme)

“Mainstream media cannot be trusted.” This was the most repeated narrative on the Facebook pages spreading disinformation during this year’s presidential campaign.

This stems from an analysis carried out by four non-governmental organisations: GLOBSEC, MEMO 98, STRATPOL and the Slovak Security Policy Institute (SSPI). They have been analysing the media presence of the five most relevant presidential candidates between January 10 and March 10.

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The candidate reaching the most interactions on Facebook was Zuzana Čaputová. She prevailed greatly over the remaining four of Maroš Šefčovič, Štefan Harabin, Béla Bugár and Marian Kotleba.

“Yet, Harabin led this ranking in the first week of February,” said research fellow Matej Kandrík of STRATPOL. “The notable breakthrough came in the second week of February, when Čaputová more than doubled her number of interactions on her profile.”

Aside from presidential candidates’ activity on Facebook, their media coverage by four national TV channels and the campaign-wise content of 14 disinformation Facebook pages were also monitored.

1. The most interactions and deleted comments on Facebook

With 449,848 interactions, Čaputová topped the list of the most interactions on Facebook. Harabin and Šefčovič followed with 265,180 and 125,013 interactions, respectively, the analysis by STRATPOL and SSPI shows. The organisations monitored Facebook interactions between January 10 and March 3.

However, Šefčovič led the most positive campaign on Facebook. Two-thirds of his posts were, in fact, positively perceived.

However, his team became a leader in deleting comments, with 43 percent of all reactions being removed from the social media platform. In this regard, Bugár came second, with 41 percent. Both Čaputová andHarabin had 11 percent of reactions deleted by their teams.

2. The most negative campaign on Facebook

Harabin was the most critical of all the candidates, with every third post being negative.

“Harabin criticised the Justice Ministry and the Slovak judicial system, of which he has been part for several years now,” claimed Kandrík.

He also took a negative stance towards his opponents, describing them as “multicultural globalists”, and the media, which spread lies about him, according to Harabin.

While candidates talked often about scandals and dysfunctional state authorities, foreign policy was nearly absent. This made way for populist candidates like Harabin and Kotleba to mislead their voters about the EU and NATO, said Kandrík.

3. Conspiracy media: The most loved & most hated candidates

In addition, GLOBSEC decided to analyse the presentation of presidential candidates on Facebook pages spreading disinformation . They identified 14 disinformation channels in the Slovak language and 649 posts related to the campaign between January 10 and March 3.

Up to 84 percent of all 208 positive posts on disinformation Facebook pages were associated with Harabin.

“By contrast, Čaputová was portrayed the most negatively on the analysed conspiracy Facebook pages,” claimed Miroslava Sawiris of GLOBSEC.

The anti-campaign against Čaputová intensified after Robert Mistrík withdrew from the race, she added.

4. Most discussed topics on disinformation pages

Moreover, the most prevailing narrative on the disinformation websites could be described as “mainstream media cannot be trusted”, followed by “liberalism undermines the stability of society” and “traditional values are threatened”, GLOBSEC’s analysis shows. Here is a complete list of the most used narratives:

  • traditional media is not trustworthy;
  • liberalism undermines the stability of society;
  • traditional values are threatened (religion, family);
  • intervention in the election process;
  • conspiracy and hidden interests;
  • nationalism;
  • anti-LGBTI agenda;
  • anti-EU narrative;
  • corruption and influence of oligarchs;
  • migration as a threat.

GLOBSEC monitored the following disinformation pages on Facebook for its analysis: Hlavné Správy, Hrica Ľuboš, InfoVojna, Konzervatívny výber, Ľuboš Blaha, Národ Slovenský, Otec Marián “Maroš” Kuffa, Ruské spravodajstvo, Sila Pravdy, Slobodný vysielač, Sloveni, Spravodajská alternatíva, Zdrojj and Zem a Vek.

5. The most visible candidate on TVs

Despite the anti-campaign aimed at Čaputová, she was the most visible candidate in televised debates, with 28 percent of air time dedicated to the presidential campaign on TV channels. Morever, the private broadcaster TV Markíza gave her the biggest space in their debates (8.5 minutes), an analysis by MEMO 98, conducted between February 18 and March 10, reads.

She was followed by Šefčovič (20.5 percent) and Mistrík (17.7 percent), who has already withdrawn from the race. Information about the candidates were neutral or rather positive.

6. The most debated topics in aired debates

Candidates debated various topics, but these were the most debated ones in televised discussions (regardless of the TV channel):

  • presidential elections (135 minutes);
  • the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová (more than 70 minutes in total);
  • agricultural subsidies and farmers’ protests (nearly 60 minutes);
  • regional traffic (40 minutes).

7. TVs with the most air time on campaign

TV Markíza provided the most air time on the presidential campaign (71 minutes), covering 11 different aspects (e.g. polls, general information, campaign, support of political parties, financing of the campaign, etc.). The public-service broadcaster RTVS followed with 38 minutes.

By contrast, the private news channel TA3 spent the least amount of its air time on the presidential campaign: less than seven minutes during the monitored period.

“Long-format discussion formats, organised by different websites and newspapers, were also of service,” concluded Rasťo Kužel of MEMO 98.

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