The news site Factor.am quickly entered the Armenian media field, becoming one of the live broadcasters of the velvet marches and public uprising of 2018. In a changing environment, FactorTV was in demand.
Then came a more complicated period. It had to be established as a complete media outlet with its own image and products. And to not get lost in the information noise. In other words, to pass seamlessly from the emergency regime to everyday life.
Although the head of FactorTV Arevik Sahakyan says that the state of emergency has not ended in any way and continues to demand great efforts from journalists, the rules of the media field have changed now. And the decline of trust in both the media and the official messages is obvious. Often both together.
According to Arevik Sahakyan, now the journalistic field in Armenia is so vulnerable that despite the disagreements, unity is a vital demand.
FactorTV is able to compete with the old, big and rich media, even surface broadcasters, in terms of views and content. How was the journey? After all, the field is oversaturated with information platforms.
FactorTV was originally intended as a platform for combining and broadcasting media products produced by various NGOs and active members of civil society.
With such a vision, I was offered to create and manage the website. But it turned out that this option did not work, and we became a completely different media. In 2017, we entered the field of investigations, which received a great response.
For example, about officials that haven’t served and their sons, the mining sector, public procurement, etc.
The media field republished those materials, and new materials were created based on them. And already seven months later we had 1.6 million monthly views on YouTube, which was a really impressive result.
But, of course, the revolution helped you to become recognizable.
Before that we were already quite recognizable, but, of course, in the days of the revolution, after our work, there was a sharp increase, both in terms of views and reliability.
Now guests and commentators are more important for the media. In general, it seems that the video interview genre has a bigger place than analysis or reportage.
To be honest, until recently I resisted it. FactorTV is one of the most video-producing media outlets online.
And this is a much more costly and time-consuming job than inviting a speaker or a politician to the studio and “filling” the air with interviews.
I think it is more permanent and correct to put emphasis on a deep and comprehensive, balanced information product. But in the end, we also gave in to that trend and increased the number of interviews.
Isn’t there a prevailing impression that in today’s unstable situation, journalists really only have to be mediators of opinions? The audience has gotten used to the fact that journalists are of a rather inferior condition.
In general, after the revolution, I noticed a tendency to put down the importance of journalists and the media.
At first, the government representatives tried to get their message across through live broadcasts or Facebook live. And recently even the format of the press conference is changing, now they demand that we write questions and send them ahead of time.
In other words, the format of the question and answer disappears and the journalist does not have the opportunity to contradict, make any additions or comments.
And it will be very bad if this tendency deepens.
Today the journalist is doing a titanic job to be able to combine several opinions in one report. Moreover, differing opinions. And it is not about artificial balancing, but about really valuable opinions.
When FactorTV was created, it never crossed my mind that we would work in a time of such upheavals and shocks. In the days of the revolution, only a few media outlets covered the events around the clock, and we were one of them.
In other words, we provided the live broadcast without sleeping for days. And we thought that after that stage we would be able to breathe calmly, create new programs. But that opportunity never came.
The post-revolutionary developments, the snap elections, COVID, the war, the post-war situation, the snap elections again constantly create an emergency work regime.
Moreover, it has become a way of life, but even that is not difficult. The difficult thing is the environment.
I do not remember a time when the working environment was so difficult for a journalist. It seems that every day you have to prove to different circles your right to provide impartial information.
And to fight for that right as well. Understand, it is not about pressures, but about the environment.
When we make a video pointing out problems on any topic, a real torrent of accusations and curses begins.
Moreover, one day on one side, the next day on the other, depending on the topic. Our journalists are often upset by this situation, but I tell them that if different parties are dissatisfied, then we are doing our jobs well. But, of course, the situation is very sensitive.
Fortunately, most of our viewers and followers feel that we are honest with them. And as strange as it may seem, among the social network discussions and fake fuss, the audience can sense that very well. And it knows which news to trust.
How important is financial transparency to you? Will the reduction of political money clear the media field?
Of course, ensuring financial transparency is very important, but, to be honest, I am not optimistic in this issue, I am realistic.
I do not believe that political money will completely leave the media field. It did not succeed even in countries with much more developed democracies than us.
But if the obvious propaganda is eased to some extent, that would already be good.
