“Media outlets have to stop filling people’s cups with emotions and move on to real work”

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

The four-day Karabakh-Azerbaijan war and the tense days that followed raised a huge wave of propaganda in both Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s media industry. Media expert Tigran Hakobyan finds that during the April war, there was little misinformation but a lot of bitter, but real facts in Armenia’s media sector.

And now the media outlets working in a highly sensitive and emotional environment have taken some pause, which is helpful for reinterpreting the role of various public and state agencies.

Hakobyan states that the current emotional landscape might be used for covering up the criminal negligence of the ruling elite. And the less undue pathos and emotionality in the media, the more vivid the problems will be.

During times of war, propaganda becomes a component of news media. To what extent is this justified?

Propaganda is more than justified during war. To mobilize the nation, any state “helps” people find the answers to many questions through the use of propaganda techniques; for example, what to fight for, to have casualties, to bear hardships. It also reveals examples of heroism (real or fictitious is not important).

But at the same time, with propaganda techniques the state tries also to disconnect its own people’s critical thinking, which it considers unnecessary during crisis situations. This is a basic rule.

But if you pay close attention to the ensuring of ideology of the April war, you’ll see a big difference between the conflicting parties’ propagandist concepts.

The Azerbaijanis use the laws of “war propaganda”: they deepen hatred for Armenians, the head of our tortured and beheaded soldier becomes a tool for mobilization, they rejoice with Photoshopped victories, and so on.

While propaganda for us [in Armenia] mostly bears the initial, pure meaning of the word. That is, the purpose of agitation work becomes the protection of faith, spirit, and native soil, and the propagation of the idea of patriotism.

Here [in Armenia], both the state institutions and the media these days resorted less to misinformation; very bitter, but real facts were circulated. I think, this approach of ours works more effectively on both domestic and foreign media platforms.

Propaganda is always pathetic. How does society change when it is constantly bombarded with pathetic news?

Propaganda is not always pathetic. Moreover, effective and efficient propaganda falls outside of pathos.

Let me recall a classic example: during WWII, the BBC (there was no television yet; I’m talking about radio), upon Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s proposal, at first glance adopted a very strange information policy. In order to reduce the impact of Nazi radio programs aimed at the British population, the BBC reported more deplorable news and figures on their human losses and the devastating effects of German bombing more frequently than German sources.

This information campaign was short-lived, but it completely eliminated the British people’s desire to seek information from German radio programs. That is, the BBC very competently played on the ‘human psychological strings’: he who does not hide the truth is believed.

There is another danger in excessive pathos. Look, our media was filled with boastful stories. For example, how our shepherd destroyed an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with his rifle. The shepherd is truly a hero, but if aerial vehicles can be destroyed with a ‘sword and daggers,’ then a question arises: why do we need to spend huge sums on the latest weapons?

If low-income families send brave children facing death to the battlefront, then poverty, social injustice, the absence of the children of the wealthy in the ranks of army recruits, bribetakers in the army, and so on are not threats for the security of our country.

That is, such an emotional landscape might be used by the ruling elite to cover up criminal negligence.

What I want to say is this: the war has provided a temporary pause, so the media has to quickly leave the pathos arena and help solve the serious problems facing the country.

The war also showed that we have very weak governing bodies. Do you think it’s possible that in this situation the media might become more influential and raise serious domestic political issues?

Media outlets already raise a significant portion [of these issues]. Even public figures, journalists, and media outlets very loyal to the ruling authorities began to address the “higher-ups” with very tough questions.

The public understood and sees that useless ministers and ambassadors, and the so-called elite soaked in corruption and robbery “have consumed” modern weapons and ammunition, “consumed” the lives of young soldiers, and “consume” the country’s security and future.

This wasn’t noticed during times of peace and without losses; much was forgiven. The situation changed; society is changing; I hope the media likewise will reinterpret its task and mission.

The army managed to withstand the attack. How would you evaluate the work of our [Armenian] media?

It’s not possible to assess the work of the entire media sector. Most of the media outlets did an excellent or good job; the way some worked were disappointing; there are also media platforms that arouse disgust with their publications.

Let me just say that in the work of some media outlets, particularly TV companies, there was a great abyss between form and content. Live broadcasts from Stepanakert, beautiful graphic renderings, touching slogans, stylish hosts in military camouflage just received from the warehouse — this was the form.

But those same hosts’ empty talk, frozen smiles, and total lack of understanding of the moment was the content.

A dozen journalists in both Artsakh and Armenia worked very well. I have to mention a few names: Hetq’s editor Edik Baghdasaryan, photographer German Avagyan, ANI [Armenian] Research Center coordinator Tatul Hakobyan, Yerkir Media’s commentator Vardan Onanyan. All are professionals worthy of the greatest respect.

Might the emotionality which flows from the media sector and further exacerbates public emotions have a positive effect? For example, prevent the expected public depression.

I think it’s the opposite: excessive emotionality may cause profound depression. Just as the excessive consumption of alcohol causes a very serious hangover the following day.

Media outlets now have to stop filling people’s cups with emotions and move on to real work, if we really want to “save Private Ryan” in future, almost inevitable military operations.

Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan

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