TV Debates About Fakes, And Not Only

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

TV debate is a genre that we don’t watch often. Usually, we either should love (respect, worship) the host and watch the staging of their clash of opinions, or be curious about the topic of discussion.

The individual or the topic. This is the motive for watching a debate.

And since the media field is a good topic, with its new and old fakes, predictions and obvious interest, I watch them.

Especially because in 2019, fake information and media manipulations in Armenia are many, diverse and often unnoticeable, under the cover of aggressive rhetoric or false piety.

Any conversation that begins with calls to crack down on fake news or pointing to cases of restrictions on freedom of speech cannot claim to be complete and honest.

Maybe even because the redistribution of capital after the revolution did not take place in the media field and any changes in media tactics or of editors-in-chief were not announced.

I sometimes like to watch debates with a lot of participants, because they say more than the author-hosts intend for. That is to say, the stage directors.

And a good stage director is one who outlines the clash, creating equal conditions for the heroes, as they know their potential, rhetorical abilities, and the position and interests on which they will speak.

Forgive this lyrical word, but the moderator should be honest.

And honesty cannot be substituted by formal objectivity, because any smart person watching the debate (that is, the majority of the audience) will immediately notice the goal of the stage director.

And the goal is one, to come to an agreement with the clash. Not to deepen the clash with more clashes, but to come to an agreement.

The two TV debates that I watched recently allowed me to come to the conclusion that the hosts did not have the goal to show the pleasure reaching an agreement and coming to a social consensus whatsoever, which is the long-term goal of the debate (wI do not agree, but I will come to an agreement).

One of the debates broadcasted on Yerkir Media, a program called “Conflict Point” was titled “Fighting against fakes and media manipulations.” and the most serious manipulation is noticed in hence this episode, the inequality of the actors.

The experienced moderator knew very well about the underwater flows and actors of the media field, of course, doing everything with restraint and in regulating manner.

She simply did not do that which she ought to have, for equality.

The four invited guests were unequal from the beginning. Two came to “attack,” because they had accumulated dissatisfaction with the new authorities and the other two were on the “defense” because they were sure that they had to be defended, and they did so with weak arguments.

But the problem was the decision of the host-stage director. She had decided to give the role of asking questions to the “attackers,” who showered the deputies who weren’t that strong when it came to rhetoric, with a shower of questions that contained small and specific accusations.

The moderator, realizing that the “defenders” appeared in the second position (from the moment of invitation) allowed this to take place, that her role be played not by herself but by one of the sides.

During this debate, it became clear that the purpose was not at all honest, especially towards the audience. The moderator has constructed a debate so that she can stay on the sidelines and one of the two sides of the debate had an obvious advantage.  

Of course, she can say that this is not her fault, because, if the “defenders” wanted to, they would have been able to play not only the role of the defendant but also the topic developer. But this too will not be honest, because not every actor can perform a complicated role and go above their abilities.

The unequal starting point of the forces and the moderator’s purposeful behavior would aggravate the topic of discussion, distracting towards emotions and not facts.

For example, the moderator did not object to one of the statements of the guests, “The government has been created and built on lies and fakes. This is a fact…”

Which prompted the audience (for example, me) that the broadcast was not about facts and fakes but about wishing to make one opinion more visible.

After all, the guests can represent not two but four or four and a half sides, opinions, viewpoints. But they are usually two and one side enjoys the sympathy of the moderator who does not hide it. Moreover, the more she tries to appear neutral, the more she shows her sympathy.

Public TV’s “Rules of the Game” debate also has four guests. And they also had the media, fakes, and manipulations as the topic of one of their programs.

To be honest, I watched this program with great difficulty, as the speaker in the debate seemed to have decided that 40-50% of the airtime belonged to him and his voice.

If the moderator in the previous debate mitigated herself (in her viewpoint, to be impartial) then the moderator here was in the foreground (in his imagination, to be interesting).

In “The Rules of the Game” there were four different people, also, without being part of any political party. And it was not clear why the moderator did everything to make the guest’s speech easier, and make it harder to digest and for the most part, unimportant. It gave the impression that he wanted the audience to like him, and that is why he talked so much.

For example, he interrupted the guests, saying, of course, literacy is good, but we know that ordinary citizens do not like reliable sources, and will read rumors either way.  

With the same success, he could have said the exact opposite, ordinary citizens love reliable sources. There would be no difference.

In fact, talking to the media on TV and with four-five voices is a good step, as the audience becomes a side, as they are being spoken to, they are being referred to, and people are working for them.

Guests of “Conflict Point” had no time to speak to the audience, because they were busy giving and defending themselves from accusations, but guests of the “Rules of the Game” were ready to talk to the audience and in the name of the audience.

But their moderator led them to a platform of trolling, towards sarcasm, lightheartedness and flippancy.

The intimate sarcasm, which appeared at the staging of the debate, seemed to suggest to the audience that nothing will change, but we know that it is not important, that we should look at the issues lightly.

After all, a good debate doesn’t come up like that. It is staged.

Perhaps it is possible to add another lyrical thought to honesty, debates should be done for the sake of something bright. For example, a more educated audience in the future. Not just for the sake of preserving the bonds of the past.

Nune Hakhverdyan

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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