Does FactorTV have taboos?
On our air, you can see representatives of various faces and all layers with a certain influence. But there is an exception: there can be no people on our air who swear on the air and utter hate speech.
FactorTV is the first Armenian media outlet to launch a campaign against hate speech.
We remove comments that include hate speech from our platforms (after a warning message) and even block some users.
Eventually, if we do not do so, we will inadvertently become a platform for spreading hate speech.
Of course, it requires resources, because there are days when we moderate up to two thousand comments on Facebook. We understand that this way the viewership may decrease and the audience may decrease, but it is a conscious risk.
And what should you do if the main newsmaker politicians speak with swears and calls filled with hate?
During this last election campaign, we all saw the style and vocabulary of the political camps.
We did not broadcast and circulate such non-broadcastable words, and in case of publication we bleeped them out. Although, of course, it is a contradictory decision. After all, society should know who it is electing.
Serving the public interest is also to inform the voter what kind of vocabulary a given person affords themselves.
But in any case, we do not broadcast the swear word live, in trying to keep it to a minimum.
But in reality, we all live in an environment of swearing, even in our minds we swear.
I do not think that we are a swearing nation. Having worked in the media for twenty years, I have never noticed such a vocabulary and also such a pronounced contemptuous attitude towards journalists.
And it is unfortunate that the media field today is even more polarized than the political field. Professional solidarity seems to have disappeared.
It was very puzzling for me when, for example, a deputy in the National Assembly made a very bad statement to a journalist, and the other journalists tolerated it. In other words, it was considered normal and had no consequences.
Meanwhile, during the next briefing, when this deputy spoke, it was possible to leave the hall at the same time and demonstratively with all the journalists.
I even made such an offer, but I was told that many journalists would never do that. And it is very sad.
I think that journalists should sometimes try to warn the officials with their united behavior. In the past, by the way, we have had manifestations of such solidarity.
Probably many journalists know that they have to extort a sensation. Let them get angry and irritated so that when things get out of hand, words are said that are not worth saying, it will result in material that will bring high viewership.
But I’m sorry, views can be gained without scandal and swearing. And let what I said not be seen as self-promotion, but that’s how we work. And we do not bring every yellow substance to our air.
No matter what we say now, quality journalism is in demand.
But when a journalist does a great and important job, discovers a serious problem and prepares quality material, it seems that they must always be ready that they will be judged from different sides.
For example, in social networks such trolling can start and such pressures can be exerted that journalists are simply psychologically exhausted.
I am sure that many journalists now really need inspiration, motivation and appreciation from the audience. After all, a journalist in Armenia is paid little, constantly working in conditions of various dangers. And in addition, is stoned.
But, of course, we are talking about journalists who maintain a high standard.
And what bothers you the most today as the head of a media outlet?
The tense environment is compounded by the incomprehensible work of our departments.
The media outlet is often targeted and hit because of the poor performance of the agency’s news service.
For example, on the official page of social media, a message of the department may appear, which is published by the media outlet, either in the same way or with some addition.
And it often happens that those official texts are deleted, edited or have a logically opposite meaning.
There was a specific case: during the war, we published a message, but at the end of the day we received a message that we had spread inaccurate information and in general, we are a “sold” media outlet, because the mentioned department did not report such a thing. We entered the page of that department and saw that the message had been removed and a completely different text had been published.
Moreover, the first message had already been spread by all the indiscriminate media (also with screenshots). And as a result, the media was made out to look like it worked poorly.
Couldn’t it be more sensible to work with the media field, at least by sending the corrected new text and asking the outlets to distribute it?
When the reliability of official information is not guaranteed, journalists ask themselves: What do we do?
Even recently, in the conditions of stony silence of the responsible department, our journalist contacted the mayor about an urgent issue and recorded what he said. Then, for some reason, the mayor decided to back off from his words, giving an interview to another media outlet and boasting that our journalists are dishonest.
In other words, the official can easily say that he did not say such a thing, while there is a published recording. And our partner media outlet publishes that interview, without mentioning that the official said something else yesterday.
Anyway, I am convinced that now, when the field of journalism is in a very vulnerable state, we, regardless of the degree of disagreement, must maintain professional solidarity.
Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan