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Armenian media outlets: Pashinyan’s insistence on virtual press conferences ‘non-democratic’

27 June 2022
Pashinyan holding an online press conference on 24 January, 2022. Photo via primeminister.am.

In two separate statements, over five dozen media organisations in Armenia condemned Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s continued holding of press conferences online, calling the format ‘non-democratic’. 

On Friday evening, the Armenian Times newspaper, which is majority-owned by Pashinyan’s mother-in-law, citing ‘their sources’ in the government, reported that Pashinyan was about to announce an press conference — with questions to the Prime Minister read by a presenter employed by Armenia’s Public Broadcaster. 

On Saturday, that information was confirmed by the Prime Minister’s staff. The press conference is to be held at 20:00 on 27 June.

Shortly after the Armenian Times published its news about the press conference, a group of news editors, primarily employed by pro-opposition or opposition-leaning media outlets, issued a statement declaring a boycott of the press conference and refusing to send questions.

‘The previous experience has proved that such “online contacts” take place in a prepared scenario; only the questions by the pro-government media, telegram channels, and bloggers are publicised during these events, who, apparently, agree in advance with the organisers of the event, and in the case of the questions by other media — they are either ignored, edited or distorted’, the statement reads.

As of publication, over three dozen editors have added their names to the joint statement declaring the boycott. 

In another statement, a small number of larger non-partisan media outlets, including Azatutyun, the Armenian service of RFE/RL, and Civilnet condemned the format of the press conference and reoccurring cases of questions that were submitted being edited or distorted. 

‘We deem this form of interaction with the media by the country’s ruler discriminatory, ineffective, and in contradiction with the core principles of democracy, transparency, and accountability’, the statement reads.

Hakob Karapetyan, the editor-in-chief of Armenian fact-checking platform Fact Investigation Platform and one of the initiators of the statement, told OC Media one of the reasons for initiating the statement was the ‘leak’ of the information by the Armenian Times and a concern that the questions sent to the Prime Minister would risk being edited and distorted again. 

‘So we, at the office, decided not to send questions at all and to even issue a statement expressing our attitude towards the press conferences in that format’. Later, a group of media organizations appeared to be willing to join the statement. 

‘The Prime Minister considers the democratization of the country and the transparency of his government as one of the main achievements’, Karapetyan told OC Media. ‘We wanted to send a warning or a signal to them that such actions do not support the democratisation of the country’. 

Karapetyan also warned that with ‘such regressive steps’ Armenia was returning to the days when ‘leaders of the country would not have press conferences for years’ or would only invite representatives from media outlets ‘dear’ to them. 

Pashinyan has been holding online press conferences since 2021, citing the COVID-19 pandemics as a reason for the new format instead of pre-covid and pre-war more often and open communication with the local media outlets. 

However, media organisations have repeatedly complained that the questions they sent to the Prime Minister’s staff were either edited and distorted or not given to Pashinyan.

Prior to the conference, several pro-Pashinyan politicians criticised the media outlets that signed the two statements. Taron Chakhoyan, the deputy head of Prime Minister’s staff accused the pro-opposition and opposition-leaning media outlets of not being professional and serving the interest of those ‘seeking revanchism’. 

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