Project news & updates

Curriculum Development Programme Begins in Armenia

9 November 2007 | PROJECT NEWS


There is no shortage of newspapers in Armenia, where newsstands boast more than 30 different newspapers – for a population of less than 4 million people. Deciding which title to buy, though, is more a matter of political preference than anything else: Each party seems to be influencing a newspaper, so each paper presents a different spin on the day’s events. 

Such a climate is a predictably hostile environment for investigative journalism, stories predicated upon substantiated fact, verification and credible sources. Also, the factions of the political system are mirrored in a fractured media market. The largest paper – Novoe Vremya (New Times) has a circulation of less than 10,000 per day. When it comes to audiovisual media, cronyism in the regulating body, the National Commission on TV and Radio, has had a chilling effect with its restrictive licensing regimes – which do not necessarily include room for opposing viewpoints. 

The case of one broadcaster – A1+, which was taken off air in 2002 (sparking mass protests) and has since submitted, unsuccessfully, at least a dozen broadcasting licence applications – is presently before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. “Young democracies face problems of implementation when they give wide discretion to regulatory bodies,” says Mr. Karen Andreasyan, one of the founders of Armenia’s Media Law Institute. “Often good law is written, based on Western models, but implementation is a problem.” He is one of many who want to try and polish the lacklustre media landscape in the South Caucasus former Soviet state. 

Based in Yerevan, the Media Law Institute will later this month begin to lead the two-year Journalism Practices Enhancement Project, in conjunction with the Armenian Freedom of Information Centre and the European Journalism Centre. The two-year programme is funded by the MATRA - Societies in Transition Programme, the development arm of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The programme is an effort to create an enduring force of journalists and lawyers by way of reforming the existing curricula at eight of the 17 Armenian universities. 

Andreasyan discussed the project recently with the EJC: 

Q. What is the current journalism curriculum at most universities like? What changes would you like to see?

KA. It’s a reformed, old Soviet curriculum, which means that changes occur very randomly when they happen. But thanks to these or other initiatives, we can work on that. We want to study how journalism and law departments should look in university. In a way many universities (mainly public) have these Soviet programmes and Soviet way of teaching. Lecturing, students answering automatically without thinking – mechanical education, we call it there. Of course there are cases when practical classes are introduced and practical work is done in the schools. We’d like to harmonize, bring in more ethics courses. We will work with eight universities, try to develop them and improve the standards. 

Q. Do you anticipate much resistance on the part of the universities? 

KA. I do not think it will be difficult. It will be harder later on to get people started with really investigative pieces. Faculties are ready to enroll in such a project – they themselves understand how hard it is to teach with old Soviet methodologies, how hard it is to prepare good journalists when they don’t give practical courses. 

Q. How will you try to leave some tracks of this programme, so as to ensure a lasting legacy? 

KA. It will have some components, like a website for curriculum improvement and other related topics as well as the hoped for concrete changes in university curricula. Second, the Media Law Institute will finally realize one of its best ideas. We’ve been having this idea for a long time. The realization of such an idea is big motivation for staff of the Media Institute – and other organizations – for the long term. 

Q. The project is funded by MATRA, by the Dutch government. How does their help lead to the goals of the project? 

KA. We were trying to implement this project for two years. It’s a long-lasting idea in a way. Matra actually makes it possible, giving financial aid for first two years. We believe once the program concludes, the universities are going to be self-sustainable. 

Q. Why did you decide to partner with a group like the EJC for this? 

KA. First of all, it’s good for people that an organisation like the EJC has a belief that something is possible. The EJC can actually give some models that would enlarge the perspective of these people. The EJC has international experience. It’s very modern in this way, with every method of European experience, resources, expertise and information. It’s good to bring in an outside group like this and show these kinds of things can do better – investigative journalism and legal protection can be better. And you will have trainers who know how to make things better and what shall be done better. We just need inspiration to get there and methods. 

Q. The Media Law Institute will lead the project. How do you see your role? 

KA. I was one of the founders of this institute in 2002. The main idea behind it was to create a group of people, mostly lawyers and journalists, to come together and think together how to improve the situation with media in Armenia. At the time there was a lot of NGO funding. It was an active media reform period. We started with legislative training, helping journalists and lawyers. We have our leadership, board of directors, who are thinking strategically how to develop the institute. Right now we’re thinking about anti-corruption and using investigative journalism to fight corruption, which is one of the biggest problems in Armenia. 

Q. What are your hopes for the Armenian media landscape? What will it look like in five or 10 years? 

KA. I wish of course first of all that we have a bigger variety in audiovisual media, something we are not targeting directly with this project. We see our role right now as preparing journalists to do the revolution from inside. Changes will not come from external places. We believe having programmes like this, training clean and nice professional journalists within the coming five years will make this revolution. We want to raise the standards of journalists as the others are trying to feed into the competition. The media landscape, I don’t know how good it is, but it’s very competitive. If two, three or four newspapers change their quality of reporting others will follow, and in five years time at least in print media will behave responsibly. The community of journalists can raise the value of each of their words. For audiovisual we would expect more freedom and that will come faster if the print media would become more responsible, and better. 

Q. What’s the influence of new media, online journalism and blogging, in Armenia? 

KA. It is starting to play a bigger role, become more and more popular. But there are some problems with getting people online. Generally we can be sure those who are online have a better balance of information, those who can access new media like Internet. Even many television stations are having good websites, and many newspapers also have proper sites. The use of online is biggest in Yerevan, with wealthy people, intellectual people with higher intellectual standards. They use Internet media more than any other group. New media is really the best source. 

Q. What are the problems with getting people online? 

KA. There are Internet cafes are every 100 meters, especially in the capital. Even in all remote villages you can find Internet points. The problem is not Internet access technically. But that people above 40 years old typically wouldn’t know how to use the computer. It’s more computer literacy as opposed to point of Internet.

Enhancing Journalistic Practices in Armenia
Through this project, the EJC sought to improve the Armenian education framework devoted to law and journalism. Its aim - encourage the development of a training programme that emphasises investigative and ethics-based practices, addressing issues such as freedom of speech and freedom of information.