Any event in the world can become news as a result of a direct media response. The role of journalism in the media industry in the recent past was just like that, when the audience was presented with or compelled to watch required information regarding an event that was considered important.
Today however, the media has collided with a new situation, where the audience, apart from being consumers, have become information producers, whose products are no longer capable of being controlled, directed or crafted.
Anyone who has a phone and the ability to connect to the internet, often turns into a walking media outlet and successfully carries out one of the most imperative and important functions of journalism, by answering the questions what, where and when.
Coverage of the Armenian Velvet Revolution has shown that not all Armenian media has embraced this new challenge for journalism.
The latter are still busy with filtering and often, also, concealing information, with the aim of reporting this or that political event using an appropriate tone and directing the audience’s mood.
This is especially true for Armenian TV companies that have nationwide coverage.
In the first round of coverage of the marches, which we will conditionally consider to be between March 31st and April 13, there is no extensive material to study regarding television news programs, since the majority of them started covering the events only on April 13, when the participants of the march had already reached Yerevan.
Online media and television, which had a massive audience, played a major role in saving the audience from the information vacuum during that time.
Aravot online, Armtimes, and RFE/RL Azatutyun, which have been privately monitored by me, carried out the coverage of the rally from the very first day, with equal frequency and on the principle of multilateralism.
If for example, the Reporters Without Borders organization based their criterion for the study of the Armenian media on those media outlets alone, we would probably have been in a more encouraging position on the scale of press freedom.
Azatutyun, whose principle of coverage was based on live broadcasts, over the course of one month, increased the number of its subscribers on YouTube from 60,000 to 200,000.
It’s thanks to live news broadcasts, that the reality of the revolution was fully transferred to the virtual world, to thousands of audience members confined to their computers, not only in Armenia but also in the Diaspora.
Azatutyun, CiviNet and others were those news outlets that fully implemented Nikol Pashinyan’s adopted news policy, called the CNN Effect.
This effect, in the history of journalism, is not always positively assessed, but it is indisputable that during conditions of crises, it ensures absolute journalistic transparency, thanks to live broadcasts.
Live broadcasts create the illusion of presence for the audience and allows for the formation of unguided opinions about what is happening.
Actions and thoughts which, without commentary, are thrown onto the online platform, have a tremendous impact on public perceptions.
One of the most vivid examples of this effect, were the negotiations at the Marriott and the elections at parliament in May.
When we watch the news sections of Armenian TV, we find ourselves in a completely different parallel reality. Here we see the use of the Haylur Effect.
At one point, that name was held by an H1 news program, which today is called Agenda, however, since the change in the program’s name did not bring with it changes in its substance, the audience still associates the program with the name Haylur.
The Haylur effect was also meant to influence public perceptions, with a single approach, that the demonstrators are of a small number of ordinary unruly people and the safety of not only Armenia but also Artsakh are at risk as a result of their actions.
The developments of the events showed that this effect did not have the desired influence on the audience, and couldn’t have if we take modern information realities into account.
The first report on Agenda’s website on April 13 regarding the protests, was balanced and in the genre of news, however there was an important nuance, that can only be noticed by a professional eye.
From the start of that report till the report on the 23rd of the month, you never heard a single sentence regarding the direct demands of the protesters.
If you are not an Armenian and you don’t understand why the opposition politician Nikol Pashinyan and those who follow him are walking, then you will never understand the purpose of the things shown on the screen.
The videos have been strictly sterilized.
There isn’t a single piece of footage where there will be a poster with a slogan or any revolutionary symbol. It’s just people walking, who sit, lie down or yell, however you can’t hear what they are yelling about. The reporter only describes their geographical movement.
Aside from that, the Agenda news program was filled with many appealing calls. Calls from the Chess Federation, calls from schools, from the Ministry of Education and Science, from Aleppo Armenians, from Lebanese Armenians, the Artists’ Union, prominent composers, country defenders, and not a single call or perspective on the mood from the opposite wing.
On April 21, the broadcast was filled with extremely modest, if we’re not afraid to say distorted, news coming from the provinces, where governors officially announced and assured that there were no demonstrations there, that the situation was calm, that no more than ten people had taken to the streets, and those people had come from Yerevan.
A parallel report was presented on the satisfactory or excellent social-economic state of the region.
The governor of Shirak announced, which was an outright distortion of news, that there were no protests in Shirak, no more than ten people were on the streets, the governor’s office was not under siege, the streets were open and the region was filled with cultural and constructional daily routine.
All of the governors unanimously tried to persuade the audience that these acts of disobedience were organized to hinder the positive development of the provinces.
On April 23, when the news of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation spread, Agenda took a step towards objective reporting, presenting the reality more openly and in a comprehensive way.
The aerial shots of the massive crowd of protesters from the Republic Square were screened on Agenda for the first time on April 23, in the report The Response Of Foreign Ambassadors.
The language and vocabulary of the news texts also began to change.
On April 26, during the coverage of President Armen Sargsyan’s interview, the Agenda journalist voiced the phrase “national awakening” for the first time and quoted the president’s assessment, that today, Armenia is one step closer to democracy than it was a few months ago.
On May 8, a full-fledged revolution took place on the First Channel.
The public festivity in Yerevan was presented in the report, with all of its manifestations and emotions. Assessments of experts were made, where the movement was qualified as a national awakening, and a noble endeavor of young people wishing to live in a free country.
In two other monitored TV channels, in Shant’s Horizon and in Yerkir Media’s The Country Today, reports were comparatively more objective.
News stories also started covering the campaign since April 13. The description of the events were fairly discrete, the footage sterile, the views selective.
Shant’s main news broadcasts comprised of a few parts, the main news was accompanied by interviews on local and global breaking news topics.
Until April 21, the guests of those interviews had only been people who had opposed the movement, starting from Edmon Marukyan, who was a member of the Way Out Alliance, but who was against Pashinyan’s actions, ending with David Harutyunyan, Armen Rustamyan and other politicians.
On April 21, the director of the Mediamax news agency was a guest, with an understanding of reality, and only on May 8, did Shant invite one of the organizers of the rallies, Sasun Mikaelyan, for the first time.
Of course, the Armenian Velvet Revolution was a serious test for Armenian mass media.
In a world of rapidly developing information, there are already quite a few other professional tricks which, in order to use efficiently means abandoning the Haylur Effect.
Journalist, post-graduate of the Department of Foreign Journalism at Moscow State University
The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.