Doesn’t the Right Not to Make Mistakes Apply Also to News Outlets?

Infallible is only “the first tour operator“[AM], as the Armenian Institute for Tourism calls God. News outlets, even the most powerful and experienced, alas, are not infallible.

As proof, let’s recall a few mistakes of the last few months that have to do with Armenia and therefore, were reflected in the local Armenian media.

On April 24, Reuters reported that Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, approved a resolution on the Armenian Genocide, calling the mass killings of 1.5 Armenians in 1915 a genocide. This resolution has not yet been adopted, but the source has kept the news as it stands on its website.

On May 20, BBC’s Russian service reported that Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan refused to participate in the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga from May 21–22. Just hours later, the Department of Public Relations and Mass Media of the Office to the President of the Republic of Armenia issued a statement that Sargsyan will go to Latvia on May 21 for a working visit, to take part in the European People’s Party and EU Eastern Partnership to be held in Riga from May 21–22.

The BBC has since corrected the story [RU], but keeping the original links have been local Armenian news outlets, such as CivilNet [AM], which, trusting the reputable news outlet, unwittingly disseminated the misinformation.

Nearly all the local Armenian news outlets did the same when on May 22 they published The Guardian’s data prediction that Armenia will win the Eurovision Song Contest this year. The Guardian explained that its prediction model was based on the average of votes each participating nation received over the past 12 years, “which is then adjusted for factors that include present day geopolitics, form in more recent editions, past performance and tempo.” The Guardian spent two years on this model and, it seems, did not explain how its analysis of geopolitical developments led to this conclusion — which is not unlike local Armenian news outlets that exhaust a series of likely candidates for every vacant position and then don’t address how it came to be that someone not from their list of candidates was appointed to the position.

An Armenian expression on being in the same situation is appropriate to recall another error of the BBC’s, in which its journalist on June 3 on her Twitter page all but buried Queen Elizabeth II, tweeting that she was taken to hospital and most likely won’t live long. The journalist and the BBC later apologized, as did Bild and CNN, which had shared the news, which to local news outlets that regularly kill off Armenian entertainers seems something akin to sullying “the uniform’s honor”.  

These errors were recalled after what Armenian news outlets did because of a Lifenews story. No matter how much it is said that Lifenews is a tabloid and should not be trusted, it was the first news outlet to report what excuse Valery Permyakov invented for his horrifying crime, and it was this news outlet that published interviews with his parents and relatives. Thus, one can imagine how local news outlets accepted without verification a story it reported [RU] on China’s proposal to the UN to recognize the independence of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Apart from a facepalm, what to do when you’ve made a mistake? Of all the aforementioned examples, which is more honest: apologizing, offering an explanation, editing the news, or removing it altogether? All are advisable except for the last option, since one who took a screenshot and will offer it as proof that the news outlet is not doing a good job can easily be found.

In Armenia, one can still find a group that regularly send fake press releases to news outlets as a peculiar brand of “checking for lice” to see whether they will swallow the bait or not, so it can gloat that they are not doing a good job. Falling into its trap once, news outlets then begin to doubt everything. And so it was that I considered this group’s next fabrication that the Knights Templar will visit the Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial in Yerevan on May 16, and I didn’t send a journalist to cover the event. Taking advantage of this opportunity, I want to tell this group: you owe us Templars.

Anna Israelyan

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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