Armenia’s New Journalists

The collapse of Soviet-style journalism has brought a new type of writer to the fore-youthful, enthusiastic, but often without training or experience. A problem in Armenian journalism is the need to replace Soviet-era training with new methods. Ruben A. Satyan says he assigns new recruits at Vremya to senior editors for on-the-job training. Astghik Gevorkian, chair of the refashioned Soviet-era Union of Journalists, says journalism departments in state educational institutions have been unable to adjust to new conditions because their professors are holdovers from the Communist era.

Some experienced editors say the new journalists fail to differentiate news from views; are insufficiently concerned about accuracy; lack historical and political knowledge; and are unskilled in interviewing and developing sources. As a result, young journalists are sometimes inept at digging out facts, and can be thrown off the scent by clever officials.

Senior members of the Yerevan Press Club tend to confirm this assessment. We don’t yet have a critical mass of good journalists, says one officer. There are only about a handful who really can go after information and dig it out, and those are usually working for foreign news agencies.

Naine Mkrtchian, a youthful woman reporter for Azg, rankles under such charges. She asserts that government officials are largely to blame for placing obstacles in the way of all but friendly reporters. President of the newly formed National Press Club, this young woman feels the Soviet heritage of press controls still weighs too heavily in Yerevan. She opposes the draft press law, developed by the Yerevan Press Club, which she considers insufficiently democratic. A press law in itself means regulation; the fewer rules, the better, she says.

One experienced journalist sums up the mood in Armenian journalism today: You work without the feeling of hope that your work is going to be useful to someone. Yes, there is pluralism of views, but that pluralism is pushed into a small box. There is pluralism but not that much objectivity. The government tolerates this, but we get the impression that this is a gesture to the West.

Efforts are being made to train the new generation of journalists and to develop a general code of ethics. Both the Yerevan Press Club (60 members) and the Union of Journalists (1,500 members) have held training seminars for journalists, supported by several western foundations. The independent television station A1+ received a grant for short-term instruction of television journalists which was deemed to be successful. Several new private colleges are reported to have opened journalism departments, but their quality is unknown.

The Yerevan Press Club has developed a 12-point declaration of support for independent media. But this document is concerned principally with the management of media rather than ethical conduct of journalists. The newly formed, 20-member National Press Club reports that it has created a committee to develop a code of ethics.

Non-governmental organizations taking an interest in these activities include the British East-West Center, The European Institute for Media, The Thomson Foundation, The European Center for Journalism, The Open Media Research Institute, The Tacis Democracy Program, the Eurasia Foundation, The Soros Foundation, and the Armenian Assembly of America.