Mass Media – part of democratization

Azat Artsakh, Republic of Nagorno Karabakh (NKR)
June 24, 2003


The topic of the training `Mass Media During Elections’ held in
Stepanakert last week (organized by Stepanakert Press Club with the
assistance of the international organization `Article 19′) was not
only the role of the mass media during elections but also in the
process of democratization of the society in general. The mass media,
as one of the conductors of the training noticed, is like litmus
paper indicating the level of democratization of the society. On the
topic of the role of the mass media in the democratization of the
society and the practical implementation of this role in Ukraine and
Armenia we talked to the conductors of the conference Alexey Koshel
and Elina Poghosbekian.


Alexey Koshel, expert of the international organization `Article 19′,
deputy chairman ofthe non-governmental organization `Committee of
Voters of Ukraine’. – Mr. Koshel, what changes took place in the life
of your society after independence and to what extent are they
principal? – I should say that the transition to new market
relationships is painful not only in our country but in the entire
post-soviet territory. And this is natural. The old always yields
hardly. Principal changes, however, happened. This refers first of all
to the process of democratization of the process of elections. The
second is the publication of the work of the government agencies. Each
citizen has the opportunity to read in the mass media and online the
texts of the speeches in the parliament and government meetings, the
results of voting. The third is structuring of the political processes
in the country the evidence to which is the institute of the
elections, transition of the mass media to market relationships,
freedom of moving, freedom in economy, religion and other spheres. –
During the training you told that governmental mass media should not
exist. Why? And what is the situation of the mass media in Ukraine? –
Governmental mass media cost too expensive to the state budget. 1600
journalists work on the TV and radio of Ukraine. And the largest
private TV channel has 200 journalists even with a greater volume of
work. By the way, these companies are going to make their work more
optimal reducing the number of journalists to 80. I think the numbers
say everything. Today in our country the governmental mass media are
a TV and radio channel and two newspapers which mainly publish state
documents. Among these there are also regional mass media, usually
with too big staff and little circulation. 80 percent of the mass
media are private, the largest are `Facti’ (800 thousand copies),
`Selskie Vesti’ (514 copies), `Vechernie Vesti’ (430 thousand) and a
great number of newspapers with little circulation. In brief,
economically the governmental mass media are not optimal. These should
be replaced by the public mass media. – Closing the training you said
that independent mass media in fact do not exist and these are
considerably dependent on those on whose expense they exist. – If
there are no objective mass media, consequently there is no objective
monitoring? – Yes, independent, therefore objective mass media do not
exist but this does not mean that we should not fight for
accomplishment of at least relatively independent mass media. In
Ukraine this process lasted for 10 years. The Ukrainian private mass
media already know that by disrespectful attitude they may lose their
readers and thus their source of funding. I may state with all
responsibility that there is, nevertheless, relative independence of
the mass media in Ukraine.


Elina Poghosbekian, editor of the bulletin of Yerevan Press Club. –
What is the situation of the mass media in Armenia in terms of the
past decade? – After the declaration of independence up today the
situation changed little. And this is conditioned by the fact that the
mass media in Armenia are in great dependence on the political
forces. – Will it go on like that? Which is the way out? – In the
Soviet period the situation was much worse, presently the situation is
better. The way out, in my opinion, is financial independence and
profitability as an economic entity. Today this is very difficult in
the conditions of Armenia. The circulation of the newspapers is
small. Most of the population lives in poverty and purchasing ability
is law, even the small circulation newspapers are sold with
difficulty. I think you are acquainted with this problem. It is
possible to acquire money from advertisement but this is not much for
the same reason that the society is not rich. As long as the mass
media cannot step on their own feet, as long as the legislative sphere
is not accomplished, it is easy to make pressure on the mass media, as
it happened with the 24 hour oppositionist channel A1+. – They say the
mass media are the reflection of the society. To what extent do the
mass media of Armenia reflect the process of democratization and how
can they affect that process? – This is a complicated process for the
progress of which first of all our willpower is important. The
European assistance to our society in democratization is little: we
must first set the aim to achieve it. If at the beginning of the 90’s
the mass media were entirely under the influence of political forces
in the result of which they lost all the best qualities, at the end of
the 90’s and the beginning of the next decade the situation got more
or less better. Among positive changes I would mention the cooperation
of Yerevan Press Club with the Union of Journalists of Armenia
(actually a half-governmental organization), as well as `Internews
Armenia’ and the committee for protection of journalists. This
cooperation enabled to smooth the decision of closing down the channel
A1+, organize protest meetings connected with the bill `On the mass
media’ worked out by the Ministry of Justice after which amendments
were made to the joint project. At the second reading it already
corresponded to the international standards. The work on the third
reading was pure editing and in December the parliament adopted the
bill. There were unhappy attempts to affect the parliament. The above
mentioned organizations tried to oppose to the introduction of
regressive changes in the law `On television and radio’ but in
vain. Today we are attempting to set forth an amendment which would
allow to move the punishment for libel and offence from the criminal
to the civil code (fine instead imprisonment). – During trainings much
was said about the code of ethics of journalists. Are the rules of
ethics kept by the journalists? – Unfortunately we have little in this
sphere to be proud of. The code of ethics of journalists was adopted
by certain mass media and public organizations working in this
sphere. The adoption of the code is actually one of the ways of
self-regulation. However the unwritten laws of the fourth branch of
power have greater force than the written ones. And this is the
reflection of the actual state of the society. The more the rights of
each individual of the society are honoured, the more the journalists
will honour the written laws.


From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress