War Journalism vs. Peace Journalism between Azerbaijan and Armenia

By Bakhtiyar Aslanov

Generally, I would say today one of the main problems between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the gap of neutral and objective information on both of the parties. Therefore, before I go any further, I would like to start with the roles and the brief histories of “nationalist journalism” otherwise “war journalism” in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Take for instance two news agencies from the two countries – ANS TV in Azerbaijan and Yerkir Media in Armenia. These news outlets are very effective in influencing and hence forming general nationalist, patriotic or hateful opinions in their societies. Let us begin with their starting dates as that would explain their popularity and ability to influence the two societies. Both of these news platforms have their roots in the first clashes and stages of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This was also around the time when the post-Soviet states were declaring their independence, and so were Armenia and Azerbaijan where nationalist, separatist movements and clashes were very active.

ANS (Azerbaijan News Service) is the first private and independent TV Company established in 1990 in Azerbaijan. In the early 90’s, ANS had a good reputation among a wide range of the population. Much of the focus then was on the Khojaly Genocide and the heroisms of Azerbaijan’s patriotic youth during the Nagorno-Karabakh war. This was visible even in the motto of the channel: “Fighting is written on your forehead” (Döyüş alnınıza yazılıb). Each breaking news hour of ANS starts by giving information about the latest clashes on the front-line.

A comparable TV channel to ANS in Armenia in terms of nationalist content is Yerkir Media which similar to ANS is a private TV channel. Even though Yerkir Media has on numerous occasions stressed that it has no affiliation to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (also known as Dashnaktsutyun), it is widely known as the main media outlet of the left-wing nationalists. The name of the channel (meaning “land” or “country”) is identical with Yerkir Press which is one of ARF’s affiliate newspapers that had its first issue in 1991.

Its content is not state propaganda (which is successfully carried out by the national TV channels) but nationalist propaganda; it is even in the opposition to the present government with the foreign policy as one of the main areas of disagreement. Although the size of its audience is not close to the national or some private channels, the current trend is that its oppositional stand is attracting more viewers. Yerkir Media’s coverage has always been heavily influenced by nationalist sentiment, the main and reoccurring themes of this news outlet are the Armenian Genocide, the country’s blockade by Turkey, Nagorno-Karabakh, problems in Azerbaijan, and the “destructive” and pro-military position of Azerbaijan over the conflict.

Of course, the two examples listed above are not the only ones, and we can add other news outlets alike to the list both in Azerbaijan and Armenia. It is no news that these media outlets focus on patriotism, instilment of hatred against the other. Yerkir and ANS are perfect examples to use when explaining “war journalism”. Generally, the missions of media in Armenia and Azerbaijan are the same – to increase nationalistic sentiment. Both sides use the language of war journalism – victimizing themselves, demonizing the other and emotionally charged language.

Against this backdrop, let us not forget about the social media – Facebook, Twitter and blogs-which make up the new generation of “journalism”. And this is where I feel more positive. The social media is a new and positive phenomenon which could potentially (and there are already some positive examples) be used to spread information in the direction of peace activities. We can benefit from the sources our friends share on joint social networks in order to observe the trends of Armenian and Azerbaijan media. However, one must also keep in mind that the social media too can be used as a tool to promote aggression, disgust, and disturbing messages just like traditional journalism. This is a alarming fact, indicating that traditional journalism sources do well in deeply embedding hatred in their readers and that these sources clearly specialize in “war journalism” rather than a peaceful one and therefore affect the new generation and their news sharing outlets such as the social media and alike.

Given these circumstances, journalists engaged in peace processes, must adhere to the three major indicators of peace journalism – avoiding demonizing language, a nonpartisan approach, and a multiparty orientation. Journalists must decide whether it is the national interests of the country they are protecting and promoting or the support for the peace-building process. In the case of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it is easier for many journalists to choose war journalism over peace journalism because journalists are eager to create agitated news for their own popularity within their societies. This however (and it is likely that both Armenian and Azerbaijani journalists simply overlook this for the sake of peace of mind) proves that journalists lack development, professionalism, and knowledge of news reporting forgetting about objectivity and what not when reporting on the conflict, and the other.

Unfortunately, inability to share objective news is not a quality that is absent only among Armenian and Azerbaijani journalists. Just recently, a friend from Armenia, who happens to be active in track two diplomacy initiatives and reconciliation efforts, shared some subjective news clips on Facebook on June 2012 clashes that took place on the front line. Surely, she could share information to inform her audience; however sharing one-sided news was demonstrating her lack of understanding as well as lack of neutral and objective media in her home country. Just like in Azerbaijan, much of Armenian media supports interests of the local government.

What I am trying to get to here is the position of journalists as well as peace journalists when writing or sharing news about the conflict. Their goals should be clearly defined as much as they should be dedicated to objective news reporting and production of such news that instead of hatred and negativity would provide more peace-oriented messages to the public at large.

Everything for PEACE!

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