“The media’s message must be sobering”

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center Legal Adviser Heriknaz Tigranyan doesn’t view the recent parliamentary election as being separate from the socio-psychological condition. “Man does not see the future. He has a problem right now, and whoever solves that problem will get his vote,” she says. 

She believes that an effective approach to fighting corruption may be establishing a united and consistent chain of media investigations. After all, the fire beneath urgent topics must be kept alive. 

We had a good election campaign and a voting day without violent incidents. Is this a correct impression?

During the campaign, it seemed that all the political parties/blocs had equal opportunities to say their remarks on air. Or at least we didn’t hear any complaints about not providing or restricting airtime.

Of course it’s welcoming, if it was decided to hold the elections in a civilized manner. But we also saw that there weren’t any sharp angles and contrasts: it turned out that parties having different views and programs ran in the elections not having opposing points on which they could debate. And that’s simply beyond logic, since a party with a socialist bent can’t not be opposed to, say, the liberals. 

We didn’t see antipodal relations on air, but we saw that airtime was provided to all. 

Maybe that was the result of an internal agreement or a gentlemen’s agreement. That is, it was decided to conduct a polite campaign without targeting or smearing anyone. In any case, outwardly everything was very calm and mild. 

There were offers to organize debates on air, but we saw that no debates, especially those with representatives of the ruling party, took place. This was the result of the ruling party’s PR strategy, which it seems had decided in its remarks it was going to remain in a passive role of an outside observer.

But why did the opposition parties run in the elections, if they had agreed to that gentlemen’s agreement from above? 

The ruling party knows from the start about its hegemonic role and doesn’t even doubt that it will be a winner in both the debates and the elections.

Also interesting was the campaign strategy they adopted, when during the first two weeks of the campaign the party’s top figures not only didn’t participate in public discussions, but also didn’t give interviews, leaving the field to the other players. 

And the opposition parties began to argue over who is more of an opposition.

As a result, the public became tired of deciding which opposition is fake and which is real. And then the Republican Party of Armenia with its pristine white face appeared, which was able to impose its will to the other players. 

And in that situation could media outlets stimulate debates, or is everything hopeless?

I think that stage has already passed. During the parliamentary elections, the media must first of all be able to evaluate themselves and understand to what extent they supported the right choice of the voter.

Did the Public TV of Armenia fulfill its role? In any case, it provided all nine parties/blocs equal airtime.

The Public TV can present different people from a 180-degrees different perspective. When the vector of politics changes, that channel’s inclination also changes. 

Public TV now gave space to people who just a few years ago were presented in a completely different light or their entry to the channel was simply banned.

It was strange that 10 years ago the channel considered the opposition party’s rallies with the first president’s participation as mockery, but now it provides him airtime and addresses him as “Mr. President,” emphasizing that presidents do not become former presidents.

And who said that presidents don’t become former presidents? In fact, things should be called by their names and not addressed like that. But from what we saw, the Public TV rose in the public’s eyes and its message (or the product it provided on air) reached its destination. In any case, it reached the segment of the public that accepts the Public TV’s every word.

During the Soviet years they would say if the television said so, then it is the truth of the highest instance.

In recent years, the media uncovered several serious corruption rings of the elite. But from what we see, that didn’t prevent, for example, Mihran Poghosyan from becoming an MP. We also saw the video of Artak Sargsyan, who has collected votes with outright violations. Why don’t these facts have an effect?

In fact, these cases are practically not reflected in the media. And the segment of the public for whom television is the only source of information can’t really picture the sort of country it lives in and what things happen every day. 

In any case, online media react to developments more quickly and adequately. For example, it’s interesting to monitor how media outlets report on government meetings. 

The [news] websites try to capture interesting stories and scenes, emphasize certain aspects, whereas Public TV simply broadcasts the entire meeting without comment, as it was done in the past, during the politburo meetings. And in that case no conflict, no acute problem can be seen…

As a result, people don’t even know what’s happening in their country. Let me cite an example: recently we were discussing the problems of mining, and I was surprised to discover that some people, not knowing what a tailing is, ask what’s wrong with building? After all, Armenians have always been a building nation, let them build tailings.

That is, people aren’t given real information on what great dangers there are in the mining industry.

Television can change the perspective on the topic of corruption risks and show a completely different situation. For instance, there’s never a televised debate on the municipality’s illogical and useless expenses. All this has migrated to social media and online websites [media], while television (even private) ignores it. 

When no emphasis is made on the problem, sharp angles cease to emerge, and the problem remains blurred.

We all know what media tricks can present a situation as more beautiful and favorable. Even the most heated debate can be edited in such a way that only the tranquil scenes and beautiful remarks are left.

