The Movement Also Brought With It Quality Information

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

Director and documentarist Ara Shirinyan considers it to be too soon to express a summarizing opinion on the Velvet (or Open Hands) Revolution, since now it’s only possible to speak about first impressions.

He is convinced, that this successful phenomenon in all seriousness will still be studied, in order to be used elsewhere. It’s simply desirable, that the person collecting information about the revolution is physically present in Armenia.

“Whoever interprets the revolution from abroad, as a rule accents the wrong things. A foreigner in Armenia will be able to feel the atmosphere and interpret the events better than an Armenian who recently has left Armenia,” he said.

What role did social media play in the success of the revolution?

I think that social media wasn’t mobilized in one day, its mobilization happened long ago. Moreover, thanks to our traditional TV, which did not completely understand its own functions and what it needed to do in times of rapidly developing events.

The Armenian pubic (at least the active segment) appeared on social media between 2009-2010, and Facebook became perhaps the main civic auditorium, where people shared more socio-political texts than selfies and photos of their children.

That was the first circumstance.

And the second was the public perception of the leader, and trust.

If you noticed, Nikol Pashinyan, walked across Armenia and held the first protests in Yerevan, and said almost nothing about political texts, because he had no need. In the first few days, he was only leading the actions of the protest. Why…?

I think that is a very important question. Nikol Pashinyan is not an unknown person. For already six years he has been speaking to the public, many know of his political programs. He spoke in parliament, and the public followed his speeches on online and social media. Today, that is already a huge audience in Armenia…

On Facebook alone, it seems, that about 1 million people are registered, that is to say more than half of the voters. And the authorities control only television, but not the internet.

So the fact that the media found under the umbrella of the authorities was late or was simply silent, played a role.

Yes. Quality information played a big role. Aside from misinformation, pro-government media disseminated low-quality information. I consider this is also a struggle between professionals where resource-rich television lost to online media. Because professionalism cannot justify a lie.  

It turned out that in Armenia, we had no big problems in media literacy, because the information that we have been exposed to for years was completely pro-government, and the people were well aware of what they were being told from different platforms. Especially on the days when the movement started.

On collective platforms, such as Facebook for example, the fakes and lies are revealed in just a few minutes. Regular users without any training, learned, for example, the skill of fact checking.

It’s interesting that many were worried that technology allowed the state to monitor us, register our movements, our bank transactions, recognize our preferences and connections from social network data.

For that reason, some for example, don’t register for a Facebook account, not wanting to publicize data about themselves.  

Of course, the state gets the ability to monitor us, but let’s not forget that at the same time there is also the opposite process, the public is monitoring the state.

It would be more correct to say that it reveals the true face of the authorities.

How is it revealed, with a leak, unintentional self-confessions?

Some facts emerge form of automatic registration, for example, Hermine Naghdalyan’s telephone accounts. Or the appearance of cameras in the least expected places. Sometimes, incidents of information play a bigger role than analytical articles.  

For example, when you see how some MPs behave during interviews, or how they respond to direct questions, you no longer need any analysis, you immediately understand how those people appeared in the ranks of the party and government pyramid.

In this case, reliability exists due to the device which recorded, or because you yourself participated in the information excavation process.

Because all through time, the person that you trust the most is yourself, and you have to be part of the discovery. To see and be convinced and come to a conclusion.

No matter how much you believe this or that news outlet, there is still the option (even if it’s a small percentage) that you can’t make up your mind. That is to say, to be suspicious that there might be a different viewpoint, and it would be best to look at things from the opposite side. However “the opposite side” is often created for the purposes of manipulation.

The rule of media that you should always present an opposing opinion, often doesn’t work, because opinions do not oppose technology, they are different materials and it’s not possible to deny a video, where the president promised that he would not become prime minister, using words.

Television seems to have completely lost these days.

I think our TV companies need to review the concept of their existence. During the days of this movement they had the chance to change and comply with international television standards, for example, working in 24-hour mode like CNN or Al Jazeera.

I’m really worried about the fate of television, because there’s an impression that it is dead.

Television seems to have lost its skill. It has been degraded, since it has become used to not responding to urgent news, and waiting until they get orders from above for censorship.  

Is it because of a lack of professionalism?

I don’t think so. I am sure that if, for example, Public Television was facing a new problem, the staff will work in a different mode. Finally, to do things that RFE/RL Azatutyun, CivilNet and Factor TV did is not difficult, especially with state resources.   

Rapid response is difficult for hence online media, when the journalists are running from morning till night, trying to provide broadcasts from different points of interest.

With technological equipment, television has all the capabilities to work with moving stations. But instead, that was being done by those media platforms which are not technically ready for such movement.  

Ultimately, classical television has its professional arsenal, a network of correspondents in different cities, live broadcasts from the studio, where the events are being analyzed by experts.    

Online media, which during this time, managed to do the impossible, still didn’t have as many tools or skills yet.

During this time, lots of media platforms were simply the hidden cameras of the movement, and RFE/RL Azatutyun was able to present things a bit more professionally. That is completely enough for viewers to be on the so called good side.

Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan

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