All the News That’s Fit to Propagandize: “Neutral” newspaper fires editor for balanced coverage

Ohanyan says Babajanyan's deed is as unjust as what's happened to him.
Armine Ohanyan, senior editor of “Zhamanak Yerevan” (Times of Yerevan) daily has been sacked from the position for posting information that was balanced but not always sympathetic to Levon Ter-Petrosyan and his supporters.

Arman Babajanyan, owner of the newspaper and its editor-in-chief has made the decision from prison, where he has been sentenced to three years on charges relating to falsifying military records. Rights activists insist the true reason for his imprisonment has been the oppositional stand of his newspaper (see 2007 Review: Instances of abuse continue).

Reached by telephone by ArmeniaNow, Babajanyan said the firing of his editor is not a matter he wished to discuss on the phone. His defender Zaruhi Postanjyan says Babajanyan has informed her he sacked Ohanyan for publishing critical materials on Ter-Petrosyan and that he (Babajanyan) is not willing to voice any criticism about Ter-Petrosyan in the two months of the pre-election campaign in his newspaper.

Zhamanak Yerevan is one of the five newspapers supporting Levon Ter-Petrosyan. The newnspaper under Armine Ohanyan also led an obvious agitation for Ter-Petrosyan, but unlike the four others sometimes afforded itself some criticism about the first president and covered some of the authorities’ performance in neutral terms. (Zhamanak Yerevan is published since May 2006 and claims a distribution of about 2,500.)

Staff members of the newspaper say a letter by Babajanyan was read at a meeting he called on January 5th, informing the staff of his decision. He also announced that the newspaper was to not be neutral or balanced (though he did not cite coverage of Ter-Petrosyan specifically). Journalists who agreed to work at Zhamanak Yerevan, the editor said, were aware of the newspaper’s political bias.

Ohanyan received an Email on December 26th from Babajanyan’s mother, who lives in the US, who told Ohanyan that a representative of Ter-Petrosyan’s headquarters would be visiting the newsroom to approve materials before publication.

Aydin Morikyan, a member of Ter-Petrosyan’s campaign headquarters group, was assigned as a senior editor at the paper last week.

Ohanyan compares Babajanyan’s actions – the censorship and her sacking for publishing a relatively free/independent/ newspaper to what the authorities do against Babajanyan.

“What is the difference between these authorities and Arman Babajanyan?” says Ohanyan. “You have been persecuted and you have been a victim of injustice, but you make another person a vicitim of injustice yourself. It’s just a matter of means. The state has much larger means to force and coerce, Babajanyan’s are minor, within the limits of his newspaper, but he does it the same way and with the same methods.”

Ohanyan, a journalist with 20 years of experience has worked in Haykakan Zhamanak, (Armenian Times) and was press secretary of the Appeals Court having been fired from the position for publishing a material criticizing Arman Babajanyan’s arrest. Ohanyan has been contributing to Zhamanak Yerevan since it was founded in May 2006 and has been its senior editor since Februry 2007. Since taking over, the newspaper has grown from about 300 to its current distribution.

“Armine came and saved the newspaper in very hard times,” lawyer Postanjyan says.

Ohanyan says some political circles have expressed discontent with the newspapaer but Babajanyan has questioned her about published material only once.

“The editor-in-chief has not expressed any discontent within the 11 months [since Ohanyan has been a senior editor]. He has just once asked slightly about why an advertisement of the Republican Party has been published. Money was transfered and it was published as an advertisement. I said what are the grounds to refuse – the newspaper is also a business, there are thousands of expenses, the more advertisement the better. Beginning December the Babajanyan family began to impose pressure on me – his mother, brother, sister and different people in Armenia, would call me and ask why this or that article has been published, why there has been criticism about this or that person, why articles by this or that person are published.”

The largest discontent was caused by Eduard Antinyan’s article “Condemn Not to Be Condemned” (http://www.zhamanak.com/article/7720/), where the author criticizes the Ter-Petrosyan team charging that they question patriotism of those who do not side with them. “Kocharyan’s listening to jazz music immediately after the April 12th events and Ter-Petrosyan’s total silence are of the same moral value,” the article said.

“If 15-20 articles can be published in support of Ter-Petrosyan, one neutral about Artur Baghdasaryan, Vazgen Manukyan can also be published,” says Ohanyan. “Of course, I could publish an interview with Artur Baghdasaryan and add beneath (something slanderous), but the person is in a political struggle, why should I blacken him?” says Ohanyan hinting on the bad language against Baghdasaryan used in Haykakan Zhamanak for the latter’s refusal to join Ter-Petrosyan. (Haykakan Zhamanak, whose editor appears with Ter-Petrosyan at campaign rallies, indirectly categorized Baghdasaryan as “an adulterer”.)

Ohanyan supports Ter-Petrosyan, she has expressed her attitude in editorials, but is against having other journalists do the same: “What right do I have to force a journalist to think the way I do, especially a non-staff one (such as Antinyan)?

“The television praises the authorities and curses the opposition. Doing the opposite – praise the opposition and curse the authorities – is the most unacceptable thing for me, it means killing the newspaper. After all, the worst thing I see in the information field is that every media has some uncriticizable circle who is forgiven whatever it does and vice versa, there are targets that have to be ciritized alone.”

Elmira Martirosyan, legal issues reporter at the newspaper says as an editor Ohanyan has not limited her (Martirosyan’s) freedom.

“One can say there are no independent media in Armenia,” says Martirosyan, who has worked in both pro-government and oppositonal media. “A journalist, who wants to give unbiased information can’t find his place. If he goes to a pro-government medium he is forced to write what he does not think; if he goes to the oppositional they force him to write only the opposite of what the pro-government one has written. Unfortunately, mainly because of the lack of a workplace, they go against ethics and keep silent about what is going on in the media with a fear of losing their job.”