No Offense: Vox “Dei” Vox Populi

Vahram Martirosyan

Writer, screenwriter

On February 12, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan made a lengthy speech at the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) board meeting against Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukyan; the next day, on February 13, Tsarukyan retorted.

The initial television coverage was in the form of street intercept surveys. The First Channel, Armenia TV, and Kentron TV devoted large parts of their news programs to vox populi — the voice of the people. That is, now give heed and know, since “vox populi vox Dei” (the voice of the people is the voice of God).

As was expected, on the First Channel and Armenia TV [AM], the “voice of the people” criticized Tsarukyan and praised Sargsyan, while on Kentron TV, it was the opposite. 

What was surprising: on all three channels, there was not a single person whose opinion differed from the general opinion. You would think the filming took place in enemy countries.

But since Armenia is a single country and people as yet don’t live according to political preference, it was obvious that what the management (“God”) ordered from above is what the “voice of the people” became. 

It’s interesting that the street intercept surveys themselves, as a method of coverage, became a topic for conversation on television, as referenced by ArmNews Executive Producer Artak Aleksanyan:

“In between this process, a phenomenon that is archaic (old-fashioned, fabricated) was once again brought forward. These were the street surveys on the president’s speech or Tsarukyan by TV stations having sympathies for their own [political] force… Because the same question can get a radically different opinion. See for yourselves” (Kiraknorya Zhamy, Armenia TV; February 14, 2015; 15:07 minutes)

His remarks were followed by street intercept surveys in which passers-by for about three minutes inveighed Gagik Tsarukyan. Did Artak Aleksanyan want to convince his viewers that they can express their “sympathies toward their own [political] force” this way as well? But the same channel, Armenia TV, did so two days ago — was Artak not aware of this?

Though… picture for a moment that he didn’t know. If a street intercept survey “is a technology from the previous century, a wrong methodology… strictly subjective,” why couldn’t the vox populi be conducted in such a way as to set a positive example of this tool?

It’s true, for the sake of fairness, it should be said that there were differences between Kiraknorya Zhamy and Friday’s Zhamy respondents: women had newer clothes, while men were more clean-shaven, while several respondents’ remarks on the centennial of the Armenian Genocide and the HHK-BHK political conflict implied that they had been gently prodded by the journalists. 

Kiraknorya Zhamy dedicated about 15 minutes to Serzh Sargsyan’s speech and 0 minutes to Tsarukyan’s. Thus, it must be assumed that it is a “technology of the [current] century,” a correct methodology… and strictly objective. 

The same proportion of time to Sargsyan’s and Tsarukyan’s speeches was allotted also on Kiraknorya Horizon (host Aram Abrahamyan, Shant TV). The Public TV of Armenia’s Arajin Lratvakan: Kiraknorya (Sunday news program with host Gevorg Altunyan) reported the HHK board meeting in detail but discussed Tsarukyan’s last speech only in terms of whether it should be broadcast or not

On the busy day of February 13, when the public was aware of both Sargsyan’s and Tsarukyan’s speeches, of the TV stations sympathetic to Sargsyan, h2 and AR TV referenced Tsarukyan’s remarks. I hope what I’ve written here doesn’t cause “God” to punish them. 

On one hand, it’s sad that even at the moment of heralding a struggle for truth and justice, political forces (judging by the TV stations under their control) do not tolerate diversity of opinion; on the other hand, this motivates viewers to shed any last illusions of impartiality they may have and rely on their critical thinking skills — to distinguish the wet from the dry. 

Vahram Martirosyan

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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