For the past few weeks Armenian Health minister Arsen Torosyan has become the main newsmaker because he talks a lot about the pandemic. Lots of media outlets use his statements in their newsfeeds.
However, the minister’s words not always get to the audience in accurate citations and contexts. Sometimes his words are turned upside down; his work is presented as ineffective or failed; his concerns are considered to be non-relevant.
The Minister has said that Coronavirus is not a really dangerous disease
During a press briefing in late February, the minister told that Coronavirus was not a really dangerous disease, and there was no need to undertake special health-protection measures. He explained that older adults and persons with chronic diseases were at most risk. Lots of media outlets published stories titled as Coronavirus is not a dangerous virus.
Later Torosyan had to explain,
“Coronavirus is not among the most dangerous infectious diseases, such as plague, Ebola and cholera. It is considered to be a new respiratory virus that is a bit different from the already-known ones. At the same time, it is similar to the other viral respiratory infections.”
Some of the media edited their previous stories after this statement, or used other excerpts from the press conference, without covering that issue.
Among other articles was a story written by a 4th year philology student for Yerkir.am, “On the one hand, we witness the increasing cases of Coronavirus outbreaks and the global health-protection measures conducted worldwide, on the other hand, we see the tranquility of Arsen Torosyan and have an impression that Coronavirus prevention is hardly a priority for the Armenian authorities.”
It’s just one of the attempts to claim that the minister is not competent and does not control the situation. Scornful attitude towards the minister prevails in such stories.
The Minister has said that wearing a mask does not prevent the virus spread
On a few occasions, the minister has really said that masks sold at pharmacies cannot protect people from new Coronavirus. Torosyan’s statement was based on the World Health Organization’s guidance that has now changed.
Later, the minister said at the National Assembly that people should wear masks and gloves because they often touch their noses, mouths and cheeks.
He also advised to wear masks in crowded areas, when surrounded with possibly infected items. This was also a WHO advice.
WHO regularly posts updates and pieces of advice on Coronavirus spread, preventive measures, personal protection, etc. Sometimes the updated info contradicts the previous one.
Torosyan also may edit his statements. He does it, as the situation dictates, and not to deliberately mislead us.
However, the mask topic was exploited for rather a long time because it is quite in the nature of the media to scrutinize officials and newsmakers “under a magnifying glass” and blaming them for negligence and incompetence.
For example, at the recent press conference, the minister was asked if he was going to apologize for the mask-related advice.
The Minister has said that the virus in Armenia is out of control
During the same press conference, the minister said that there were more infected areas (sources) and, in that sense, they were out of control. Previously, there were just a few sources, and it was easier to reveal the cases, whereas now there are lots of infected areas, not connected with each other.
Georgian Rustavi-2 TV channel used minister’s statement, writing that Coronavirus was no more controllable in Armenia.
Alina Nikoghosyan, the minister’s press secretary, stated at an Armenian-Georgian media platform that the minister’s words had been misinterpreted,
“Virus circulation out of control” does not refer to specific cases and sources. We used to have specific, stand-alone sources of infection, and now we have other separate cases. So, it would not be correct to state that we cannot control the virus spread anymore.
Torosyan often clarifies his own words and makes corrections in the constantly-changing situation, which proves that all of us need corrections.
Meanwhile, some irresponsible media don’t care about the corrections, scandalously claiming that the situation is out of control, and the minister is fallible.
On the other hand, Arsen Torosyan and his PR team are surely aware that his words are scrutinized under a magnifying glass and often misrepresented, especially in this time period.
Thus, being more careful about public speeches and answering reporters’ questions comprehensively, patiently and in detail would help to avoid misinterpretations and baseless allegations.
The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.