In an interview with Tert.am, Aghasi Yenokyan, a political analyst currently leading the public group Media Advocate, shared his concerns over the situation with freedom of press in Armenia, highlighting a strong element of bias and subjective attitude.
Mr. Yenokyan, the organization Media Advocate, which you currently lead, has been very often voicing concern over violations of freedom of speech, whereas media institutions and international organizations do not seem to follow suit. What’s even more, they even record a certain progress. How would you evaluate the situation?
We and other organizations pursue different objectives, different methodologies and have different targets. First, many organizations dealing with freedom of the press develop legislation, tackling also such issues as violence against journalists and specific issues of the kind, whereas our mission is different. We follow the developments around the media in Armenia to raise our alarm upon observing even the slightest problems. I do understand very well that Armenia presently enjoys the minimum immunity in all the spheres, including also in freedom of speech. So if one fails to rapidly react to problems, those problems may become insurmountable indeed. The press very often finds itself in the authorities’ target; therefore we feel obliged to raise our alarm upon observing even a potential danger.
Secondly, other organizations are very often responsible to those who finance them, whereas we consider that accountability to our society and journalistic community should be in the first place. We work in the daily regime, not just in the frameworks of certain reports. And this is actually why our reports and statements very often make headlines in the media.
And last but not least, many organizations dealing with freedom of press – those which were formerly part of the civil society – are now in the revolutionary team. And naturally, they are not able to observe such problems with freedom of speech on which they would normally raise alarm.
As regards the various assessments on the freedom of press, I would rather refrain from commenting upon the prime minister’s statement that the press today enjoys a higher degree of freedom than ever before. I virtually expect any evaluation by the executive authorities to be always biased; moreover, it isn’t desirable at all to make evaluations of the kind. As much as international reports are concerned, we, as a new organization, do not have a database compiled over the course of years to make our comparative analysis. On the other hand, international reports are compiled either by local experts or in consultation with them, relying on an international methodology. For these very reasons, I think, a high dosage of subjectivism is possible.
Mr. Yenokyan, the Armenian Government recently introduced the edited version of the Venice Commission’s report as an original document to our society. How do you treat the fact, and how do you think we need to overcome such problems with fresh efforts?
In general, any abridgment or rewording of reports – addressing either international meetings or statements by different countries and international organizations – poses really high risks. The Franco-Prussian War back in the 19th century – an era which by definition was far from being an information age – broke out virtually in the wake of a false telegram. We now very often eyewitness situations in which our partners try to mildly “amend” the one-sided information, which the Armenian leaders present in an attempt to raise knowledge about their meetings, and negotiations with other countries’ partners.
The reasons are clear, on the one hand, given that the dominating concerns among the functionaries in New Armenia are centered on not losing their electorate and producing an impact upon the domestic audience. In our era, though, the kind of distorted information becomes instantly available to our international partners, who are not in the least happy to know that the Armenian government spreads false information about them. I think it is now time for Armenian leaders to learn that they are also international actors – apart from just [activists] conducting a demonstration.
As regards the Venice Commission’s edited report , which was presented as an original, our group turned to international organizations and embassies in that connection, making appeals for working directly with the media without any government intervention.
We, in our turn, are ready to assist in the translation and dissemination of such reports.