- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 April 4, 2003 

Information Gap: Readers and viewers in Armenia rely on foreign perspective of nearby war

Mark GrigorianTake a walk down the center of Yerevan, and voices of TV anchors reading news in Russian, occasionally in English, will be heard from various apartments' windows. Then visit Armenians born in Arab countries, and Al-Jazzeera in their houses will be the main voice of these days.

With the 24-hours news capacity to bring battlefronts in each home and more media loyalty to governments, the war in Iraq looks today more like a media confrontation, as if between the Bush administration and Hussein command, a Public Relations crusade has been launched.

Both camps are trying to convince audiences that the enemy lies in the other side and both camps have extraordinary media support.

But in the midst of an intensifying discrepancy between the Western and Arab media, still a third model of covering the war in Iraq is making its way through much endeavor and drawbacks. And no battle similar to the one between CNN and Al-Jazzeera is sensed here.

Criticizing the war, yet keeping the distance in relation to Iraq is what some media experts call today the Russian position, followed by a number of countries among which Armenia is inclined too.

One explanation of this tendency given by Mark Grigorian, a media analyst, is that few Armenian journalists speak other foreign languages than Russian and, therefore, find it difficult to work with Western or Arab sources of information. Also, Russian newspapers have been for a long time regarded as a touchstone by the Armenian media and changes in its practices are not straightforward.

And the Russian prospect presented by the Armenian media does not necessarily match with the one presented by Armenian officials, who, steered by their interests to have good relations with all possible parties involved in the conflict, depict a neutral position supporting the efforts to disarm Iraq but only by peaceful means.

Some newspapers in Yerevan have even adopted a tougher language. The Russian tabloid "Novoye Vremya" (New Time), local edition, selects news on the Iraqi issue from various sources including Western publications but is categorically against the war and the US. "How can one accept the war if civilians die?" rails its editor-in-chief Ruben Satyan who calls to mind that the war in Iraq is a "pure hypocrisy". And the whole team of "Novoye Vremya" follows this guiding principle.

Haroutiun Khachatryan, editor-in-chief of Noyan Tapan Highlights, an English-language weekly, is more middle-of-the-road than Satyan, saying that his publication "has no political preferences" and that it "tends to present all available information and all points of view".

Ruben SatyanBut Grigorian believes that undertaking an external position by the Armenian media, is also related to the lack of professionalism. "Covering war in Iraq is professional", he says but although Iraq is making the news everywhere in the world, Armenian media did not send its reporters on the front by the simple reason that it has no money. So, "indeed, Armenian newspapers cover the war", says Grigorian, "with the exception that it provides an indirect and second-hand coverage."

And journalists realizing the impact of their work today feel bad for not being able to go to Iraq. Yuri Gasparyan, who is a free-lance photographer from Yerevan, says he will never forgive himself for staying at home while the war is going on. "I lost the opportunity to go to Afghanistan, now to Iraq, I cannot believe the world is going upside down and I am here."

Whether it has no money or lacks experience in having correspondents abroad, the Armenian media leaves little choice to its readers, who rely on stories provided by foreign journalists or articles taken from foreign newspapers, which many times are not satisfactory if the reader wants to know where his country stands in this war.

And Armenia is not on a different earth than Iraq. It is separated by Iran only. And if the news about war is of a general interest to any reader, then the Armenian one is longing for news ranging from the stability in the region, which has a direct impact on his own country and to the Armenian community in Iraq.

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