The Challenges Of Journalism In Times Of Revolution

29.04.2018, Critique

Journalist

During these sweeping days of revolution, any information loses the freshness of its message at the speed of the sound of the reproducer. The information that emerges in the morning is no longer relevant by noon, and by evening the flow of news from the square, the government, or political party cabinets creates a whole new situation. Journalists barely manage to dictate the news to the editorial team or write it in shorthand before it’s already old news.

And as always during periods of political activism, there are now various “butterfly” websites with hard to read names, or websites which have been used in the past but have up till now been in standby mode and have suddenly come back to life.

They, as usual, disseminate information from the point of view of this or that particular group, and more often spread “pure” misinformation. What’s more, the crazy rhythm of the day does not allow for properly checking the information or keeping up with refuting it, so the fake news spreads and does it’s “black business.”

Recently, a handbook or “memo” was spread on behalf of the supporters of the revolutionary movement initiated by Nikol Pashinyan, which called for fighting against fake news.

The document includes two lists, one of which is a list of unreliable media sources (according to the opinion of the authors of the list), the other list is of trusted media.

The blacklist is all the names of media and social media users, which according to the opinion of the authors, deal with the distribution of inaccurate information. They recommended not to follow these resources or even to go so far as to send requests to block them.

It is noticeable that the list was made hastily and was based on more than one compiler’s preferences, rather than on a more or less objective analysis. For example, on the blacklist, next to the blatantly fake and probably new websites created within these past few days and websites and accounts which spread misinformation, were those which, putting their problems aside, would not be considered fake news by any account. The former of course, comprised the majority.

Samples

In the website shame.am, under explicitly misleading titles, are the perceptions of an author using the fake name, Tsaruk Sargsyan.

Իսկ AznivNews.ru խոսուն անունով կայքը անգամ փորձում է համոզել, որ Սերժ Սարգսյանը հրաժարական չի տվել:  

Aside from news websites, the blacklist also included the kind of users (real people), who, it’s true, often resorted to manipulation when expressing their opinion, but who mainly do so under the genre of analysis, without falsifying facts. There are also those which perfectly fit under the classical understanding of a “fake” account. For example, a user by the name of Tigran Davidyan, whose first public post was made in January 2017 and over the course of two years made 2-3 posts, and who noticeably became active during recent days. And here’s the “shocking” post made by this user, which made its way onto the website by the name of lavmior.ru.   

The shades of brown of the green list

Next to the blacklist created by the supporters of the Velvet Revolution is also the whitelist, or for the sake of imagination let’s say the green list. This list includes those news sources which, according to the author, are reliable.

Here, for example,  next to RFE/RL “Azatutyun” is a website called Hartak.am and their Facebook page. Meanwhile, over the past few years this website has regularly “been caught” spreading explicit misinformation under misleading titles.  The journalistic community regularly tries to “bring them to the field of accountability,” but in vain.

The “green list” includes a few other suspicious websites, which occasionally spread clickbait titles and gossip. Hayk Barseghyan, a Facebook user who has the trust of the authors of this list, in 2016, on the last day of the takeover of the police station, he announced that “in Karvajar, weapons were being taken away from the hands of soldiers and the enemy was preparing to attack.” A few hours later Hayk and his teammates denied the information and deleted the post from their page, which however, had already been spread by thousands of other users.

Episodes which were not found in the “revolutionary” list

On the other hand, for example, “the revolutionary blacklist” did not include some websites which are fairly popular and enjoy a level of trustworthiness, which have, during these days, been spreading unverified information that is reminiscent of gossip.

The website 1in.am occasionally spread officially unverified or several pieces of information based on “their own sources,” which are either denied or are left without a response.

Pay attention to the number of views.

On April 26, Hraparak daily, without editing or any additional information, spread an open letter to Nikol Pashinyan, signed by a citizen who is a “Participant of the Velvet Revolution and is now very concerned,” where there were a number of inaccuracies. Particularly, the author of the letter accuses Pashinyan with the intention of blocking the Republican Party of Armenia, organizing the direct election of the Prime Minister in the street, organizing selective press conferences and so on. The news was re-published by several other sites.   

On the second half of April 25, information emerged on social media, according to which the acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan had resigned. The news was also spread by several news outlets. At the same time the governmental press service immediately denied the news. Simultaneously, the governmental press service spread a communication which took place on the same day whereby Karen Karapetyan had met with the US ambassador, and the ambassador said that “ the decision of candidacy for Prime Minister is not one to be made in the streets.” Later, the US Embassy announced that the information spread by the government was “the result of incorrect translation.”

On April 28, CivilNet published Republican MP Samvel Farmanyan’s Facebook post. According to CivilNet’s title, Farmanyan believed that the Republican Party, during the elections which are due to take place on May 1, should vote for Nikol Pashinyan, meanwhile Farmanyan’s wording was different. CivilNet’s editorial office quickly corrected the title.

Let’s summarize: we must somehow fight, of course, against misinformation, but only in extreme cases, by means of restrictive imperative legal norms. The best tool, perhaps, is self-regulation, so to speak, ethical pressure. The publication of a black or green list would be considered possible on the terms that they were compiled with some universally perceived criteria or at least on the basis of verified facts.

Hakob Karapetyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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