Armenia is a republic in the South Caucasus which borders on Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey. Its capital city is Yerevan. The population of the republic is approximately 3 million, whereas the number of Armenians residing outside the republic, according to the World Bank data, is over 7 million. The Armenian diaspora formed as a result of various circumstances, both historical (the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey) and socio-economic (the difficult economic situation after the collapse of the USSR, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the border blockade by Turkey). The diaspora has always maintained contact with Armenia and had a great cultural, historical and economic impact on the development of the historical homeland. Thus, till the present day the economy of the republic heavily depends on foreign aid and remittances from Armenians residing or temporarily working abroad.
In spring 2018, Armenia underwent a peaceful transition of power, which brought about drastic changes in domestic policy. The people took to the streets of capital Yerevan and other cities across the country demanding the change. As a result of numerous meetings and demonstrations, the premier in power and two-time president (2008-2018) Serzh Sargsyan resigned, and the leader of the protest movement, an opposition MP Nikol Pashinyan was elected the country’s prime minister by the Parliament. The process of sociopolitical reforms in the country is underway.
In terms of time, the history of the Armenian media landscape development is divided into two stages: The period preceding the collapse of the Soviet Union - from 1920 to 1991 - and the period after the Proclamation of Independence - from 1991 to the present day. In the first period the main segments of the media system were created and technologically equipped. Year 1926 saw the establishment of Հայաստանի Հանրային Ռադիո (Public Radio of Armenia). Year 1957 witnessed the emergence of Հայաստանի Հանրային Հեռուստաընկերություն (Public TV Company of Armenia), the establishment of what would become the traditions of Armenian print media, as well as the emergence of mass-circulation newspapers, of which special mention should go to Սովետական Հայաստան (Soviet Armenia). However during Soviet times, mass media were not independent in Armenia as in other Soviet republic; they adhered to a uniform ideological doctrine and mainly propagated communist ideas. The post-Soviet transformations of the media system took place at all key levels of state governance: legal, economic, political and technological. Whereas the processes in the first three spheres began immediately in Armenia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and were determined by the new realities of the newfound independence (freedom of speech and expression, the multiparty system, the emergence of advertising business), the development of the technological sphere and the functioning of so-called “new media” were first of all driven by the global factors of the Internet and the digital technology development.
Despite the presence of a sufficiently well-off and influential diaspora outside Armenia, the republic’s media system is not influenced by diaspora media as a source of public opinion in the country. Moreover, it is often the Armenian media themselves that form the information agenda of the diaspora. As a rule, diaspora media perform the functions of preserving the identity of Armenians abroad and help to keep nostalgic feelings about their historic homeland alive, as well as inform them about the internal political situation in Armenia. Among the most renowned publications outside Armenia, it is worth highlighting the Armenian political weekly newspaper Agos of Turkey, published in Turkish in Istanbul; the first Armenian newspaper in America The Armenian Mirror Spectator, published in English in Watertown, Massachusetts since 1932; the newspaper of the Armenians of Russia Erkramas, published in Russian; the independent socio-political newspaper Noah’s Ark, published in Russian; the weekly newspaper Araks, published in Armenian in Tehran. Diaspora media are an important source of informing diaspora representatives about the key panArmenian strategic issues, such as the Armenian-Azerbaijani confrontation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as well as recognition of the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey by the world community.
In terms of functioning of the print media, the Armenian media market is stagnant and this also indicates the overall state of affairs in the media sphere. The studies carried out in Armenia by the Regional Research Center organization, indicate that since 2019, in the key sources of getting information the Internet has occupied the first place - 58.9%; in the second place is television - 35.7%; in the third place is the information received from friends and family members - 4%, followed by radio - 1%; print media occupies the last line - 0.3%. Among the sources of daily news, the social networks are in the first place - 72.6%; 62.5% of the population of the republic considers only television as a daily source of information, and 53% of the population use only online media.
Of the four key sources of information, television plays the leading role, followed by the Internet and social networks, which are slightly behind; radio ranks third and the print media rank the last. Since 2012, the drop in prices of Internet service providers has brought about a massive transition from print to online media.
