“Media Advocate” initiative continues the series of interviews with the press secretaries and heads of the state agencies. This time our interlocutor is Sona Martirosyan, the Press Secretary of the Minister of Labour and Social Issues.
Your biography is inspiring – an active journalistic and teaching activity. You are a press secretary at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs since February 2019. What problems and drawbacks did you notice during your journalistic activity, when dealing with the press secretaries, that you try to exclude now?
– First of all, thank you for the assessment. I am still active in journalism, but I write mainly for international media – longreads, my own materials. I generally like to work through information queries because I love research journalism, working with data, the process of combining them. The query is the most convenient way to get official information. I understand that this is not an acceptable option for our journalist colleagues, as people have a problem with efficiency, and in the case of a query, as you know, it is not possible to get immediate answers. In such cases, I try to provide as complete information as possible to our partners.
To tell the truth, I have encountered very few obstacles in my journalistic career when dealing with press secretaries. The biggest obstacle that has ever occurred is the delay of the query answer. Maybe I’m successful in my profession, but there has never been a case when I was looking for information and failed to get it. Although, I think looking and not finding is also a valuable information and can hint a lot about the material.
Today, as a press secretary, I work based on one principle: not to complicate the work of journalists. If I can answer the questions at that moment, I answer, if not, I try to do it as soon as possible, because I understand that it is not only the job of journalists, but also mine.
Is it easy to meet the demands and expectations of Armenian journalists? What are the main problems that arise a what solutions have you found? What do consider important when communicating?
– I would like to mention that many of our partners are professionals, they have a clear idea of what kind of information and from which structure they should receive. In these cases, of course, the work is very effectively carried out. There are also cases when the applicant does not have a clear idea of the scope of the ministry’s authority, for example, and asks for statistics that we do not collect or process. In these cases, I try to help our partners as much as possible so as they know whom they may apply or from which structure they can get the information they are interested in. Problems that arise are mostly incidental and are resolved very quickly. I have developed a mechanism that helps me quickly orient myself when answering calls or inquiries received from journalists. Since I started working at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, which is, in fact, a huge field, I have highlighted for myself the information that most often interests our colleagues. In these cases, in order to provide as quick answers as possible, I myself regularly make inquiries to the sectoral subdivisions or separate structures of the ministry, and receive the most up-to-date data. So, as a rule, in case of inquiries or calls, I already have fresh data ready, in order not to make our journalists wait.
What I value most in communication is the ability to maintain partnership. Since I have worked as a journalist, editor, I also have personal ties with many journalists, which, however, I do not like to mess with professional ones. Fortunately, I have to say that many of my friends know this and they never mess them, but sometimes, unfortunately, there are times when working relationships also affect personal relationships. In these cases, however, I do not regret it much, because I think it is a good hardship which the relationship either endures or not.
Would you please tell us about your working day, how many calls, interview invitations you receive, in which cases do you refuse? Is it easy to work with a female leader, are there any disagreements?
– The working day is really very tense. I get at least 10-15 calls a day from journalists, and we get an average of 50 interviews a month. There are months which are even more work loaded. For example, in May we gave 127 interviews and comments to the media. I do not remember any cases of rejection at this time, even if there were any.
I have never focused on the working process, whether my immediate supervisor a woman or a man? Working with a minister is both easy and difficult. It is difficult as the minister is very strict with others and with herself too. It is easy as we have known each other for 18 years and we have a very good perception of each other’s expectations and abilities. Discussions are regular, they take place almost every day. During them, of course, our opinions may differ, but I must say that the minister is one of the leaders who is ready to listen and accept different opinion, if it is justified. The work is very easy in this sense.
How free is the press secretary in his/her speech and actions?
– I would not like to single out the post of a press secretary. This question is right to consider from the point of view of a public servant. Of course, the public service also has some restrictions, considering the potential for conflicts of interest. However, I must say that I have never been constrained by any circumstance during the internal discussions of the Ministry.
Today, as a press secretary, of course, I am constrained in certain issues, especially when participating in discussions on social networks, but I think years later I will write a book about this period of my life 😊
What are the priority programs of the ministry’s strategy, what problems have been solved, what are the ones to be solved?
– At the moment we have several priority directions, about which I would like to mention: the first is deinstitutionalization, that is, the policy aimed at taking people out from institutions. And for the first time, when we talk about this, we mean people with disabilities as well. Years ago, one of the international organizations conducted a study on children living in care centers. At that time, as a journalist, I was reading the research and I was shocked. According to the study, 1/3 of children with disabilities in orphanages do not leave the orphanage for the rest of their lives. This picture is even more horrifying when it comes to people with disabilities, especially those with mental health problems: they just never leave the centers. This may seem like an incomprehensible emotion to many, but for us it is extremely important. We are all united by the dream of living in a country where there are no orphanages. By the way, this is not impossible at all, we have a very good example in Artsakh, where there are simply no institutions for children. Our society is a society with strong social ties, which, with proper support, can achieve this result. This is a difficult but future-oriented policy for which there is no alternative.
Our next priority is the change of mechanisms for overcoming poverty. Our research shows that existing poverty reduction mechanisms, such as the allowance system, are ineffective. There are families who have been in this system for decades. This means that the allowance does not help the citizen to overcome social difficulties, does not affect the improvement of his life quality. Our priority today is to create the preconditions for overcoming poverty through employment.
The priorities, of course, are many, but I do not want to hamper this interview with them.
What has changed in the state of freedom of speech after the changes that have taken place in the country?
-If I answer as a press secretary, I will say that journalists have become much more demanding, which, in my opinion, is very good. It also makes us act more carefully and transparently.
If I answer as a journalist, I will say that I am sure that everyone draws the line of his/her own freedom. In this regard, in my opinion, in the last 10 years in Armenia there is a situation, which according to some is freedom, according to others – permissiveness. As a journalist, I have always been constrained only by my inner convictions and professional ethics.