War in the distance, propaganda near at hand: how the Armenian TV companies cover Russian-Ukrainian war

Arshaluys Barseghyan


The language used to describe the war that goes on for ten months now, varies depending on the country, political sides and sympathies. Russia terms it as a “special military operation”, while Ukraine calls it an “invasion.” What matters other than the words, is the story it conveys.
Media.am has summed up the policy on coverage of Ukrainian war by 5 TV companies, with the terminology used, guests, sources, reliability of information.

We have deliberated over the news, political and analytical programs aired by the Public TV, FreeNews, Yerkir Media, Kentron and 5th Channel TV companies. Time wise, the first ten days and three significant events – the Mariupol maternity and children hospital air strike, the Bucha massacre and Vinnytsia missile strikes have been reviewed.

Public TV opted for phrasing the war as “a special military operation”

Despite that Public TV News report mainly presented two-sided information retrieved from mostly official sources, yet it kept true to the Russian wording of calling it a “special military operation” or “special operation.” Out of 17 reports at least 8 used this wording as an indirect quote. Our efforts to find the newscast of March 4 and 5 “News” went amiss.

The first days of the war made practically all the central headlines of the news reports. They have also addressed the anti-Russian moods in Azerbaijan, Turkey’s behavior, war’s economic repercussions, etc., against the backdrop of war.

As for the three keynote events brought up above, the main “News” coverage was silent about the air strike of Mariupol maternity and children’s hospital. The massacre of Bucha was covered only after Russia’s response calling it a “provocation and fake news attack.” Whereas the news on Vinnytsia was covered in international newscast featuring a two-sided official opinion.

In connection with other programs, the general and economic impact of war has been addressed in the scope of “Public discussion”. 

The series “Interview” authored Petros Ghazharyan is quite noteworthy in that in early days of war it hosted Russian officials – Konstantin Zatunil and Vitaly Milonov, Deputies of the Russian State Duma, as well as the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Armenia Sergey Kopirkin. Additionally, all these interviews had been broadcast in Russian instituting an infringement of the Armenian legislation.

The word “invasion” most frequently used by FreeNews

During the main news coverage of “Free News”, Russian military operations were characterized as “invasion” for several times; moreover, they kept avoiding the Russian wording. By making certain highlights, the TV channel clearly accentuated its critical disposition towards the actions of West. For instance, the coverage of the war’s first day accounts: “Western countries come up with pedestrian, futile declarations” (20:45 min). 

“FreeNews” primarily offers two-pronged official information. They interview Armenians living in Ukraine, reflect on the work abroad and other topics.

Regarding the topics we identified, they addressed the airstrike of Mariupol in a biased, one short sentence: “…the Russian side tags the airstrike as a provocation to blame Russia in war crimes further.” In the case of Bucha, they reported a double-sided official information with obsolete data on the number of victims and wounded in Vinnytsia.

As for other coverages, the author of the program “Free interaction” Gnel Sargsyan used the war of Ukraine for political reasons. For instance, he juxtaposed two different developments, asking: “When Russia acknowledged the independence of Donbas and Lugansk, did anyone call Zelensky a “land-giver” or anything closer?”

The series of interviews lent a platform to speakers with both pro-western and pro-Russian views, where the latter prevailed. In one of the programs, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Artsakh Davit Babayan circulated the Russian propaganda about “both Ukrainians and Russians being one common nation”, whereas Eduard Antinyan, politician, declared: “They orchestrated this war on Russia’s head.” Within the period under scrutiny they had provided a platform to the Deputy of the State Duma Vitaly Milonov.

Yerkir Media: “At war, all weapons are good, be it in the battlefield or information frontline”

To describe the Ukrainian war, “Yerkirn Aysor (The Country Today)” program used the Russian phraseology and words “war”, “confrontation.” They spoke to the representatives of the Armenians’ Union of Ukraine on the situation there and the Armenian community most frequently. However, sometimes they overlooked the reporter’s background: at least twice they showed Putin while they spoke about Zelensky, in February 25 and February 28

Yerkir Media has also addressed the information war with an opening remark from the journalist that “during war any weapon is good both in the battlefield or information frontline.”

