Armenian media should build trust, not sacrifice it for more clicks

Armenian media should build trust, not sacrifice it for more clicks


The media is the least trusted institution among the Armenian public. According to the results of the CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer survey, in 2022, 73% of respondents said they do not trust the media.


Another survey conducted by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation among youth in Armenia in 2022 again indicated low trust in the media. Only 12% of respondents said they “fully” or “rather” trusted the media. Among young people, the media came in as the second-least trusted, only after political parties.


These studies were carried out several years ago. During that time, political polarization in Armenia continued, and the public’s level of trust in the media has certainly not improved, if not to say that it has worsened.


Why is trust in the media so low?


The answers to this question are multi-layered. They include: growing waves of disinformation and fake news; political polarization reflected in the media; constant security threats that create fertile ground for various manipulations and analyses, which in turn, silence genuine expert voices; the promotion of external actors’ agendas through locally contextualized content and rhetoric; the dominance of social media, where there are no ethical norms or standards of responsibility; low level of media literacy; and an “echo chamber” phenomenon, where people, regardless of educational background, consume information and analyses that reaffirm their own beliefs. Added to all of this are gaps in journalistic education in Armenia and the severe lack of beat reporters.


However, distrust of the media is a broad concept. It is necessary to understand whether this distrust applies to everyone indiscriminately or to a certain group of media or even specific media.


The Armenian media sphere can be divided into the following main groups:


1. Media serving the ruling party


Among these, there are new private TV stations and many websites, including the Armenian Times (Haykakan Zhamanak), owned by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s family. This group also includes media belonging to “satellite parties” of the ruling elite.


The most important member of this group is the Public TV company, which has the widest distribution of any outlet. It has never become a media serving the public agenda and instead continues to serve the government of the day. Despite increased pluralism after the 2018 Velvet Revolution and its practice of giving more voice to opposition figures, Public TV is clearly either under the censorship of the ruling party or self-censorship. For example, the purchase of new buses for Yerevan in late 2021 did not appear on Public TV, because the ruling Civil Contract party was at odds with then-Mayor Hayk Marutyan. Similarly, because the relations between the ruling party and the Armenian Apostolic Church are strained, the New Year’s message of Catholicos Karekin II was not broadcast on Public TV for the first time since Armenia’s independence. Public TV defends the government’s ever-changing policies in other issues as well, especially on the issue of Artsakh (which no longer even exists, courtesy of this government).


2. Media serving the former authorities


Among these, first of all, there are the media connected with the second and third presidents and promoting their political positions, including TV stations and websites with a wide outreach. The media connected with the ARF (Dashnaktsutyun) can also be placed here.


The first and second groups of media have very opposite stances toward each other, using the terms “thieves” and “traitors” back and forth at each other.


3. Russian media and their Armenian subsidiaries


In this group are, first of all, the Russian state TV channels, which have terrestrial broadcasting in Armenia and are also present in all cable packages. Armenian subsidiaries of Russian media also create localized content in Armenian and Russian.

These media advance Moscow’s political line and propaganda and, as a rule, criticize Armenia’s current government.

The older generation, which has traditionally watched Russian programs, is often the audience for these media.

Notably, many Armenian media source their international news from Russian-language websites, which is due to the still great (though fading) influence of the Russian language.


4. Donor-funded media


The media of this group depend in whole or in part on the funding of Western governments and organizations. Unlike the previous three groups, these media have some transparency about funding sources and editorial staff, as this is a donor requirement.


Although Western donors mainly provide support to the media in the areas of democracy, human rights, reforms, peacebuilding, and the fight against corruption, this group is heterogeneous in terms of both content and editorial approaches.


Radio Azatutyun (RFE/RL) can also be included in this group. In recent two-three years, it has perhaps become a quality alternative to Public TV, with certain reservations, of course.


5․ Others


There are also other small and medium-sized media that lack transparency of funding sources and editorial policies.


Increase trust or audience?


The media of all the groups mentioned above strive to increase their reach as much as possible, both through terrestrial broadcasting and on websites and social networks.


However, increasing one’s audience by all means does not always contribute to building trust in the long term. This is one of the biggest problems in the Armenian media field, faced not only by politically biased media, but also all other media.


The biggest temptation is to give a platform to talking heads with no expertise and present them as experts to generate views, creating a false reality. This may be for views, because as a rule, useful idiots generate more views. Or it may be done with certain political interests, or based on the political preferences of the media bosses, who create their own echo chamber.


The media in general and journalists in particular must be cautious in order not to erode long-term trust for a number of other reasons as well. The most common temptation here is to determine the outcome of any story from the very beginning. In this case, there is a conditional outcome, which is then necessary to corroborate through the mouths of the “right” people.


This gap between the formulation of the problem and the final result erodes not only trust in the media, but also the foundations of the state.


The real media cannot fight against various clown vloggers and self-proclaimed “political experts” by competing with them. Even more, by making them a part of their content. There is no chance of winning that competition. It is a zero-sum game.


The media – the media serving the public agenda – can win only by building long-term trust. Journalistic integrity and professionalism cannot be sacrificed for views and clicks. It is a classic truism that the media is the most important pillar of a democratic society because providing information and analysis allows citizens to make informed choices. The keywords here are “information and analysis” and “informed choice.”



Karen Harutyunyan 


Editor-in-Chief of