Is It ‘HARDTalk’? Hardly-Talking? Or A Monologue?

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan being interviewed by Stephen Sackur on BBC's HARDTalk
Garo Ghazarian

Garo Ghazarian

BY GARO B. GHAZARIAN

Some of the colorful “questions” posed during the interview/interrogation with Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan last week by the host of BBC’s HARDTalk Stephen Sackur, came off as statements or assertions. Despite its title, the program seemed to be a monologue delivered by its host to the program’s guest and audience. To be clear, I am not attempting to assess how Armenia’s Prime Minister fared on the show. Frankly, I see no value in such an exercise after the fact.  What I do find however, after watching the program, is that “fair and balanced” is not how I’d describe it.

Here’s a closer look at some of the host’s “talking points” which repeatedly appeared more like a monologue:

1. “Is Armenia preoccupied with fighting old battles?”

Query: since when did fighting for survival got old?

2. “The so called Velvet Revolution!”

Mind you, “so called” is a term used to express one’s view that a description is questionable. A journalist injecting his own view (because that’s the style of the show) does not temper the affront.

3. “It seems as ‘business as usual’ between Armenia and Azerbaijan with 17 fatalities recently.”

One ponders just who are the people which make up the audience of the show? For an instant, I thought the target audience was my 13 year old daughter and her 8th grade classmates? Mea Culpa, because such a thought was insulting to teenagers. Even teenagers know that a resolution to a conflict can not be achieved through unilateral actions in a schoolyard, to say nothing of one between two countries. Yet there it was. The show’s host unabashedly was allocating responsibility for such a conflict to one side, and was doing it with a straight face.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan being interviewed by Stephen Sackur on BBC's HARDTalk

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan being interviewed by Stephen Sackur on BBC’s HARDTalk

4. Phrases which were thrown about throughout the show and uttered like proclamations instead of questions:

  • “according to Azerbaijani reports,”
  • shelling by Armenian forces,”
  • “your policies do not appear designed to achieve peace,”
  • “It didn’t look like leadership.”

5. References were made to the late 80’s and early 90’s impugning culpability on Armenians, referring to the European Courts to bolster a narrative, while not informing viewers of the same courts’ decisions condemning Azeri military war crimes.

6. Endless interruptions of the guest (the Prime Minister) when he attempted to remind viewers of the atrocities by Azerbaijan and persecution of Armenians, the “Baku Pogroms” and the “Sumgait Massacres of Armenians.”

7. Assuming the role of a statistician and opining about Armenian government’s handling of the Coronavirus crisis:

Was Sackur referring to the same global pandemic, in the handling of which, none other then the global power—the United States of America, many would say, has left much to be desired? Why even go there? It is rather “rich” for a Brit to go there, considering the United Kingdom has to date suffered over 318,000 cases and 42,366 fatalities attributed to Covid-19.

The exchanges I watched were tough, and that was fine by me. But, they were replete with misinformation thrown about by the host. Under these circumstances, no matter how prepared a guest may be, any guest, the end result is doomed from the start. One wonders which parts of the interview were edited to fit the predetermined narrative!

If we are devoting our time to watch, regardless of who is the guest on the program, shouldn’t we see an exchange where the guest is provided a “reasonable opportunity” to respond to “questions?”

Hearing the preposterous allegation made by the host — “You clearly are not a peacemaker,” I thought, now I get it, it’s not an interview. It’s an interrogation. You see, in law-enforcement culture, there are three (3) categories of individuals who an investigator encounters. The first one is the “witness” who potentially possesses useful information about the subject matter of the investigation. The second one is the “subject” of an investigation who may have information, but who may also be complicit in the subject matter of the inquiry. The third is the “target” of the investigation who is ALREADY identified as “the party” responsible for the wrongdoing being investigated. That’s in a nutshell the core of law enforcement objectives in civilized nations.

The core of journalism and journalistic integrity while interviewing a “Head of State,” dare I say, is neither pegging the interviewee as a “witness,” nor as a “subject”—and, certainly not as a “target.”

Otherwise, why not join a law-enforcement agency!

