BY STEPHAN AMATUNI
Dostoyevsky once said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Everyone seems to understand the point, but only in theory.
Well, allow me to take it to another level. If I may be so bold as to say, that you can judge the degree of civilization and the state of development of a given nation by going into the kiosk and simply having a look at the headlines in the press.
This sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But, factually, the seriousness of this issue goes deep into the social, cultural, a
nd moral issues inherited from the Soviet times, or possibility even before that.
Amateurism, negligence, and incompetence: things no one wants to come across in any situation, whether you are a businessman or a customer, a doctor or a patient, a lawyer or a judge, a police officer or a suspect, or an official or a reader of a newspaper.
When everyone sticks to their jobs and duties and invests some heart into whatever it is they do, the system will work. And you are free in choosing your way of life, personally or professionally, because that’s what a democracy is all about.
But why is incompetence so widespread in the eastern parts of the world, compared to the West?
Poor reporting and bad journalism can have irreversible damages, just like an amateur surgeon can unintentionally kill a patient during a routine operation, or a badly skilled pilot can crash a fully operational aircraft. No wonder journalists have been sociologically considered to be part of the intelligentsia, because every word or phrase they use has a resonating effect – especially these days, when information is more accessible than ever before.
The press is the fundamental pillar of a country. We need free and independent press to hold to account those in power; this isn’t my opinion, but rather a universally recognized fact.
However, I strongly believe that the news media has another important mission too: to educate society so that they question everything in a quest. Responsible and coherent journalism will also help governments work better. This can only be done by questioning everything they do and fact checking every single word. Well, enough of the theory.
The truth is incompetence and negligence have corrupted the Armenian society from top to bottom for decades. You can come across these cancerous phenomena in every aspect of life, such as dealing with law enforcement, going to a hospital, reading the news, and even primitive things such as ordering food or attempting to pay with your credit card at a local convenience store. Yes, incompetence is widespread, indeed. Incompetence and negligence grew like a cancer in Armenia, leading to serious consequences such as cultural degeneration, a dysfunctional legal system and corruption. Never mind my critique, I am a patriot who loves my country, I simply believe that strong criticism is the only way of making the wheel move.
But the one and only sector which has an astounding abundance of negligence and incompetence is the news media.
Armenian journalists have even developed a never-before-seen style of journalism, which even surpasses the infamous “churnalism.” That is, they simply copy and paste an entire text of a news release issued by any given governmental agency, with complete disregard to fact checking, questioning, doubting, or even understanding what the message reads.
Once, I met a foreign journalist in Yerevan, spoke to her for about an hour, and she was a one-man news agency. She knew more about modern warfare and military equipment than an average four-star general. And, indeed, I believe a journalist covering the economy ought to have the level of experience of a Cabinet minister in charge of the economy. An individual writing about crime must have the jurisprudence knowledge of a Supreme Court justice, and so on. Otherwise, you will simply fail in your mission.
In fact, Armenian news media most often cross the line and violate the most primitive rules of reporting, such as the presumption of innocence in a crime, the words “alleged,” “suspect,” “purported,” “reportedly,” and “potential” are something you don’t read too often. Some reporters do not even understand that this is a problem. Why? Perhaps, because each and every news release about law enforcement contains the word “discovered,” and “uncovered and revealed.” Why would you question police actions? How can you question the military’s actions? That’s saint. Well, a journalist must question everything, from the military to the church to the economic policies. I understand that the examples I brought in this article can seem primitive and naive, but I wanted to make it as clear as possible.
I also realize that any attempt to somehow regulate or oversee the media is highly dangerous, in terms of human rights and the freedom of the press, but there should at least be some sort of a licensing procedure or supervision for reporters, because a better press is beneficial for all parties involved.
There is a so-called Union of Journalists in Armenia, but I am not sure what it does, exactly. There is also an official news agency and numerous so called “news websites,” which have regrettably become more press release distribution agencies. As a testament to what I say, I bet none of these “agencies” or newspapers has ever had any kind of a guideline or rules of reporting in writing news.
As a political analyst and journalist, I will go as far as arguing that poor reporting and bad news media is among the reasons why corruption is so widespread in Armenia. It is also to blame for numerous other regrettable occurrences, such as the overall level of ignorance, hate speech, moral principles, the glorification of criminal subculture, and many more.
In fact, monumental developments are taking place in Armenia, which simply go unnoticed or get little attention by the press, instead of sounding the alarm.
Like I mentioned in one of my previous articles, the society these days is doing everything for the sake of formality, something that is heartless and just horribly wrong.