Perspective: A news reporter looks at how Armenia defines “Public” TV

There is a good joke in Armenia: a pensioner is crying, and when she is asked what has happened, she replies, “I want to live in Haylur’s Armenia.”

It seems that the Armenian Public Television (showing ‘Haylur’ news program), as well as many TV companies in Armenia follow the former Soviet ideology: everything is fine in the country; everything is blossoming; people are happy; the economy is developing, and it is moving towards a bright future.

This is an unacceptable, yet comprehensible logic. It is also an unacceptable, yet very good working mechanism for washing and dulling brains in totalitarian countries.

However, when along with it the most primary rules of journalism are dismissed, then it is more than irritating, especially since, because it is “Public Television” people like me pay for it from our State Budget.

We pay to be deceived. Good theatre; bad “journalism”.

On Monday of this week, the amnesty of four main activists of the opposition was top news – regardless of personal or political sympathies. Top news for all press and TV that is, except my Public TV.

“Haylur” gave the amnesty event coverage 22 minutes into its 25-minute program, and even then without a reporter on the scene.

The top news on that day was President Serzh Sargsyan receiving the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates; and “news” that NA Speaker Hovik Abrahamyan left for Strasbourg to participate in the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

It was expected that at least after the official news there would be an interesting reportage about amnesty, but no, there were still ‘very important’ news left.

The information about a ‘One Nation One Culture’ council session followed the official news, later came the ‘Artsakh-Bridge’ conference news, moreover all the above-mentioned five news were broadcast without video materials. At best, the commentary of the news program anchor was accompanied with some shots.

Then came a report of a ‘No Corruption’ conference held in Karabakh, when Prosecutor General Aghvan Hovsepyan spoke at length about what ‘a terrible disease’ corruption is.

This was followed by a Russian news agency commentary on the region, followed by a conference on regional problems held in Tsaghkadzor, following by footage of protestors being beaten in Iran. (Something that did not make “news” when it happened last year in Armenia.)

Finally came a report on the matter that dominated legitimate news agency coverage.

My “Public” TV did not manage to produce video to go with its bottom-of-the broadcast coverage. An anchor just read the text saying four oppositionists that were sentenced to five-year imprisonments had been released early thanks to the government’s amnesty. Only still photos of the court building were shown.

It is a pity, yet it is not a unique case, and Haylur does not lack professionalism. Very good and professional journalists work at Haylur. But even the best journalist cannot out-work political order.

Even the most cynical critic could see that Haylur itself missed an opportunity. It could have turned news into glowing government propaganda – connecting this “Public” TV to its Soviet predecessor.

Worse, though, this “news” program chose judgment apparently aimed at dismissing the event’s significance – to ignore, not to speak, so that people forget about it.

Those of us with alternatives (i.e. internet) can dismiss Haylur for what it is – the ruling regime’s bulletin board. But for the greater number of Armenians, “Public” TV is their only source of information, and many take it to be believable.

We all pay to be deceived. Armenia is worse off because of “Haylur’s” masquerade. Worse off, because too many have no other source to “buy”.