“People Instinctively, At The Cellular Level, Feel That The Media Is Deceiving Them”

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

A political scientist by profession, Ashot Khachatryan is sure that every sphere of our life is political. After all, politics shapes our lives, how can you not talk about it? 

“In ancient Greece, those who were not interested in politics were deprived of their citizenship and called ‘idiots.’ Thus, it is the duty of every citizen to be involved and interested in politics,” he said. 

Working at the Caucasus Center for Research Resources (CRRC), Ashot Khachatryan cites the results of a forthcoming study, which are of great concern to the media. The media is in the last place on the scale of people’s trust. 

Research in Armenia seems to remain only the state of data, despite finding its place in magazines and archives, by and large, it does not lead to public change, or at least become a subject of wide discussion. And maybe that is also the reason why we do not know our society well. 

For the last thirty years, the idea has been accepted that politics is a dirty business. That myth has worked for a long time. It seems the same now, although after 2018 there was a potential for change. 

That politics is a dirty business and one should not get involved in it is probably the most anti-democratic thought, which has been transmitted in a very clear and intelligent way, even since the Soviet years. It is still ingrained in people. 

After 2018, something broke, but since the general public was not involved in political decisions in any way, for example, in the form of discussions of professional groups, society seemed to be fragmented and transformed into separate atoms. And it became more indifferent. 

Whereas after the revolution, that should not have occurred. 

People created the revolution, and they had to continue to grow, develop, and be ready to control and improve the political field. 

I have also noticed that many young people with a modern and developed position consider that engaging in politics is “mauvais ton” or bad manners. And they proudly say that they stay out of politics. I think it is a way of not taking responsibility. 

The expression that everyone should do his job is generally used. For example, if the shoemaker does his job well and the programmer does his job, everything will be fine. 

For me, this is a very stupid idea, because this translates into the thought that the new political forces should grow automatically, and without any monitoring and participation, and that everything will be perfect on its own. It is very much like living in a bubble. 

When, after a few attempts, people are ignored, it is difficult to expect the strength to participate and monitor. 

It is important for authoritarian authorities that people do not see the inner kitchen of the decisions made in any way so that their actions cannot be influenced. Even after 2018, that system did not become democratic, as they said, the old toolbox was needed again. 

Democracy was merely mechanical. 

Yes, elections were taking place, but in a larger sense, the people were not involved in the work of different institutions, so that their voice could be heard beyond the streets. 

After all, if you demolish the old, you have to build the new. Moreover, this new system is much more complicated. 

And what took place with the media system? 

We will publish a new survey of the Caucasus Barometer soon, which shows that the information field has the lowest confidence index. 

That is, among all state structures, NGOs and institutions, people trust the media the least. And this is really an unprecedented result. This research has been conducted for 20 years, and this is the first case of having such a low rating. 

And it is obvious why it is so. Even if people are not media literate and are willing to constantly distribute various manipulative materials without going deep into the content and mastering the tools of inspection, they still understand that they are being deceived. 

I would even say that they feel it instinctively, at the cellular level. 

And if a person catches the lie of the media once, they immediately lose faith and continue to follow that media with reservations. 

It’s as though the worm of doubt has awakened and you can no longer speak of trust. 

In any case, the research fully reflects this situation in great detail. 

When we talk about the media, the question always arises: to monitor or not to monitor? 

The journalistic community, for example, had concerns (and was very objective) that if the state suddenly took control of the sector, restraint tools would be created that could be used in the future by even more rigid authorities. 

But on the other hand, professional journalists understand that what is happening today in the media field is not normal and there should be legal and legislative control. That the media be accountable and transparent, that the real owners of the media, financial flows, etc. be known. 

After all, consumers will understand whose interests the media that they are reading is defending and whether what they read is on mushroom websites or not. 

The media is a serious tool and has a great impact on people. And it is natural that people themselves want to control the work of the media. 

By regulation, we usually mean punishment or fines. Can the state take any steps of support or encouragement? 

And how can we expect the authorities to ensure real transparency, if, as far as we can see, they have started to do the same thing in their wing? 

In other words, they produce poor-quality news platforms with dubious content. And why should they be interested in regulating the media field? 

The impression is that the same toolbox is also being used in the media field. 

Perhaps there are such attempts. 

Real mechanisms are needed so that the media outlet does not have the right to be non-transparent, like any tax-paying organization. 

And promoting quality media products, maybe even supporting them with money, has a more cultural meaning. But I want to look at the issue from the opposite side, from that of the consumer. 

Websites whose inflows and outflows are incomprehensible and whose published materials are dangerous to public health should be regulated. For example, when the article on treating cancer with soda has hundreds of thousands of views, it contains an obvious danger and should appear in the legal field. 

And, of course, a lot depends on the judicial system. 

It is an important precondition that the legal structure that deals with the media itself be trusted by the media so that there are no accusations of the restriction of free speech. 

I do not think that there are such organizations, people, or commissions that inspire trust. 

But we see that society suffers seriously from such work of the media. Mankind has created such a serious tool, but it inspires extremely low trust. It is really very painful. 

