“Armenian Media Can Be Called A Champion Of Cynicism”

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

Media manager Nikolay Petrosyan works and lives in Moscow. He is the media director of the Russian platforms Cybersport.ru and RuHub, teaches media management and is the admin of the Telegram channel “Armenian Pragmatic,” which, in his words, is an attempt to stimulate critical thinking.

He ties the collapse and manipulation of the Armenian media field with the not yet established and independent business environment and the dysfunctional judicial system.

Courts and advertising are the pillars on which one cannot only create a more or less healthy media field but also protect oneself from the attacks of that field.

Looking at the news coming from Armenia and the topics being discussed, what is your impression? Isn’t it scary?

What is frightening is the irresponsibility of the people who create and disseminate information in the Armenian media field. And they do not necessarily have to only be the media and journalists, but also various experts, politicians, speakers, etc.

The impression is that they don’t bear not only legal but also psychological and ethical responsibility for the content they have created and disseminated. And it creates a certain mood in Armenia and the Diaspora.

Manipulative news creates an image that, for example, many people leave Armenia and thus weaken the republic. That people who want to repatriate, in reading and analyzing the news, change their opinion and plans, not wanting to tie their lives with a country where it is very bad. And that is worrying.

A person who seriously wants to live or invest in Armenia, naturally, will assess the prospects, gathering information first of all from the media.

And based on the Armenian news, will they form a positive opinion about Armenia as a country that they can tie their lives with?

Now the best-selling product in the Armenian information market is danger and alarm. Especially after the war, people seem to be waiting for alarming news. And they consume that first of all.

Unfortunately, that seems to be the case. It seems to me that our Armenians are developing a certain syndrome, that we have suffered a painful defeat, we also do not want to get out of the period of psychological feelings and ask ourselves, well, what will be the next step? How do we intend to live, mold, create?

After all, we owe the homeland to the young people who have died.

But it seems that we are doing the opposite: we are starting to enjoy information masochism.

And it is natural that there are media outlets that exploit it well. Especially the so-called opposition media tries to present any event or phenomenon, political, military, even climatic or domestic, to the audience as if it is the fault or omission of the current authorities.

For example, I recently read an article on news.am that a teenager in Singapore died from vaccination. The site refers to an unknown and unreliable source, where there is not even a fact that the teenager died from the vaccine.

But since there is a public fear of vaccines, the site decides to use it.

In my impression, our so-called opposition is guided by the slogan “The worse, the better.” And this is in the case when only 7% of the population in Armenia is vaccinated, and the deaths are several dozen a day.

This situation is favorable for many media platforms because it can be said that the authorities are not able to fight against the epidemic.

Such materials are small links in a large chain. News that causes fear and anxiety has two purposes.

Firstly, to get traffic and gain a new audience, and then to create the impression that the current authorities are generally powerless.

It is true that the authorities should be criticized on many issues, but the creation of such a hopeless psychological atmosphere does not lead to a good result.

There is a huge Armenian Diaspora in Russia, the potential of which we do not seem to take into account.

Unfortunately, the Diaspora is very fragmented. And Russia is a country that very aggressively assimilates any national minority, including Armenians. Moreover, we as a nation also have a common character trait, which can be described as a desire to appear more Catholic than the Pope.

And sometimes we want to be more Russian than the Russians. And it accelerates the assimilation.

Of course, the Diaspora is not a homogeneous body, there are different groups that operate either for the benefit of Russia, or for their own business, or for Armenia. And those interests do not have to coincide.

But I have the impression that a large part of the Diaspora just wants to return to normal life and every time they read the alarming news coming from Armenia, they try to filter the information and often do not pay attention to it.

The reasons are different. On the one hand, immunity to manipulative news has been formed, and on the other hand, people are just tired and the daily worries of those around them are more understandable to them.

In other words, people are trying to create a certain barrier blocking the information coming from Armenia.

Naturally, there is also an active part, which, roughly speaking, lives in Yerevan time, reads everything and tries to distinguish right from wrong.

And it is very sad for that segment that nothing is changing in the media field of Armenia. That we are witnessing a real media terror (it is true that Pashinyan used that word first, but what is happening is really a media terror, let’s call things by their names). And that causes serious concern.

Creating my Telegram channel is also an attempt to form a critical mindset. I wanted us to be able to react more calmly and soberly to various unsubstantiated rumors. We certainly need to maintain information hygiene.

It is no secret that it is difficult to consider the Russian media free.

And being in Russia, we understand very well how to create a media field in the incomparably more democratic atmosphere of Armenia, which would be free and would support national and state goals.

Many media outlets have positioned themselves as opposition (which sounds rather absurd) and give accusations of having their freedom of speech restricted, being suppressed or shut up, and so on. What will help to get out of this vicious circle?

Let’s start with the fact that freedom of speech is one of the greatest achievements, but it ends where criminal responsibility begins.

