Media Landscapes

Armenia

Written by Anais Melikyan

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Armenia is a Caucasus country with 3.2 million residents. Its neighbours are Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran. The borders with Iran and Georgia are open. In recent years, as well as in the present, efforts have been made to improve the relationships with Turkey and Azerbaijan. The Armenian media is covering these events closely. 
The Armenian media landscape was quite simple in the recent past: two national channels broadcast for a few hours a day. In 1995 private TV channels began their operations; since then the number of different media outlets has risen.

According to the Armenian State Registry there are 747 newspapers and 328 magazines currently publishing. Unfortunately, no completely independent newspaper exists. All are either pro-government or in opposition to the government (and sponsored by a political party).

Due to a lack of financial independence, newspapers continue to be controlled by political parties or wealthy individuals. Newspaper coverage typically reflects funder’s expectations. “Ordered articles,” also called indirect advertising, as well as strong criticism for the opposition, are clearly noticeable in Armenian print media. This has a negative impact on domestic journalism and is one of the main reasons why Armenians don’t concentrate on print media. Many Armenians find newspapers arrogant, aggressive and out of touch.

Progress has been made among some newspapers, although the majority remain closely linked to the political elite. After the 2008 presidential election, opposition protests began in Yerevan’s Freedom Square. Protests reached a climax on 1 March when demonstrators were violently dispersed by police and military forces. A 20-day state of emergency was declared, during which tight control was imposed on those media considered “publications not controlled by the government.” Almost all newspapers in Armenia suspended publication during that time. Most other media outlets followed the stipulations of the state of emergency, broadcasting or printing only official news

The main popular daily newspapers include: Aravot (Morning), Haykakan zhamanak (Armenian Times), Hayastani Hanrapetutyun (Republic of Armenia), and Azg (Nation). Popular daily periodicals published in Russian are: Golos Armenii (Voice of Armenia), Novoe vremya (New Times) and Respublika Armenia (Republic of Armenia). Some are also available in English (Noyan Tapan, a weekly, and some European and American newspapers and magazines).

A daily paper named Hayastani Hanrapetutyun is the government’s official newspaper. Aravot represents the opposition; its articles are rather “polite” compared to other opposition party newspapers, like Zhamanak (Times) or Chorrord ishghanutyun (Forth authority), in which directed sarcasm and criticism seem to have no limits. The average daily circulation for most newspapers is between 1,500 and 3,000 copies.

There is one public radio channel (Public Radio of Armenia) broadcasting nationally. Dozens of private radio stations (Radio Ardzaganq, Radio Jazz, Radio Avrora, Radio Van, Nor (New) Radio, Radio Hay, City FM, Avtoradio, etc.) cover only the central region, or specific localised regions.

Radio is a popular form of entertainment in Armenia. It has the least politicised atmosphere. Most stations broadcast a wide range of music: traditional (Radio Hay FM 104.1 MHz), European, American and Russian pop music (Radio Van FM 103.0 MHz, Radio Ardzaganq FM 103.5 MHz, Radio Avrora FM 100.6 MHz, etc.), classical (Vem Radio FM 101.6 MHz). There is one station in French, (FM-102.4 French programme) which provides news, analysis, music, and also broadcasts some programmes in Russian and German.

Generally, news and information are provided daily in Armenian and Russian, but not in English. The Azatutyun (Freedom) radio channel broadcasts news and analysis three times a day using the Radio Yerevan FM 102.0 MHz station; it is highly rated.

Television was and still is the most popular mass media in Armenia. It is viewed by 85 to 90 percent of the population and considered to be a primary source of news. Ten years ago TV programming was rife with pirated films, low quality programmes and lack of professionalism. Although much improvement is noticeable, more still needs to be done.

There are dozens of TV stations registered in Armenia. Nearly 30 cover the capital Yerevan; between three and eight local TV stations cover each of the other regions. Oft-viewed public television channels include National 1 (H1) and Ararat; private TV channels include Shant, Armenia, AR, Yerkir Media, Hayrenik, H2 and Dar21. There are four Russian channels, two of which (ORT and RTR) have full retransmission across the larger territory of Armenia. The other two are Kultura and Mir. CNN and Euronews are the only foreign broadcasters covering Yerevan.
CNN airs completely in English, whereas Euronews is in Russian.  Armnews is shown a few times a day in Armenian language using the Euronews transmitter.  Ararat and the Russian-language Kultura are about culture. AR TV, Shoghakat and Yerkir Media have very good documentary films while H1 and Shant are appreciated for their news coverage. Hayrenik’s programmes are specifically for children.