For Mariupol, they have disseminated biased information: “… The Minister of Foreign Affairs of RF called it manipulative and false, claiming that the area has long been used as the base of Azov Battalion.” In the footage on Bucha massacre, they referred to the visual investigation conducted by the American NYTimes. The editorial office used the satellite imagery to prove that in defiance of Russian assertions, the dead bodies were in the streets before the Russian troops withdrew from Bucha. No coverage on Vinnytsia was found.

The interview series “Country’s Guest Room” touched upon the topic of war for several times. In his question addressed to the guest of one of those programs, the TV host maintained the disinformation about Russia’s dismissal from the Council of Europe spread widely in the media, whereas the reality was that the Council of Europe had only suspended Russia’s rights of representation at the time of being. 

Kentron. announced news gone missing  

The video materials of “Epicenter” main news program posted on the internet often lacks all or some of the news announced in the news brief. What’s more, traces of editing catch one’s eye. This does not allow to get a clear understanding of the TV company’s policy on news coverage.   

Interestingly, against the backdrop of Russian-Ukrainian war, Kentron TV company publishes a footage in March 5 release about “Genius Commanders” of Armenian descent, who occupy key positions across “opposite sides of barricade” – in the RF Armed Forces and NATO.

With no coverage on the topics of Mariupol and Vinnytsia, in March 9 they broadcast the agitating comment of Vitaly Milonov, Deputy of the RF State Duma, referring to the reported mobilization of forces in the Ukrainian schools turning people into live shields. Bucha mass killings were reported in the announcement and went unmentioned in the news release itself. 

A number of political-analytical programs broadcast by Kentron TV are hosted by former deputies of “Prosperous Armenia” fraction. They disseminate Russian propaganda during these programs. For example, during one of the programs called “30 minutes with Mikayel Melkumyan”, the host Melkumyan circulated the Russian narrative on allegedly turning Ukrainian population into a human shield. In addition, the hosts of “Press Kentron (meaning Center)” Shake Isayan and Arman Abovyan talk about biological weapon and spread pro-Russian narratives.

5th Channel spreads unchecked information enveloped as “reported”  

“Haylur” offers the most extensive coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian war; in the first days particularly, more than half of the newscast focused on this very topic. The war was labeled in various forms: “repeatedly protracted war”, “invasion”, and the provision of weapon by the EU to Ukraine – “extreme measure.” We failed to find the news coverages aired on Febriary 25 and 27.

“Haylur” is the most diverse in terms of information sources. On top of the official sources, they used the content of RT, RIA Novosti, CNN, in addition to the materials of Semyon Pegov from WarGonzo, and a trove of other Telegram channels. They had contacted Armenians living not only in Ukraine, but also in Donetsk. 

Having said that, not always has the information been checked, instead it was compensated with the phrases “according to unconfirmed report”, “reportedly” and similar words. For instance, in the face of the account that “All those venturing out in the curfew imposed in Kyiv, will be considered members of sabotage groups of the enemy”, they reported that “According to unconfirmed report, five members of a family have been shot in Kyiv…” As a matter of fact, the incident took place in the outskirts of Kherson rather than in Kyiv. 

In certain cases, “Haylur” misrepresents the content taken from another source. One example is the report of 5th Channel on Sky News crew finding themselves under heavy gunfire, where an impression was made that either it was the Ukrainians or at least it was unclear who had been shooting. Conversely, the footage and the description below clearly indicated the crew’s claims on the fire gunned by the Russian forces. 

The events of Mariupol were reported only the next day after the emergence of Russia’s response. In the case of Bucha, this is the second TV company to cover the investigation of NYTimes, in addition to the official news feed. In the meanwhile, the data published on Vinnytsia air strike turned out to be out of date.

In the case of other programs, the attitude of guests hosted by 5th Channel to democracy leaves us wanting more. Thus, Vardan Voskanyan, an expert in Iranian studies, considers that “democracy has long become a one-of-a-kind religious system used as a tool to spread political flares.” And speaking at the “Diary” TV program, political psychologist Mihran Madatyan declared that “Russia is making efforts to oust from the region the pseudo-democratic neo-fascism implanted by the west into the region over time.”

Arshaluis Barseghyan

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