“Journalists Mostly Want To Comment On Someone Else’s Words”

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

In the Armenian political field, there are new people, and though they hold high-caliber positions, the media (and therefore the society) do not know them well. And it tries to accommodate them in today’s messy newsflow, where there are more than a few casual words and mistakes from journalists and officials.

Lawyer Suren Grigoryan, MP of the My Step faction of the National Assembly, has all the opportunities to become a desirable person for the media. The language and speaking style of lawyers are usually more weighty and free from poetic pathos.

And his younger age allows him to be more free, as the start of a political career is conditioned by many young people rather than placing themselves in a hierarchy, but by creating new relationships (of course, there is such a goal).

It is important for Suren Grigoryan to find out what messages are coming from the media and how the formulated public opinion responds (or doesn’t respond).

The new authorities often criticize the media field and complain that the media has never been so free, but for various reasons, it is being manipulative. Is that true?

There is definitely such a dissatisfaction, one of the reasons may be that the information available would be hard pressed to call journalism.

It is assumed that the news should be as neutral as possible, even if there is a factor of the subjectivity of the journalist or editor. It’s hard to find another word to describe the information at hand, but it is not journalism even in the definition of the word, it doesn’t give news.

I think this is not only a matter of funding media but also professionalism.

For example, you can listen to anyone’s words in the National Assembly Hall and then read it in the media and see that the speech is diametrically different.

In reality, he said, I am far from the idea that this or that thing should be done, and in the media, it’s written that this or that thing ought to be done.

In my opinion, what is presented as a criticism of the new government is either cheap manipulation or a result of poor quality of work.

Sometimes an impression is created that the media wants to shock the audience at all costs.

And in order to reach that goal, they are mainly “capturing” MP in the NA corridor and creating a readable topic by hunting down contradictory ideas or controversial remarks.  

The newsmakers are new officials and politicians, who set themselves up for manipulation with their own words. Either they say something strange or they say nothing at all but just speak.

Maybe that is also true. When media representatives approach a government official, they think about how they should speak in order for their words not to be manipulated first of all.

And as a result, their speech becomes constrained, and tension is born with inaccurate formulations.

But journalists generally want us to comment on something said by someone else. And if, for example, we answer that we agree with that statement, they would say “you are simply a button pusher, you think the same and you don’t have autonomy.”

If we say that we do not agree, it is very likely that it will be presented in the following way – see, they are one faction but they have no common viewpoint.

Recently, a journalist approached me and asked about the process of Robert Kocharyan’s case trial. I said that I do not consider it right to comment, because I do not have complete knowledge of the case.

You cannot ask a physician about the health of a patient under the care of another physician if he is not familiar with the diagnosis, research, treatment, and prescribed drugs. No respectable doctor would give an answer.

The same logic works in the case of uninformed lawyers.

As a result, the journalist told his camera operator that the recording won’t be needed. I suppose, because my comment was neutral, there wasn’t any interesting material or scandal to come from it. If I wanted to appear in the journalists’ article, I would have had to say that Kocharyan should be imprisoned or set free.  

Falling under the attacks journalists requires greater boldness than let’s say, making a statement with Facebook live, which actually creates the illusion of feedback.

Naturally, holding a press conference and answering journalists’ questions (sometimes very sharp ones) is harder than just recording and posting on Facebook. Perhaps the Facebook live format is overrated.

But let’s note that the government officials have never communicated with the public as intensively as they are doing now.

And whether we want to or not, we have to compare ourselves with the former. We have to do so as we have inherited the methods of communication as well. For example, I do not remember a case when Serzh Sargsyan responded to sharp questions from journalists. Even if it happened, it was only within the frameworks of pre-determined journalists, who would obviously not give challenging questions.

Of course, the issues that appear on the media agenda are not always important. And we are all trying to figure out how to make ideas and goals reach the public in a way that it won’t be manipulated.

We all know that even the most honest media outlet can publish unbiased but unreadable materials.

I do not want to blame the audience, but the function of appealing to the audience is a priority for many media outlet. Over the years, the media has created an artificial world that has affected people and shaped their demands.  

By the way, this problem has not just emerged, everything is extreme, either black or white, and there is no place in my mind and in my conviction, that real life and all relationships are somewhere in the middle.

Both business and media have been consistently controlled and distorted. And it should also be taken into consideration that aggressive messages make the audience even more intolerant.  

I think that the number of people who do not understand is exaggerated. Man is valuable, in Soviet times this was never spoken about, instead, the collective was appreciated. Values remain the same regardless of the time, human equality, democracy, respect for one another.

And it is good when there is a message of respect in the news media.

For example, a journalist asked me, how do you feel about the decision to ban smoking. I said it’s a good decision because I am against smoking. The next question was, how do you feel about a woman who smokes? I answered, “the way I do about a man who smokes.”

If I continued with the structure of the journalist’s message, I would say that the traditional image of the Armenian woman could not be a smoker and I am against the fact that women smoke. I am sure that this segment would be used in the report, whereas the hint of equality wasn’t interesting for the reporter at all.

While viewing the debates of the new parliament, a question arises, especially with the members of the Civil Contract Party. Trust and worship sometimes seem inseparable. Do you think that a competent team ought to have questions? Otherwise, you enter the field of admiration.  

When our colleague Kristine Poghosyan aid that she trusted Nikol Pashinyan so much that if he had written one sentence as the government’s plan that she would vote for it, she said that she trusts the Prime Minister unconditionally. But trust does not hinder criticism.

If you trust you are convinced that the specific omissions were a result of a conscientious error.

I’m surprised that people say that it is different in politics. After all, if our friends are mistaken, we let them know.

Why shouldn’t this principle work in politics?

Because a comfort zone exists, you want to tell your superiors only pleasant things, wanting them to feel good so that you can, in turn, feel good.

And why do you think people who have proved themselves from the road they have passed that they weren’t at least afraid of that road (to get out on to the streets, to endanger their freedom, professional carrers, etc.), and that they now must be converted and instantly become slaves?

I don’t want to talk about why flattering won’t work, because it would mean that I would have to praise Nikol Pashinyan, which would then be categorized as flattery.

A normal person will not accept odes made towards them.

I realized, that after a long discussion of a qustion, you eventually have to come up with an answer that does not have a rational explanation.

That is, it is important whether you believe or not, whether you trust or not. Perhaps Kristine was too genuine in what she said, which is not accepted in politics, but the question is abou who it’s not accepted by. Perhaps it’s not acceptable today, and it will be more acceptable tomorrow.

Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan

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