The author is neither a member of a political party aligned with or opposed to Armenia’s Prime Minister, nor employed by anyone to render an opinion on the subject matter.

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15 Comments

  1. Talin1915 said:

    Prime Minister Pashinyan and other top officials need to be coached by knowledgable Arnenian Diasporans on how to deal with Western interviewers.

    Armenian officials must also be much more bold, assertive, and positive in tone and body language when they speak because that is what westerners respect. They need a bunch of quick facts at hand. And they need to practice.

    If you are not fluent in a language, better to speak in your native tongue.

  2. Lévon said:

    I didn’t want to watch this interview for fear of getting upset and have my blood pressure go up to unheard levels. Cause, I knew our prime minister should never ever grant an interview in English. NEVER! I’m still reeling from his past so-called debate with Aliev, and still pulling my hair just thinking about it. We need a speaker who is well informed and fluent in English to be able to put the likes of this Brit in his place and NOT allow him to take over and turn it into monologue with constant interruptions. Our prime minister is NOT the type to be on these platforms and debates in English! Please, someone put this fact into our prime minister’s one track mind once and for all. It’s very painful to watch, even though I didn’t watch this one! but I’m sure the outcome would have been just too painful to watch.

  3. Monte said:

    Pashinyan: Please do not speak English during an interview anymore! We know you can speak English, but to articulate yourself correctly, the best policy is to stick to your native tongue. This was an embarrassing interview for you, and you my friend represent us!

    • Raffi said:

      @Monte: I agree with you…… ”Please do not speak English during an interview anymore”

      • Raffi said:

        After listening to his clip, I was impressed by his knowledge of the English language and also the way he expresses himself, it was a hard interview and I have seen too many other leaders who have gone through similar interviews with much lessor knowledge of English with disastrous outcomes, I give a 10 for this interview, and reverse my ”Please do not speak English during an interview anymore” to: ”PLEASE SPEAK ENGLISH DURING YOUR INTERVIEWS”

  4. Vivian said:

    Well put Garo. Hoping that others, especially non-Armenians, recognized this as interrogation.

  5. Andrew Tashjian MD said:

    excellent that you picked this up and are publishing it.
    most atrocious was the last question ( insult, challenge ), why don’t you appeal to NATO to help, and why do you side with Russia.

  6. Vartan Avanessian said:

    Good article….and to add….Sackur asking for “Armenia to say sorry”….how dare he? We have lost millions and now we have to say sorry. I was disgusted by him. Armenia should not agree to these ind of interviews at all.

  7. joe said:

    Check Book Journalist. Pashinyan needs to be better prepared for these types of traps. Especially going into the obtuse BBC.. He should be asking why England adopts a policy of lies regarding the Armenian Genocide? Why England is historically hostile towards Armenia? What gain to they have?

    One more thing…It seems the recent uptick of anger and resentment by Turkey and her apologists is a result of Armenia’s advancement.. They do not like when we advance as a country and feel threatened. So in a way, its a good thing. However, Armenia needs to be especially vigilant. With the cover of COVID and Trump’s probable ouster next January, makes perfectly clear the window of Turkish opportunity..

  8. Remnant of the sword said:

    I came away with he same impression, Garo. The pro Azeri postion of the reporter was clear from the get-go.

  9. Gary said:

    I completely agree with Mr. Ghazarian article above completely and I can only add that Since The English is our second, third Or fourth language, next interview, I would Like to see our beloved PM Pashinyan to Respond properly in Armenian to this unfair host/interview So he doesn’t need to translate his Perfect Armenian language to his poor English language/accent 1000 mile per second.

    Gary

  10. Vergine Barsoumian said:

    Short of not accepting to be interviewed , I think Pashinyan did fine , both with his English Language and his responses, considering the biased and confrontational interviewer , whose agenda appeared to be to arrogantly highlight his pre planed accusations and falsehoods for his audience .
    What a ‘poor’ interviewer !

  11. Lilit said:

    Thank you for the article! It was painful to see how the “respectful” journalist is trying to downsize the heroic acts of our people and Prime Minister to fight the brutal injustice. That’s probably why the comments are disabled for his “HARDtalks”.

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