The situation on the border with Armenia is constantly escalating, military operations are being carried out, and border villages, which are being bombed and in danger, are in the center of our attention. And the first question that arises in the media is how to cover the events and how appropriate is the option of coverage?
The four-day war in April 2016 was also a great lesson for the media, which was more cautious and united, both by an internal decision and by state coercion, limiting its rights to the principle of non-harm.
In 2020, the situation is different. The Armenian-Azerbaijani clashes in the Tavush region, which started on July 12, are not as intense as in 2016, but for the third day in a row, the border is the main topic, pain and concern.
The combination of those three words prompted several media outlets to rush to the danger zone and broadcast live from border villages. The main thing, the pain, the uncertain future are the materials that can always be considered in demand.
That’s what the journalistic groups from Chinari and Movses villages thought, showing the residents, the positions, the events in the village, the people in military uniforms, the nature, the sounds of the shootout.
The first question that arises when watching this live broadcast is, why hence a live broadcast and not a report where you could edit the footage, the speech, the scenes? Was it needed fast? In that case, the second question is: what needed to be covered so quickly?
Just going to the border and asking questions to all the people with childish facial expressions is not only unsafe, but simply useless. Except for the dubious pleasure of caressing a journalist’s narcissism.
The 20-minute live coverage, co-filmed by Tert and ArmNews, from the border village of Chinari, was one of those things that didn’t say anything, which makes you want to say, maybe think a little before going live.
Running after everyone and asking them to comment on the shootings and expectations (especially the religious leader) reminds us that the media outlet that sent the journalist on a business trip may not have a good idea of its role. It just said, go, see what is there, what you see, take a picture and go live as fast as you can.
Factor.am’s material is from the same series. When a journalist goes to the border village of Movses and does not have a good idea of what he is going to videotape. And since he does not know, he decides to go in and shoot what happens and ask whatever question pops in his head.
Questions to the residents, what they think about the situation, questions about the weapons they use (for example, if they made a mistake and confused “Katyusha” with “Grad” or automatic fire. What will happen? After all, they are not experts in military equipment).
The journalist of the newspaper approaches the people armed with military uniforms and without hesitation asks, what action are you going to take?
The journalist was waiting for them to explain the sequence of actions, the strategy, the position changes, and so on.
The Factor.am journalist kept asking the villagers what the solution was. Of course, that question cannot be answered. But the journalist kept asking it.
Or ask why Azerbaijan resorted to such a provocative action. I wonder what response the media expects, especially in a live broadcast? That the resident of Movses village will really give an exhaustive and complete answer? Hardly.
The media outlet just asks to see what comes out.
That approach of let’s go and see what comes out, has already spread so much that it directly harms all spheres.
And, of course, first of all the work of the Armed Forces, which is above all these days. Even more than media rights! Or rather, from the dual and vague application of rights.
Media outlets without internal and external codes believe that anything is possible.
For example, to take the microphone and run after the villagers, the soldiers, as they do in the corridors of the National Assembly, running after the deputies. And when they are rebuked for being vigilant and free from the temptation of arrogance in emergencies and conflicts, their freedom of speech is restricted.
Much has been written about the dangers of such naive and at the same time self-confident live broadcasts. But now it seems that in 2020, that conversation should start again from scratch.
The right to remain silent, to think, to self-edit has not yet been banned. And definitely, the 1-2 minute standup was enough to show that the media outlet delegated a hotline to its employee, and now it is thinking of editing the footage.
Eventually, the media realizes that the live broadcast is unpredictable, and what should not appear in the footage may appear.
Yes, there are situations when journalism is not a priority. And the journalist is not a hero who has to tell something directly, even though he has nothing to tell.
Journalists with extensive experience in covering war operations not only curb the temptation to rush, they simply kill it. One can, for example, listen to Edik Baghdasaryan here, whose experience in such situations is invaluable.
Or to Tatul Hakobyan here, who in almost all tense situations prepares reports and films and has developed a clear code of conduct for himself. On July 14, he wrote on Facebook that while working on the front lines, he is naturally in touch with the army, he knows what to give and what not to broadcast.
“Yes, these days the life of each of our soldiers is more than 1000 reportages. And I am guided by that principle.”
The role of the internal editor in such situations is the price of gold. Otherwise, the editors will come from outside and will be more cruel and one-sided.
On July 13, the Ministry of Defense called on the media to “refrain from entering areas of possible hostilities, including those entering border areas, and, moreover, from doing live broadcasts.”
The Ministry of Defense conditioned it not only with the security of the local residents but also with the security of the units of the Armenian armed forces located in the given areas.
Thus, “in fact, giving the opponent an opportunity to watch the actions taking place in our territory live, which is absolutely inadmissible.”
As early as July 14, Hetq wrote that its journalists had been barred from entering the town of Berd in the Tavush region, and that police had not allowed a group of investigative journalists to enter the town.
Though, this ban was the result of a previous live broadcast. An unjustified and aimless live broadcast.
The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.