“There Are Issues Which Ought To Be Brought Up Not Only By Council Members But Also By Journalists”

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

The Yerevan City Hall often becomes a newsmaker with their doing-not doing, debating or not debating, and making decisions or not making decisions.

The municipality, which has a complex inheritance and relies on new people, periodically appears in a position of explaining its steps. Sometimes the explanations and justifications are delayed or incomplete which is why the explanations become justifications.

The oppositional members of the City Council are better able in the fine and delicate art of communicating with the media field (sometimes doing PR, and sometimes not caring), whose words are especially valuable when it comes to explaining needs without justifications.

Member of the Yerevan City Council, head of the “Luys” faction, Davit Khajakyan, likes the media and lovingly cites his views on important issues.

Davit Khajakyan is well-versed in making an impression with what needs to be said (for example, many still remember the brief interpretation “Quansh…”).

Although he is very young, the “old-fashioned one” in the municipality, as he has been a member of the City Council for two years and is familiar with both the work of the previous and the current officials. And he is convinced that in all situations it is important to be an addressee of the issue.  

And he wants the revolution not to be likened to the victory of only one political force.

Almost all decisions of the new municipality remain unfinished, apart from the dismantlement of the Opera cafes. There was talk about the metro, and then the conversation broke down and it was announced that the media would no longer occupy a free area, and the decision disappeared. Why is this happening?

I think the reason is that the steps of the municipality are not interconnected. That is, they do not stem from a vision, a principled position.

If we talk about the metro but overlook the whole transportation hub, it will turn out that we look at problems at a local level.

The municipality is determined to dismantle the Opera Park cafes, which are rented at either very low prices or are free of charge.

No one doubts that the process is honest, but on the other hand, it does not comply with any principles, because there are many gardens where cafes occupy large areas and at a much lower rent. Why the Opera? The municipality must have the answer to that question.

No one will step back from their decision, and that also means that next time there is an attempt to dismantle, there will be tension again, and it will have to be resolved.

The refusal to provide media outlets with space also took place without a vision of the outcome. And when resistance was born, they refused to accept that idea, understanding that it wouldn’t be easy.

That is to say, the consequences of the steps are not well understood and it turns out that when encountering an obstacle, they can stop what comes to your mind because it doesn’t come from a deeper understanding.  

That was the case in many matters. For example, the clarification about the bonuses was late (and I was saying from the very first day, that the list of those who would have received bonuses should be published), the deputy mayor firmly said that they would not publish personal information, but after two days the list was finally published.

And I am convinced that that was not the Mayor’s personal decision.

After the velvet revolution, there was a demand for good news, positive change and reform. What do you consider to be the most successful step in the municipality?

The good news was the simplification of the construction process. More precisely, the possibility of a non-corrupt transaction. A citizen may build a building on their own land without paying extra money, that is, without a bribe.

But there is an opposite process: many transactions, which were formerly committed by law, but in favor of the citizen, are not being carried out right now. If the law doesn’t stipulate, the municipality doesn’t do it, and the process becomes complicated, and sometimes stops.

In the past, people have made arrangements and now, when it needs to be settled by law, it turns out that it isn’t regulated well.

Of course, it is good that people are now free to take part in auctions, get an area without concern, easily get a building permit.

Has communication with journalists become easier?

Within the municipality building, it is definitely easier, in the past, inviting journalists to enter would require a lot of paperwork. Communication is technically easier.

The division of the political field into black and white was negative, and now the same logic has also spread to the media field.

I hope the authorities will not try to use a tool to counter misinformation and fakes, which will also be targeted against the media.

To what extent is it important to have a favorable media for the “Bright Armenia” party? We see that media campaigns are being carried out against specific people or for them.

There should be a free media field in Armenia, but it is difficult because capital has always been concentrated in the hands of several people.

Having, keeping and developing a media outlet in Armenia is linked to a great deal of financial resources. This is not a particularly profitable business.

It is important for us to speak out without being distorted. To be honest, it always has been. I am convinced that when your point of view is clear, regardless of the manipulations, you will be able to get what you need to say across. One or two media outlets may try to distort your speech, but some of them, which don’t belong to anyone, won’t do that.

Certainly, those media that are targeting and working against a particular political figure and are creating media campaigns, are playing their part.

But it is also difficult to understand whether they are organized or not, as in a torrent of social network fakes it is difficult to find out.  

I think, in any case, fighting against it can only be done by one’s own efforts, not by taking steps against fakes.

Do posts and lives on social media help?

When a Facebook page becomes its own news outlet, it is concerning for media outlets which become forced to repost those lives without input.

Modern technologies constantly change the logic of communication between the media and politicians.

It is still difficult to understand what kind of battle can take place against misinformation, and how relevant is the logic of changing modern media in the context of social networks.  

Transformations are taking place.

When I post something on my Facebook wall, it also appears on most of the news pages. At one time, it was necessary to send a press release to the media, and now writing on a Facebook wall suffices, in that almost all the media uses it.

But I would not say that the issues we have raised to the media become a substance of serious investigations. I can bring an example with the buying of the Kamaz’, which totaled to 1 billion 314 million AMD and there had been a technical specification, which excluded the entrance of other organizations.

Of course, I’m glad that the subject was covered at least, tied to my person, but there was no serious investigation.

When the subject opens, certain questions are expected. But I didn’t see any journalist ask the mayor, why did you write restrictive characteristics on purchases, and would anyone, in particular, be responsible for that?

There are questions that not only members of the council, but also journalists must ask. After all, each state body should direct these questions to each other. For example, government oversight has attempted to find out why technical specifications are written so that only one organization can win.

It is also because of a lack of questions from journalists that a public official feels relaxed because they are sure that they won’t be asked any questions.

And, for the most part, officials’ mistakes remain without consequence.

Perhaps it is preferable to the opposition because it is comfortable to criticize from that position.

Though I have always said what I wanted to without hesitation (even in the time when Taron Margaryan was the mayor), it has always been important for me that the official that my criticism is directed at does not feel insulted by me personally. So they don’t suddenly feel that I know the truth but I am presenting it in a different way.

Of course, there is always something to criticize, but believe that criticism is not always a sign of comfort.

In the past, when we were criticizing some sphere, we immediately followed up with a phone call to the mayor’s office, trying to get an explanation of how it happened.

No matter what the concern was about, or how the information about them came about. Of course, perhaps one of the reasons was that the former authorities were not legitimate, but the criticism voiced even at the individual level for the new authorities did not receive feedback.

Even when you go to a public platform, you still feel that today’s officials are not particularly concerned about criticism.

They are worried when they see that something doesn’t work well and the question arises, why?

Why do you need to create problems and then think about how to solve them?

Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan

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