Editorial: Media Responsibility and…Irresponsibility

By Edmond Y. Azadian

We have been under the false impression for more than 70 years that media irresponsibility is a moral ill that had afflicted the diaspora press only. But once the Iron Curtain was lifted, the floodgates opened in Armenia and the dirt flowed right into the media.

Lies, innuendos, misinformation and character assassinations abound, to the point that the notoriously low Turkish press can be put to shame.

Any dignified individual can be smeared for a price. Mafia bosses, politicians and oligarchs can buy positive media treatment, or they can destroy a competitor’s reputation for the same price. Sometimes, oligarchs come out with hush money to keep the press quiet.

Libel laws are so loose and ineffectual that anyone resorting to legal action becomes a laughing stock.

Under such constraints, the media in Armenia cannot play its proper role and promote democracy. The best it can do is produce the caricature of a democratic system.

This situation is very handy to those who have an interest in misinforming, manipulating and misguiding the public.

Recently, such an opportunity arose when the protocols were signed between Armenia and Turkey. Besides some serious and analytical articles, the media in Armenia has been flooded with virtual trash, injecting confusion into the public perception and denying the public the opportunity of a rational and objective assessment of the current political developments.

A case in point is a vicious attack on the foreign minister of Armenia, Eduard Nalbandian. Some anonymous and cowardly people have circulated a letter on the Internet, which is nothing but a character assassination of the foreign minister. He is presented as a pharaoh, who has led an opulent life in Cairo and Paris. These people forget that Armenia’s ambassador cannot loiter in the French capital as a clochard (homeless tramp). But mind you, there is nothing in that letter about the protocols, which the foreign minister signed and which one can assume the circulators of the letter oppose. By denigrating the person, they try to minimize his deeds. That letter is full of lies, innuendos and below-the-belt statements. Eduard Nalbandian is a consummate diplomat who can make any nation proud through his career.

In reviewing the sixth edition of Satow’s Diplomatic Practice in the Times Literary Supplement, British diplomat Jeremy Greenstock writes: “The influence of a small power can be enlarged, and that of a great power can be diminished, by the personal effectiveness or ineffectiveness of its diplomats.” This statement typically characterizes Nalbandian’s diplomatic feats, first as Armenia’s ambassador to Cairo, where he was able to promote Armenia throughout the hostile Islamic conference. Also, while he was stationed in Paris, Armenia’s relations with France peaked to the highest level. And it was no wonder that the French Parliament passed the Genocide Resolution during his tenure as ambassador.

Another piece of character assassination has emerged on the Internet against His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians. Of course, this last one has a double target; to discredit His Holiness, who has been supporting the government, and also to underrate his position as the head of the Armenian Church.

All this disrespect towards the Catholicos began during the post-election riots on March 1, two years ago, with Levon Ter-Petrosian, who declined to meet His Holiness at his residence and even shut the door on his face. That cowardly action was followed by a barrage of insults hurled at His Holiness in Haykakan Jamanak and Chorrord Ishkhanoutyoun papers, both published by Ter-Petrosian’s camp. This, of course, was rewarded by plaudits from the Antelias see, which has been challenging Echmiadzin’s stature for a long time.

Ter-Petrosian, himself an eloquent orator, is fond of employing hired guns to smear his opponents. Even during his term as president he had at his employ a shady character, in the name of Yeghia Najarian, who would spew dirt at Ter-Petrosian’s adversaries.

All this virtual dirt, manufactured in Armenia, has been inundating the diaspora press, where very few independent thinkers with integrity remain; the rest, the mediocre ones, feed on the substandard journalism that is generated in the opposition media in Armenia.

The opposition in Armenia is no longer Ter-Petrosian’s monopoly. The Dashnag party has thrown down the gauntlet and is fighting to discredit the government and its president.

The media is only touching the protocol issue superficially and is instead moving full steam in insults and misinformation.

When we bring our media narrative to the lowest level, by denigrating the president and the Catholicos, as compared to opposing their views, a right given to all in a democracy, we only succeed in destroying our intrinsic values and may lose something precious in the process. As time goes by, we will not be able to restore respectability and sanctity to higher causes or offices.

It is time to reassess our responsibilities regarding expectations from the media in Armenia. Our nation deserves better than this.