YPC Weekly Newsletter

2011


THE STORY OF “MEDIAMAX”, OBSERVING THE ETHICS

Below is the response of Yerevan Press Club President Boris Navasardian, "The Story of “Mediamax”, Observing the Ethics", disseminated on April 23, 2011, to the publication "’Monarchy’ on Information Disputes" by Ara Tadevosyan, Director of "Mediamax" news agency.

This text was to appear over a week ago. I shall be straightforward in saying that it was very disagreeable to write. Probably this is why I kept procrastinating, upon the excuse of being extremely busy. I was also verifying whether the wish to respond was not on a spur of moment. It was not. I believe that the issue is still urgent, no matter how many weeks have elapsed.

On May 10, 2011 the Director of “Mediamax” news agency Ara Tadevosyan published a piece (a column?), titled “‘Monarchy’ on Information Disputes”. In it, he states his indignation over the situation when the Chief Editor of the agency, David Alaverdyan, was allegedly offered to become a member of the Council on Information Disputes, established on May 1, 2011, yet his name was not in the published list of the Council members. As Ara Tadevosyan writes, the reason for the refusal was the objection of the President of Yerevan Press Club Boris Navasardian which had “political explanation”. The author of the piece states his discontent also with the stance taken by the initiator of the Council, the Human Rights Defender (the ombudsman), regarding the issue and the circumstances of the body’s establishment.

For the beginning, none of the allegations made by “Mediamax” Director are valid. The agency’s web-site published the official refutation of the Council on Information Disputes (CID), concerning the allegations made, but it, of course, is purely official in tone. Yet, since the piece directly affects my personal reputation, I shall allow myself making a separate response and comment.

Firstly, David Alaverdyan could not have been officially offered a membership in the CID, since the issue of Council’s expansion, as noted in the appropriate Memorandum, released on May 1, is decided upon the mutual consent of the founding members. Meanwhile, most of the founders did not discuss the candidacy of the Chief Editor of “Mediamax” and were even unaware of its existence. The discussion of CID Secretary Shushan Doydoyan with David Alaverdyan could only occur on the level of intentions, and there could be – and actually were – numerous such conversations of the CID members with other people as well. Invitation to take part in the Forum in Tsaghkadzor where the initiative was announced could not be interpreted as a confirmation of membership in the Council either, since dozens of journalists were invited to take part in the event.

Secondly, in the private conversation that I, Boris Navasardian, had with Shushan Doydoyan and which actually occurred after the intentions were discussed with David Alaverdyan, no “political explanation” was present. It referred to the procedure according to which the Council was to be expanded and the considerations of effectiveness that would be taken into account when discussing candidates. Hence, no decisions whether positive or negative regarding any of the candidates were and could  be taken in this conversation.

Thirdly, why did Ara Tadevosyan decide that the remaining CID members could “obey to an ordinary member of yet un-established Council”? What grounds does he have to believe that reputable professionals – besides the Director of the Freedom of Information Center Shushan Doydoyan mentioned above, they are the Director of Internews Europe Manana Aslamazian, the Chief Editor of “Aravot” daily Aram Abrahamyan, lawyer Ara Ghazaryan, commonly known as independent people with a sense of dignity, do not have an opinion of their own and cannot stand for it? Apparently, the “Mediamax” Director might have formed such an idea of relations in a collegiate body during the 10 years of membership in the notorious National Commission on Television and Radio.

Having thus “settled accounts” with the members of the newly-established Council, the author of the pasquil (and the twisting of facts as shown above allows to define the genre of publication in “Mediamax” as such) moved on to the Human Rights Defender: “(…) our (“Mediamax” – B.N.) right is to inform that the Council has been set up in arguable conditions from the point of view of ethics. And the Ombudsman  (Karen Andreasyan – B.N.) , should think about it first of all, for he faces a hard task – to prove his unbiased stance to the divided society”. That does sound grandiloquent. But before getting carried away with grandiloquence, Ara Tadevosyan, who thinks himself to be an experienced and reputable journalist, who also shoulders the responsible position of the head of the NATO Information Center in Armenia, would have done better to get familiar with the facts and circumstances of the Council establishment.

The Ombudsman came up with the initiative of the Council establishment and offered it to five personalities to become its founders. As it follows from the public statement of Karen Andreasyan, further CID activities, including, naturally, the question of the Council expansion, are solely the competence of this body. The intervention of the Office of the Human Rights Defender will be limited by assistance to the Council. Thus, in the issue of candidates the Ombudsman cannot play a decisive role by definition. The newly established consultative body on the very first day of its existence published the aforesaid Memorandum about the principles for its operations. The mechanism of the Council formation is clear, and so is the mission it has assumed, it has made no judgments to this day. What other “transparency” and in what regard did Ara Tadevosyan find missing?