Ashot Khachatryan 

You can count the number of quality media on your fingers, and I myself constantly spread their materials on social media, emphasizing what a good job they do. 

But excuse me, they often do ordinary investigations, not extraordinary and divine work. That, in fact, should not be considered good, but satisfactory work. But I have to spread them because there are no other examples. 

I do not want to offend the media, taking into consideration today’s conditions, many people really work extraordinarily and even brilliantly, but that is not a normal situation. 

Isn’t the market full of swear words and polarized content? 

I think, especially after the war, people were very disappointed with all kinds of media. 

But the media field is definitely responsible for today’s atmosphere of distrust. 

It is natural that different oligarchs have their own media resources, especially since it is difficult to find money, for example, through crowdfunding or subscription. 

But even if the media outlet serves the interests of an oligarch, it must at least ensure a certain quality and be transparent, stating who the shareholders are, what cash flows there are, and what the editorial policy is. 

Will the law criminalizing public insult and slander be able to correct the media field? 

If we forget for a moment the purely mechanical role of that law (lawsuits, fines, etc.), we will accept that it is a real political impetus. 

It is a tool (say, a hammer), which even if is not used now, one cannot rule out that it may be used by the future authorities and much more cruelly. 

The fact that there is such a law is already like a hammer. I think it is dangerous. 

And then, people should always be able to curse at the authorities. 

Naturally, you should be held accountable for baseless accusations without swearing. But even in the most democratic country, an ordinary person has the right to swear at officials, for example, on their social media page, because, in the end, people who wear suits and sit in power also take on the burden of being sworn at. 

But I am sure that swearing is not a very accepted form of expression in our society (maybe it has increased now). We are not as aggressive as we think. 

I remember that in 2018-19, a huge campaign was launched by the former authorities and a lot of money was invested to create various Facebook pages and mushroom websites, which were spreading obvious lies and swearing. It had really reached a large scale. 

But the way to fight against it is not through the law criminalizing swearing, but by regulating the media field, forcing the media resources to be transparent by registering and passing to the tax field. 

Social media is full of swear words. Moreover, it is the journalists who are at the forefront. 

Social networks and media are almost the same things for Armenian society. People do not go directly to websites or receive notifications via email to read the news. 

Almost all the information, even the journalistic material, is viewed only on social networks, without differentiation. 

And if a journalist writes garbage in their media, we see almost the same thing on their page. The way many journalists ask questions and the vocabulary does not indicate professionalism. 

Even the structure of the questions is aimed not at learning something, but at expressing the question as a position. 

Often in interviews, the journalist emphasizes their question, not the answer. They do not want to receive information, but only to voice their question. It is very problematic for me. 

It seems that the journalist was given a task not to cover reality, but to show what is needed. And they are even ready to take certain steps to get their desired reality. 

To provoke? 

Or simply to invent something, because that’s the agenda of their media outlet. They invent, ask questions and thus get the reality they want. 

The journalist’s question becomes the headline. And without fail it includes a question mark. 

These days there are constant demonstrations and uncertainty, which are good grounds for manipulation, even with the numbers of protesters. In one picture there are thousands of people, in the other, there are almost no people. 

It is an axiom that political forces, especially authoritarian ones, simply live by creating uncertainty and growing on the basis of uncertainty. 

Fact-checking organizations publish data on the number of participants in rallies, and this, of course, provides clarity. But apart from the fact that the different sides are a bit manipulative, they are no longer adequate. 

Those on the street are in euphoria, and in that situation, you always want to believe that there are millions of people like you and now you will achieve your goal. 

Even if you think sensibly, you will still manage to convince yourself that it is so, and you will want to convince others (I say this from personal experience, it really is like that). 

On the other hand, there is a fear among the authorities that this movement will expand, and that is why they are now mocking and deliberately reducing the number of participants. 

I think in both cases the driving force is fear. 

Now people have to either sew shoes (figuratively speaking) or take the flag and go to the street. Are we breeding a hysterical citizen? 

It is difficult to say which is worse, the citizen who is completely indifferent or does not understand the political realities, does not reconcile and shows some activity. Of course, there is a layer that is in the middle and balances the situation. 

The question remains the same, democratic institutions have failed in our country, and so far, the means of changing power remains taking to the streets. 

Is it possible to expect that there will be serious debates? 

Forget about it. Mature political debate is the result of serious culture. 

Following the French elections, one can see the clear directions of all the forces, which have a large field of mechanisms for debating and resolving issues. 

We did not need a political debate. The only call was to remove the authorities. 

And when there is no real choice, of course, there is no ideological struggle. In its turn, society did not feel the need for it. 

And in many cases, today’s opposition and the authorities are so close to each other ideologically that the only difference is the vocabulary they have chosen. 

And if one day we put both of them side by side and force them to debate without stereotypical words (jerk, traitor, robber, etc.), it is not ruled out that they will become ideologues on all issues. 

The political forces have depoliticized everything, and have chosen the sharpest rhetoric, and in the same way, society is already beginning to express itself. 

Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan 

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