Digital media

Conventionally, the history of the development of the online environment in Armenia can be divided into three time stages: The emergence of the Internet (1988-1995), the period of monopolisation and stagnation (1997-2006) and the period of active development (2010 to present). In the first period, the users of the Net were mainly academic circles of the republic: institutes and research centres. The second period (1997-2006) is related to the activities of ԱրմենՏել (ArmenTel), the largest telecommunications company and the first Internet provider in Armenia. The high monthly fee for using the Net during this period, poor infrastructure, slow Internet traffic, according to most experts and representatives of the journalistic community, had a very negative impact on the development of the ICT sector and online media in the republic. The third period of the Internet development in Armenia was marked by the fall of ArmenTel’s monopoly.

In the first years of independence, right up to 2005, the digital media of Armenia were usually represented by singular sites. Among the journalistic community, paid subscriptions to offline distribution of information were most common. The first informational site, the Aragil news digest, has been functioning since 1994. The site distributed articles from Armenian newspapers translated into English. Later, such distribution began to be realised by the news agencies Սնարք Snark, renamed Արմինֆո (Arminfo) and Նոյյան Տապան (Noyan Tapan). In those years, the pioneers in online journalism were the newspapers Azg (Nation) and Aravot (Morning), the information portal Panarmenian.net, and later A1+ TV channel, which had lost its licence. The difficult socio-economic situation in the republic and the high prices for Internet services sharply limited the number of users, which mainly consisted of the journalistic community, representatives of the IT sector and representative offices of international organisations. Online media were focused on outside audiences and conducted a selection of information within a week, usually in English and Russian. Another obstacle for the development of online media was the lack of ability to create texts in Armenian. Due to technical problems with Armenian encodings and fonts, the content was created mainly in Russian or English.

Today, online media as an alternative to traditional media are perceived as a more liberal platform for searching information and free expression of opinions. For example, for the Armenian press, especially the print media, electronic media became the only way to somehow “stay afloat”. Given that most newspapers have a circulation of several hundred to several thousand copies, almost all print media seek to go online and become a source of information on social networks. Moreover, it is often the case that some electronic media themselves form an information agenda for all types of media in the republic. Thus, in April 2016, the Armenian public was stirred up by an investigation conducted by the online source Hetq.am. The journalists of the newspaper together with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed the involvement of Mihran Poghosyan, the head of the Compulsory Enforcement Service of the Ministry of Justice, in the activities of offshore companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and Seychelles. The journalists of the online edition proved that the official had been doing business through registered offshore companies and concealing the income received. The investigation caused a wide public response; as a result, the official sent in his resignation and was dismissed. For the first time in the history of modern Armenia, a precedent was established. The activities of online media caused the resignation of a civil servant, which was a significant achievement.

An important role in increasing the number of Internet users was played by the factor of the Armenian diaspora and the large number of labour migrants working outside the country. Socio-political processes are also among the reasons that stimulated interest in the Internet space. Thus, the first and truly mass consumer interest in online media in the modern history of Armenia manifested itself in March 2008, when the opposition, which expressed disagreement with the results of the presidential elections in February, took to the streets of Yerevan. The Velvet Revolution, which took place in Armenia in April 2018, stated the absolute domination of online media and social networks over traditional media, which were considered to be biased and pro-governmental. In fact, the entire revolutionary process, starting with the first rallies and ending with the parliamentary meetings at which the new prime minister was elected, was transmitted by online media promptly and in real time. This period saw an unprecedented increase in the online media audience. Thus, the monthly attendance of online media sites A1+, 1in.am, and Azatutyun.am (Armenian service of RFE/RL) in April 2018 increased by ten folds, reaching 15m, 20m, and 40m views respectively.

According to statistics posted on Similarweb.com, in the global ranking of information resources, the leader among Armenian online information resources, as of autumn 2018, is News.am, which ranks at 14,022, followed by the following information sites: 1in.am (rank 35,965), Mamul.am (rank 39,653), Shamshyan.com (rank 40,216), Blognews.am (rank 54,298), Tert.am (rank 58,009). According to the results of the 2018 Freedom on the Net study published by Freedom House, of the nineteen countries that recorded progress in 2018, Armenia significantly improved its position and moved from the list of ‘partially free’ to the list of ‘free’ countries, ranking 27th in the world. The authors directly associate this success with the Velvet Revolution.

Studies of the linguistic aspects of online resources of Armenia, registered in the largest rating system Kayqer.am, have revealed the following picture: 45 percent of the sites operate only in Armenian; 32 percent place information in three languages – Armenian, Russian and English. As a rule, the source is created in Armenian, with translations into other languages. Only 10 percent place information exclusively in Russian, with the source initially created in Russian. All the other sites translate articles from Armenian into foreign languages. Thus, online media of Armenia are the only ones in the media system focused on three languages, with the original source in Armenian.