For example, it is difficult to find a freer media field than in England, but the English media (not to say yellow, but low quality) are constantly in court because they spread unverified or deliberately false information. And people are defending their reputation, which is shaken by the media, in the courts.

That very process is broken in Armenia.

It is not enough that the Armenian media do not feel ethical or moral responsibility, they also know that they will not be responsible by law either.

The judicial system in Armenia does not work in such a way that every person or organization can go to court and find justice by presenting that fake or unverified media materials have had a negative impact on their person, party or business.

Freedom of speech is still regulated by law. And the opposition media, announcing that they suppress the freedom of speech, in fact, is participating in dirty manipulation. Moreover, it is very cynical behavior.

In general, Armenian media can be called a champion of cynicism. And distribute medals. Indeed, these manipulations are done in a disgraceful way.

But I am sure that a free and reliable media field will be formed sooner or later.

After all, media is an economy, a business that has its own rules, management and so on.

What must happen for the media to become independent and not be attached to a political force?

Like any business, the media business has one goal: to make a profit. One creates political content, the other – sports or entertainment, and so on. Thus they gather an audience and sell it to the advertiser.

For the media to be neutral, it must have a source of income.

If it is funded by a philanthropist, party or grant program, the media will still not be free and neutral.

Of course, one can imagine that a rich benefactor gives money and says, gather a professional editorial office and write only the truth. But sooner or later there will come a time when even if there is no external censorship, there will definitely be internal, automatically working censorship. For example, when it comes to unwanted information about that benefactor or their family.

This type of internal censorship is very apparent in the Russian media.

When, for example, the rich Alexander Mamut was the owner of Rambler, no one on that platform could conduct a journalistic investigation to find out why the bank, of which Mamut was also a major shareholder, went bankrupt. Any Rambler journalist understood that they would bite the hand that feeds them.

Of course, there are neutral media platforms in Armenia, but their source of funding is not advertising, but grants or something else. And this means that there is always a risk that at some point they may lose their neutrality.

And if the media is a real business and can sell its advertising slots, it will also have a small but stable income, pay salaries, taxes, send journalists on business trips, and so on.

And most importantly, no one can tell that media, do not write this, and write this.

That would be a perfect model.

It is difficult to expect that the media will give up their political money. It is more stable and easier than finding a place in the advertising market.

Armenia’s advertising market is still so small that it is impossible to create a media that works at least without losses. Even if it seems possible at the initial stage, it is very likely that after some time the media, in order not to close, will turn to either benefactors or NGOs to be able to close the holes in its budget.

But it is a matter of time. Armenia has quite good economic prospects, as evidenced by the assessments of international organizations.

And along with the expansion of the economy, the advertising market will also expand.

As a result, media platforms will be created that will benefit from being neutral, as the advertiser will no longer want their product, brand or service to be associated with media that has a reputation for spreading fake content.

I have also been the PR director of Adidas and I have never allowed messages about our products and innovations to be published in media that have a bad reputation.

In other words, the media market is regulated not only by the efforts of the media but also by the efforts of advertisers.

Let’s arm ourselves with patience and wait for a real business field to be formed in an advertising market, which will lead to the regulation of the media business.

The genre of trolling, feuilleton and mockery is also quite popular in the media market. It seems that we use mockery to talk about important things. What does this say about us?

There is probably a complex in us to be very serious about ourselves. Every Armenian takes himself very seriously and heavily. And very few are able to joke about themselves, that is, to be able to make fun of themselves.

For example, the British are able to mock themselves fantastically, but in a way that shows that they are in fact one of the masters of the world, as a nation, as an individual, a figure or a businessman.

We have little positive humor. Maybe that’s why we love malicious trolling, which can also reach unacceptable levels when we do not take into account the right to privacy of people and their families.

After all, one can have any political views, but not mix the personal with the public. And it is unfortunate that a huge number of cynical lies are being spread, for example, about the Prime Minister’s family or the so-called opposition figures.

And it turns out that the political debate is transformed into some kind of street and cheap tug of war (one’s wife did this, the other’s son said this, the daughter-in-law went here, the son-in-law went there, etc.).

In the end, will we form a political culture or will we stay at that street level?

Ordinary users, who may not be very educated and knowledgeable, can afford to read the yellow press and imitate its style, but in my opinion, the press should create standards.

For example, saying that although the number of visitors and the traffic is important for us, let’s come to an agreement and draw red lines which we will never cross under any circumstances. That is, there is a need for a corporate agreement.

It is clear that all media platforms have different interests, but they can agree that some topics will not be manipulated, no matter what.

For example, let them (and everyone) agree that Artsakh can never be a part of Azerbaijan, and no matter what they write and the alarming news they spread, they will stop working for the enemy’s propaganda machine.

I am sure there must be agreements in all cases.

Whoever we are, let us remember that first of all we are from Armenia and our steps, publications and materials must be derived from that idea. It is not difficult to do that, but the result will be positive.

Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan

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