Cable TV appeared in 1995 and almost disappeared with the launch of various terrestrial broadcasters. There are very few cable broadcasters, but Eurocable and Interactive TV are among them.  Satellite is widely spread in Yerevan. Russian’s HTB (NTV) is the most preferable package. Three Armenian satellite channels —H1, Shant and Armenia — have coverage in Europe and/or the US.  Recently, Shant has gained popularity among the Armenian diaspora. 
As in the case of print media, TV has a lack of economic independence; station owners are influenced politically and/or economically. In most cases a political party sponsors a TV company, which then usually works for the benefit of that party. There are few truly independent broadcasters. 

Regulation of broadcast media remains highly politicised because of the government agents serving on the National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR). On 1 April, 2002, NCTR decided that A1+, one of the country’s most popular private channels, would lose its license because of its critical reports. This gave rise to poorer quality television for the Armenian audience. The incident also damaged the country’s reputation regarding freedom of speech.

The owners of A1+ appealed the decision on all three levels of the judicial system of Armenia, which reaffirmed the decision of the NCTR. Since then several applications have been rejected. In June, 2008, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, found that the NCTR’s repeated denials without explanation violated the European Convention of Human Rights. According to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2009, the government responded by accepting an amendment to the Law on Radio and Television that effectively froze television licensing until 2010. A1+ is now an Internet-based news agency.

The Annual Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival (GAIFF) is undoubtedly the most popular event in Armenia. It was established in 2004 and has ever since gained international attention. The Festival shows many films representing various nations, ethnicities and religions.

The Festival is not limited to giving awards, it also has many projects: Directors Across Borders plays a very special role for the Caucasian and neighbouring countries (details are mentioned in the website.

The Armenian Association of Film Critics and Cinema Journalists (AAFCCJ) is a public, non-governmental organisation. Its members work in different fields of mass media. The Association runs many projects.

There are three mobile operators: Vivacell, Beeline and Orange. These operators also provide internet connection: nowadays SKYPE via cell phone is very popular. Armenians commonly receive news on their mobile phones. There is a certain number to dial for the Armenian TV channel H2 that leads to a recording with the latest news and information.

Digital divide is evident in Armenia. For some, the Internet is a main source of information. For others, things are a lot more complicated: access to the Internet is difficult or impossible; not every family can afford a computer (particularly in the smaller regions). Low speed and quality coupled with high prices creates for some a serious problem. Many heavy Internet users spend a great deal of time on chats and e-mail.
Facebook is well known, but odnoklasniki.ru is the preferred site.

Still, online media is becoming a more popular source of information. Online media users become more in number day by day. According to local monitoring centre Circle.am (Rating and statistics for Armenian web resource) popular sites in Armenia include: Hetq online, A1+ online, PanArmenian Network, News.am, Armenia Now, Armenia Today, Panorama.am, and Tert.am

Access to the Internet improved recently as wireless Internet has spread quickly: those who have a laptop can go to many cafes and parks with Wi-Fi facilities and use the Internet for free.

The digital TV switchover hasn’t started yet in Armenia. It is scheduled for 2010. Due to financial difficulties it might take some time before everyone in Armenia can watch high-definition TV broadcasts

There are varius media organisations in Armenia:  the Journalists Union of Armenia, Yerevan Press Club, the Association of Investigative Journalists and the All Armenian Mass Media Association. Most of these organisations make huge efforts to improve the media landscape. They undertake various projects and activities to encourage higher professional standards and media sustainability in Armenia.

There is one state-owned news agency, Armenpress, operating alongside seven private agencies: Noyan Tapan, Arminfo, Arka, Mediamax, PanArmenian, News-Armenia and Photolur (which provides photos). Armenpress, Noyan Tapan and Mediamax are amongst the most popular agencies in Armenia.

