Caucasus Institute Program Coordinator Nina Iskandaryan is a co-author of several media studies. In her opinion, the establishment of an advertising market is very important for the development of Armenian media now. And for that, trust in the media measurement company is a priority.
The media field seems very diverse, but also polarized and directed by political forces. In your opinion, what is the main problem?
There are several problems in the Armenian media field, which in fact stem from each other. The main thing is the underdevelopment of the advertising market (for various reasons), and consequently the shortage of non-political money.
As a result, we see a huge amount of politicized news. Of course, some media outlets obviously support this or that political force, but there are also a lot of media outlets that simply cannot raise non-political investments, and very few manage to feed on advertising flows.
Following our news, sometimes you can’t understand what is happening not only in the world but also on the street next to yours.
Now there is an extraordinary situation in the world in all respects. And it is not surprising that people find it difficult to follow the news, even if they receive it from a high-quality media outlet.
No matter how the media works now, trust in them is very shaky. People are still looking for what they want to read and hear.
I think that in such crisis situations, people try to read and listen to the news that is able to calm down, comfort, and finally give some meaning to the existence of the world, which, to be honest, in many cases becomes absolutely meaningless and unpredictable.
What is the influence of the Russian (mainly propaganda) media in Armenia?
When reprints from the Russian press appear in the Armenian media, without a critical look, just copied, it also speaks of a lack of money. If the media outlet does not have the money to pay serious and honest journalists, it has to fill the news with everything so that the materials increase and a news channel is created. Of course, they also do it with a certain “mediocrity.”
I do not have the impression that they specifically quote Russian propaganda materials, rather, those creep into the Armenian media in one way or another because of financial weakness.
In the end, after 2020, a certain level of sobriety appeared, and I think the platforms spreading an actively pro-Russian position are not very successful.
In the case of the Russian-Ukrainian war, there is an impression that the Armenian media maintains neutrality and bypasses the sharp corners well, without the passionate support of both sides, and briefly reflects on the positions of the two states.
And this is logical, because there are large Armenian communities in both Russia and Ukraine, and no one is in a hurry to spoil relations, on the contrary, they show caution.
The media field is restrained because the political discourse is restrained on that issue.
In general, now no one can make predictions. And even trying is pointless. Maybe we should just try to resist in today’s uncertain and drawn-out situation.
Authoritarian regimes also try to accustom people to the idea that violence is evil, but sometimes it is inevitable. How important is the image of the enemy (internal, external, abstract) in such systems?
Taking into account that Armenia has just seen war, I think that the image of the enemy is even more outlined now than it could have been.
In other words, I do not see that the hostile collective image of, say, Turks and Azerbaijanis is strongly emphasized in the media and social media. Of course, it exists, but it could have been much more obvious.
Instead, the agenda of peace is emphasized.
That moves the state forward, and as far as we can see, without much success from the point of view of public perception. I think society is not ready for it, especially right after the war.
Of course, the peace agenda is always good, but only if it is effective.
The Caucasus Institute had studied how the image of the enemy is expressed in the media. True, we did it ten years ago, but the results were interesting. Our observations showed that the language of hostility is not critical, and on the contrary, it is decreasing.
Even during the 2020 war, there was no language of obvious hostility. In TV reports, for example, there were quite restrained expressions, without extreme coloring.
But these days we hear such words and curses that are terrifying. For example, right now, during street protests.
The language of political enmity has always existed in Armenia.
And when we talked about it for years, no one listened to us. Research has shown that the language of political hostility is far more prevalent than even ethnic or state language.
Of course, after the revolution of 2018, the language of political hostility has increased, it is at every step, both in the street and in media discussions.
But I repeat, this is not a new phenomenon for Armenia, it has always existed. Although it has become more acute now. And I think it will get worse.
We see it in the media because journalism is not independent of politics.
But the language of hostility is the very phenomenon that is not connected with the financing of the media.
Sometimes journalists can sincerely hope that such language will attract the attention of the audience. The calculation is that it is in demand and is liked by certain layers.
Isn’t the market full of materials ready to cross the red lines?
There are many low-quality products in the media market, but the question arises: who should consume the products of quality media, how, and why? In other words, where is the reader who needs a quality media outlet?
You are now exploring the connection between advertising and the media. What important gap did you notice?
We are trying to find out how the advertising market affects the quality, independence, and freedom of the media. It is too early to talk about the results, but I can say that the situation is very different in the case of internet media and television and radio.
It is possible that the situation could have been improved if the players in the media field had cooperated more and increased the participatory initiatives.
In that case, a measuring company acceptable and reliable for the whole market might be formed.
In any case, now the results of measuring the audience in Armenia do not contribute to the development of the media market.
The radio audience is not measured at all (it is expensive, and radio companies cannot provide it on their own), and in the case of television, the measurement results are not satisfactory.
And measurements, in the end, are necessary for serious advertisers to enter the market. And vice versa, there will be no serious advertisers as long as there are no reliable measurements.
It’s the measurements that help large advertisers target their products correctly. If they do not exist and the advertisers are not convinced that their advertisement works effectively, the market itself becomes unpromising.
In Georgia, for example, radio companies were able to unite and invite a measuring company. And the media field there was also regulated due to that.
There is dissatisfaction with the work of “Admosphere Armenia,” a measuring company in Armenia. The government even decided to conduct an audit, but as far as we understood, it did not happen.
Trust is an important precondition. Measurement tools and results should be transparent, accessible, and understandable for all players on the field.
Synergy, the desire for cooperation, in the media field would help to realize that everyone really has common goals.
There was an audit in “Admosphere Armenia,” but I do not know what results it showed, they were not published. After all, that measuring company continues to work.
I can say that it is even important how that company works, it is important that the players operating on the field trust it.
And yes, the media field must cooperate (perhaps by creating an industrial committee) for a result.
Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan
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