The collapse of the Armenian media field and the active propaganda content (both from the state and the opposition sector) have become inseparable characteristics of the landscape.
There are many media outlets, presenting the same event from opposite positions and are often so polarized that it is very difficult to talk about the reliability of the information. There are always many “buts․” But let’s see who gives money to the media. But let’s take into account under the auspices of which party the media agenda is formed. But let’s pay attention to how political likes and dislikes affect the content.
On June 6, there was a proposal in Armenia to amend and supplement the law on audiovisual media, to include several regulations, especially in the field of television, which can provide some transparency. It is not so much about making the transparency of the real owners of the media visible, but about those who express their opinions on the air.
According to the draft law, persons holding state positions will not have the right to have a program on TV. By inviting people to express opinions, the presenters will be obliged to mention their political affiliation, including their party ties in the past.
Here is such a formulation in the draft:
“Audiovisual programs may not be broadcast, which are hosted by public officials, as well as persons who are candidates for elective positions or who have somehow publicized their intention to run after learning about the nomination and registration dates.”
There is also an attempt to reduce or at least separate hate speech, calls for violence, swearing, and non-normative vocabulary.
“It is forbidden to spread calls for criminal acts in audio-visual programs. In the case of such calls during a live broadcast, the broadcaster will not be held liable if the author of the call was informed about the alleged violation live, and in case of a double call, the live broadcast was stopped.”
The Law on Audiovisual Media, adopted in 2020, requires all licensed media outlets to have a code of ethics. It should be a document prepared by the broadcaster in accordance with international standards, which will show the ethical norms of the media outlet.
The code of ethics is a mandatory condition if the media outlet wants to appear in the public multiplex and get a broadcasting frequency.
These codes of ethics are in the Committee on Television and Radio but have not been published. And we can only assume that all are built on almost the same principle (impartial, reliable, comprehensive, and not misleading, but the promise to provide information of public importance).
That is, on the simple formula that you do what you promise. And you promise what you will do.
You cannot promise unbiased content if you are going to broadcast “blatant” content.
And if this simple self-regulation does not work, the laws become stricter, branched out, tangled, and in many cases become an occasion for absurd misunderstandings.
For example, now, according to the law on audiovisual media, the coverage of one topic cannot exceed 24% of the air. Let’s put aside the fact that measuring a topic is almost impossible, it is also meaningless (say, on April 24 or in war or other extreme situations). A topic is not a solid concept that can be considered measurable. What about subtopics, footnotes, and subtext?
The new draft law will also state more clearly that opposing opinions should be presented on the air when it comes to public discussions.
“As a rule, the main opposing views should be presented within the framework of the same program, by way of exception, also in further programs.”
And if the people who express their opinion refuse to do so, it should be mentioned during the program, because “the lack of opinion of one of the parties does not relieve the broadcaster of the obligation to ensure impartiality.”
And if there is a public discussion about crimes or cases of violence, does not this mean that the opinion of the perpetrator or someone justifying the violence must also be voiced? Or a torturer and a murderer.
Of course, media laws are almost always late, they are late and they will be late. But the basic principles are norms that the law cannot provide, but, on the contrary, devalue.
In general, ethics, especially in the field of media, has an important function. It provides a volume, a critical mass presence, below which the working media are already perceived as unprofessional and largely useless.
Moreover, working with lower ethical norms becomes simply unprofitable, because the consumer no longer needs it. Maybe the owner needs it, but the consumer definitely does not need it, therefore, it is ineffective.
After all, violating ethical norms is not freedom at all, on the contrary, it is a sign of slavery. And if you need non-normative vocabulary or misinformation to get your message right, then you can’t talk about media freedom.
How to formulate a so-called minimum ethical threshold in the media, going below which would be considered unprofitable? For example, creating, distributing and defending abusive and manipulative content becomes the wrong strategy and a sign of defeat.
Maybe it is a matter of time (at best) or a matter of will (in the case of tightening the laws). And there are no guarantees that ethical work in an unethical environment can be considered dictatorial, valuable and effective if the laws formulate it in more detail and begin to be perceived as a bludgeon. Perhaps the viral version works more when the basic norms are high to say something.
There are topics where there can be no opposite point of view. And ethics is the tool, the lack of which also cannot be justified by quoting the views of those who do not accept it. Cursing cannot be justified, as it weakens both the role of the media and the self-defense of the consumer.
For years, consumers have become accustomed to disturbing and emotional content, hate speech, hostile language and swearing. Now is a good time to offer a more restrained and sober model. To make ethics applicable not only in words but also in everyday deeds, because if you do not do it, they will do it for you. Always late and always with imperfect laws.
The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.