In this context the words of the agency Director that “during 12 years of its activity on the market, Mediamax has never violated any of the rules of journalistic ethics and has always been the advocate of quality journalism” sound as caricature. I need to admit I have not often read reports by “Mediamax”. But if one considers the publication “‘Monarchy’ on Information Disputes” as a sample of this quality journalism in “Mediamax” style, people guided by this agency as an information source are hardly to be envied.

The basis for the far-reaching “revelations” by Ara Tadevosyan was exclusively one private phone conversation. Let us bypass the quite logical ethical question why would such a conversation become a subject for public debate at all. Moreover, let us assume that the information received could have led to making wrong inferences about the situation. But this is why the principles of quality journalism exist, to verify the first impression with alternative sources, much weightier, than a private conversation: with a substantial discussion of the Council idea at the Forum in Tsaghkadzor, with the text of the Memorandum. Finally it was possible, and in terms of journalistic ethics, even necessary to speak to Boris Navasardian, who was ascribed some inexistent “political explanation” in the pasquil, or at least with some other Council member.

Under certain circumstances the journalist, to ensure the urgency, does have a right to disseminate unverified information, if it concerns an issue of public importance. Yet in our case speaking about urgency is ridiculous – the formation of the Council was announced in detail on May 1, on the same day the Memorandum was disseminated. And the publication by “Mediamax” appeared on May 10. During those days one could make several contacts with each of the CID founders, very well known to both the Director and the Chief Editor of the news agency…

Besides, if one does speak about professional “rules” that “Mediamax” claims to have never violated, each dignified medium must publish the responses or refutations to their publications with no comment or other intervention in the content. Yet the agency for some reason furnished the refutation of the Council on Information Disputes with photographs of Shushan Doydoyan and Boris Navasardian. What was the message conveyed by this “creative” trick, why other members of the Council were not equally “honored”, remains open for conjectures. Such ambiguity makes the publication of photographs even more unacceptable in terms of journalistic ethics.

Yet, it is enough to speak about ethical principles, there is not even a trace of them in the publication in question. Let us speak about the “righteous indignation” of “Mediamax” Director, who stood to defend his colleague and “enraged” at “the situation when the closed and non-transparent system functions in the majority of our media environment and “civil society”, when several people assume the right to play the role of a supreme judge making single-handed and often groundless decisions”. It is interesting to know when did the opinion of “several people” of media-environment, who keep the ability to speak up what they know and think, or what “decisions” of the civil society interfered with Ara Tadevosyan’s chosen path? The path of being an NCTR member, as noted above, or, with his “Mediabrand” PR and communications agency to take part in the “monitoring” of media coverage of presidential elections of 2008 that deemed the Armenian media to be almost a model of impartiality? I actually was curious enough to look up the web-site of the European Foundation for Democracy that patroned the project and that was never interested in Armenia either before or afterwards. There was no reference to the monitoring, and this is quite understandable – the organization wanted to cross out the disgraceful page in EFD’s biography.

But nobody is ashamed here, in Armenia, moreover, one can even afford pouring the “righteous indignation” at the people whose fair assessment of media activities of that period he tried to discredit with a fake research! We preferred to be silent then, but apparently, one should call a spade a spade more often and not to try and kind-heartedly understand people, displaying “flexibility” for career development. Otherwise these people start thinking themselves judges and professional trend-setters.

One can treat the newly established Council on Information Disputes differently, one can believe or disbelieve its possible productivity. I think even its initiator and founders are not fully convinced of the good prospects of the initiative. But refusing this initiative now, when due to the latest litigations the situation in Armenian media came to the point of no return, would have been a display of indifference. But was the motivation of the Director of “Mediamax” who decided to discredit the initiative so easily, neglecting the basic obligations of a somewhat experienced and responsible journalist? This question is worth pondering about. I did, and I think I know the right answer. Do you?

P.S. Several weeks ago Ara Tadevosyan told me about an interesting plan of launching a series of quality columns on “Mediamax” web-site and offered to become one of the columnists there. Following the same kind-heartedness, continuing to believe that even having passed through “Mediabrand” monitoring and dozens of broadcast licensing competitions, one can still follow the right way, I initially did not exclude the possibility of such cooperation. But due to the lack of time and, honestly, wishing to observe the situation for some time, I preferred to wait. I did not have to wait long…

Boris NAVASARDIAN
May 23, 2011