In the history of independent Armenia, virtually all media since 1991 have been controlled by various forces: the state, political parties, entrepreneurs. As a rule, this link has always been anonymous or hasn’t been shown in any national registers. Thus, the activity of a major media holding Panarmenian Media Group, which included the Armenia TV channel, was linked to the name of the country’s former president Serzh Sargsyan’s son-in-law Mikayel Minasyan. Early in February 2019, the holding announced the cessation of activity due to the change in its shareholders’ composition. The activity of the metropolitan Կենտրոն (Kentron) TV channel is linked to oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan and his Բարգավաճ Հայաստան կուսակցություն (Prosperous Armenia Party), which until quite recently had the second place in the Parliament by number of deputies. The Yerkir Media TV channel is associated with Հայ հեղափոխական դաշնակցություն կուսակցություն (The Armenian Revolutionary Federation - ARF). The third Armenian channel Հ3, represents Օրինաց երկիր կուսակցություն (The Rule of Law Party), while the АR TV channel is related to late businessman Hrant Vardanyan’s family and the Grand Candy Company. The dependence of the republic’s media has been stated repeatedly by international organisations as well. In the 2020 rankings of Reporters Without Borders, Armenia ranked 60th among the countries that are free in terms of media activity.
The development of journalistic professionalism is organised under the Bologna system and includes a 4-year bachelor’s programme and a 2-year master’s programme. Departments of Journalism function in all major state higher education institutions. Annually the republic’s academic institutions graduate about four hundred qualified journalists to the media space. The departments of journalism function in Երևանի պետական համալսարան (Yerevan State University - YSU), Խաչատուր Աբովյանի անվան հայկական պետական մանկավարժական համալսարան (Armenian State Pedagogical University after Khachatur Abovyan - ASPU), Հայ-Ռուսական համալսարան (Russian Armenian University - RAU), Երևանի Վ. Բրյուսովի անվան պետական լեզվահասարակագիտական համալսարան (Yerevan Brusov State Linguistic University - YSLU), Филиал Московского государственного университета имени М.В. Ломоносова в городе Ереване (Branch of Lomonosov Moscow State University in Yerevan).
In the history of independent Armenia, the first case of state interference into the media activity was the shutdown of the A1+ TV channel. The 1998 presidential election demonstrated the strengthened role of TV in the political agenda. The A1+ TV channel covered events from all perspectives and, for the first time in the republic’s contemporary history, it demonstrated the influence of information media on shaping public opinion. Later the situation recurred in connection with the tragic events of the seizure of and killings in the Parliament building on 27 October 1999. In contrast with the state media, which covered the information rather poorly, A1+ presented a comprehensive analysis of the events, not ruling out the probability of a connection between the incumbent authorities and the perpetrators. Such ungrounded interpretation of the events displeased Armenia’s government, and, as a result, the channel was shut down. Until spring 2018, the channel participated in the competitions for broadcasting activity 17 times without effect. This case became demonstrational for all the other media. Since then the state has done everything to exercise total control over media; it set limits and rules, which the media complied with in silence. Nevertheless, the cases of oppression of journalists recurred periodically, especially in time of large-scale public protesting such as the Electric Yerevan movement, which resisted the rising costs of electricity in 2015, and the seizure of a police station in Yerevan in 2016. However, the economic factor has been the main media control agent in Armenia. Big businesses were monopolised as power was in the hands of oligarchs, who lobbied for the interests of entrepreneurs. Given that Armenia’s advertising market was rather small (variously estimated at between US$30m and US$50m), the media directly depended on advertisers. By exercising control over businesses, the state could block the media from accessing the advertising market, thereby depriving them of the possibility of real earnings. The extent to which the new government influences the Armenian media system after the transition of power has not been studied yet, because of the rather short period that has passed since the establishment of the new government. As mentioned before, the media landscape is going through a post-revolutionary development stage. However, two years after the "velvet revolution" and the change of power in Armenia, there are some disagreements between the new government and representatives of the journalistic community. Opposition media, which supports the former authorities, has serious financial resources and a wide range of media resources.
Generally, this media tends to pursue the interests of its owners. These resources openly and actively criticize the current government, blaming it on any occasion. Criticism annoys government authorities and the Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has repeatedly made loud statements about the corruption of “99% of the media and 70% of journalists”. This caused a wide resonance among journalists and the media initiative Media advocate and the Journalists Union of Armenia called on the Prime Minister not to label their former colleagues and disclose the names of corrupt journalists. The Journalists Union of Armenia also issued a statement that “today the current government considers the free press an adversary and enemy.” According to the public organization, the authorities use the tactics of inciting the army of controlled fake users on social networks against the insubordinate social media. The Public TV of Armenia is also the supporter of the ideas and initiatives of the current government.
The involvement of security services in combating disinformation is worrying. Having declared war on fake news, especially at the initial stage of the spread of coronavirus infection in Armenia, authorities overdid it. There were cases when special services demanded to delete posts on Facebook of famous doctors and cultural figures about COVID-19 for not spreading panic among the population.
The entire media system certainly does not benefit from such a heated environment of hatred, mutual insults and reproaches and this can harm the principles of freedom of speech in Armenia. Freedom House and Reporters without Borders have already responded to these facts by displaying the situation around the media of the republic in their 2020 reports.