In any case, only good news are broadcast to the public from the screen. And one day man will open his eyes and will see that he’s been living deceived.

Is an infantile public also a product of the media?

When Davtashen’s trees were cut, there was an uproar on why the residents didn’t react. But many of them, for whom the tree-felling took place before their eyes, accepted the situation calmly, saying that the trees had rotted… that is, their brains are already used to working like this. 

If the airwaves are filled only with good news, the public gets accustomed to living in a vacuum.

To tell the truth, there are talk shows whose message is simply dangerous. It’s as though they’re saying, see how happy you are, since people who are much more unfortunate live next to you. This is how Public TV of Armenia’s rhetoric can be described. 

How important do you consider the transparency of media ownership? In this sector, corruption and manipulation are united quite directly.

Of course in this sector corruption risks are great. Discussions on the disclosure of the real owners of media outlets and the transparency of state procurement are underway. It’s also an obligation that our country assumed within the scope of the Open Government Partnership and the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission.

They are necessary in the case of equal opportunities and access to the media, since when the real owners of television media are identified, not ruled out is that it will become clear that all are coordinated from one center.

What allows you to come to that conclusion?

The TV companies don’t exhibit courageous civic (to say nothing of political) behavior. Look at the choice of topics for broadcast programs and the airwaves’ strategy. After all, we never did see that the questions raised on social networking sites become the television’s agenda. Even the talk shows are on artificial and not current topics. 

Now everyone’s talking about the educators’ audio recordings, but broadcast media are silent on that front. There’s another recording where it appears how the will of voters is being hampered, there are opinions on what an electoral bribe is. 

These are questions that are heard only inside the walls (also on social networking sites), but their discussion never unfolds, say, on Public TV.

There’s another problem: a salaried employee shouldn’t be so dependent on his employer. Labor rights, in fact, are among the most vulnerable. That is, if your employer doesn’t like your views, you can lose your job, without considering constitutional rights.

People’s economic rights have not been brought to the level to be challenged in constitutional court, and now, to solve the problem of securing their daily bread, people go to work under degrading conditions.

And in this case, the employer can always order them on what to do and for whom to vote. And this is nothing if not an obvious crime.

Probably for that reason very little depends on journalists. The decision-makers are the chief editors.

And the owners.

Perhaps if different media outlets with the support of your organization produce a serious film-investigation, a public wave [of discontent] will be raised eventually.

The media sector simply must be unanimous. If one media outlet does that, it quickly will be paralyzed or be subject to pressure.

Our organization tries to follow the traces of Hetq’s publications, submitting applications to law enforcement bodies and constantly bugging them. But to tell you the truth, our actions yield no results, even having the opposite effect: the person on whom we gather information gets a higher position. And sometimes it seems that we unwittingly are doing his praising and preaching. 

When you see that people suspected of corruption have patrons at the top, you become disappointed and discouraged.

I think we shouldn’t focus only on Yerevan. If we have do a joint media investigation, then it must be mobile. That is, journalists have to go to the regions, interact with people, since, to tell you the truth, the stereotypes are many. Journalists have to enter people’s lives.  

Then, a media investigation will be more effective. After all, it’s hard to fight against many, especially if the topic branches out and develops. But it so happens that a serious media report about any official ignites briefly, then fades without consequence. But if the articles are a chain, it will continue to remain a hot topic. 

In any case, the fire under the topic must be kept alive. 

It’s also the consequence of journalism that people think that nothing actually depends on them.

A media outlet’s message must be sobering. Let the journalist get an interview not only with the aim of recording a fact, but also to shape her remarks, to define her guidelines. I want the journalist to have something to say that changes people’s way of thinking, and not just convey what someone else said. 

Usually we hear only passive interviews, in the form of questions and answers. Say, in a reportage about a village, the journalist asks, are you familiar with the village budget? The villager answers, what do we have to do with that? The village mayor knows that.

And the journalist doesn’t continue the subject to determine how did it come to be that in the village mayor’s opinion the village budget is his personal pocket money and the villagers don’t object to that. 

Or watching the concluding concert and gatherings of Mihran Poghosyan’s election campaign, we see rapturous faces. It’s understandable that people want a celebration, but aren’t they concerned that organizing that fête is a man who grew his personal business and captured the import market sitting on the public budget. And now they’re applauding, glorifying, and even sanctifying him.

There’s no separation. The villagers think that the “boss” is always better than the savior who’s come to the village. The saviors come and go, but the boss remains and continues to exploit. That’s in our psychology: let him exploit because he’s one of us.

Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan


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