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.
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.