The chief trade union in Armenia is the Confederation of Trade Unions of Armenia (CTUA). Armenia is also a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), which is a UN specialised agency seeking the promotion of social justice and adherence to internationally recognised human and labour rights. The Constitution guarantees the right to establish and join trade unions, although this right could be restricted for those who are serving in the armed forces or law enforcement agencies.

Blogs do present another media source by representing different viewpoints, but they are not collectively powerful enough to be taken into serious account.

The constitution confirms that every person has the right to freedom of speech and expression. Everyone has the right to seek, receive, convey and disseminate information. Foreign citizens without the Republic of Armenia’s citizenship status have the same rights to information as citizens.

In reality things are not that simple. When it comes to legislation, the problem lies in inappropriate and incorrect realisation of the law. Even a simple law limiting TV advertisement to 10-minute segments is not respected; ad segments of more than 15 minutes can very frequently be seen on local TV channels.
Freedom of speech and access to information, especially when dealing with political organisations, is too many times only happening on paper. 

Journalists frame their work in terms of ethics and rights. If a critical article is published, the responsible media outlet can be prosecuted in a courtroom. In that case, the media outlet has one month to convince the court of its innocence and satisfactorily explain any errors. There is no specific council that reviews a journalist’s mistakes. Recently six media organisations called for rearrangements, and also mentioned the possibility of establishing a media accountability system. Today it is in the process of being established.

The Telecommunication Law regulates the relationships in the telecommunication sector, although a separate law regulates television and radio. The Ministry of Communication of the Republic of Armenia is the authorised body for regulating the actions carried out in the telecommunication segment. 

Article 4 of the Law on Television and Radio Broadcasting guarantees the right to freedom of selection, production and broadcast of TV and radio programmes. It forbids censorship. Citizens are free to receive TV and radio programmes and additional information via satellite, cable, and wire networks, paid or unpaid, and decoding devices and open networks of TV and radio broadcasting.

Article 28 mentions that public TV is a state enterprise with special status. The Public TV and Radio Company’s executive body of management is the Council of Public TV and Radio Company. The Council has five members, all appointed by the President of the Republic.

According to Article 37, the National Commission of Television and Radio is an independent body that regulates the licensing and monitoring of private TV and radio companies. 

The Law on Advertising puts some time, language and content limitations for broadcasters.

The Law on Freedom of Information ensures access to information.

Article 6 mentions that each person has the right to address an information holder so as to get acquainted with them and/or get information.

Article 7 ensures information accessibility and publicity and Article 8 states the possible limitations on freedom of information (in cases where the information contains state, official, bank or trade secrets; if it infringes the privacy of a person, his family, including the privacy of telephone conversations, post and other transmissions; if it contains pre-investigation data not subject to publicity; etc.).

Many universities and training centres have departments of journalism.

The most popular is Yerevan State University (YSU). Students graduating from this university are more likely to find jobs in the future.

Caucasus Institute (CI) is also famous. Other private universities promise to provide good training but do not seem to deliver. There are two main reasons why students studying in the field of journalism don’t seem to go on to work professionally as they should. First, not every university lecturer provides up-to-date knowledge. Second, not all students demand to learn more than what is assigned.

Positive and negative achievements are happening in parallel. The biggest challenges facing the Armenian media landscape today: inferior professional performance; lack of financial sustainability; legislation with no potential implementation; fear to express freely (in some cases).

Universities are the first to blame: very few can afford the necessary student training facilities and equipments to train journalists properly. Finally, we end up having reporters who lack professionalism.

Freedom of media in Armenia is in a poor state. According to the 2008 World Press Freedom Index, an annual report released by the international organisation Reporters Without Borders (RWB, or RSF), Armenia ranked No. 102 of 173. 

Violence against journalists, especially during and imminently after the recent presidential elections, has risen. Creating obstructions for journalists who are trying to do their job is a common task in Armenia.  Despite all this, some journalists are trying to do more than just reporting. 

In some cases technologies, facilities and quality are visibly improving. There are many organisations sponsoring and/or realising various projects to increase the professionalism of journalism as well as organising seminars for both students and journalists in Armenia.

Anais Melikyan
Freelance Journalist
10, Mashtots 51, Yerevan, Armenia
Tel: +374 010 581428
Email: anaeisanaeis@yahoo.com