Social Networking Spells Trouble for Armenian Journalists
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||19 June 2013|
|Citation / Document Symbol||CRS Issue 692|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Social Networking Spells Trouble for Armenian Journalists, 19 June 2013, CRS Issue 692, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/51c95d324.html [accessed 17 August 2017]|
Two Armenian journalists have lost their jobs since March after expressing unguarded criticism of the government on social media.
The latest case involves Armen Dulyan, presenter of the main news programme on the Shant television channel, who was dismissed on June 10.
"They called me and said I shouldn't come in to work any more as the bosses had decided to sack me," said Dulyan, 60, who had worked at Shant for three years, having previously worked at Radio Liberty for a decade and a half.
In a comment posted on Facebook on June 8, Dulyan remarked on Russian television's decision to ban jokes about President Vladimir Putin's separation from his wife, and drew a comparison with the way Armenian TV stations were run.
"How similar we are… Russia's new Public Television made a joke in yesterday's show about Vladimir Putin's divorce, but the show was quickly scrapped," he wrote. "How can you joke about the president? It's practically a coup attempt. See how primitive the people responsible for television are, both in Armenia and in Russia."
On June 11, Shant issued a statement confirming that Dulyan had been dismissed on grounds of showing disrespect to the channel.
Dulyan himself says there is more to the story. A year ago, he says, the channel's director called him and told him the government did not like the way he criticised it on Facebook, and asked him to refrain from doing so.
According to Dulyan, he replied that he had a right to say whatever he wanted outside work, and pointed out that the TV channel had no code of conduct for its employees' behaviour on social media.
"Even back then, I realised that a time would come when I'd be sacked, and I asked them to give me at least two weeks notice. But instead, they got some second-level official to call me and tell me I needn't come to work, in complete violation of labour law," he said.
Mikael Piliposyan, head of the legal department at the Conference of Trade Unions, said he was sure the company had broken the law. Dulyan himself said he did not intend to sue the company, as he wanted nothing more to do with it.
For its part, the Shant company, refused to comment on Dulyan's allegations and just repeated its previous statement.
"Dulyan's offensive comments on social media about leading figures at Armenian television companies, and his public agreement with the crude and unashamed abuse that followed make it impossible to continue working with him," the company statement said. "We approve of any professional debate and any correctly-expressed opinion, but shameless abuse is totally unacceptable on all levels."
Another journalist, Kima Yeghiazaryan, a correspondent for the pro-government daily Hayots Ashkharh (Armenian World), was dismissed at the end of March, also for comments posted on Facebook.
"There weren't any personal insults or defamation in my posts, just a bit of irony about parliamentarians from the ruling Republican Party. Basically, I just took a fact and commented on it a little bit ironically or critically," Yeghiazaryan said.
She blames the government for her dismissal, not Hayots Ashkharh's chief editor Gagik Mkrtchyan, whom she respects.
"I never considered myself part of the government, although I worked at a pro-government paper. I never wrote about the ruling elite," she said. "In my articles I commented on the activities of the opposition, and wrote what I really thought, not falsehoods. But if I work for a pro-government paper, does that mean I'm not allowed my own opinion?"
Mkrtchyan said every newspaper had its own political views and its journalists should not contradict them.
"You can't write along the lines the newspaper favours in the morning and then write something that contradicts it on social media in the afternoon. That's what Kima Yeghiazaryan did," he said.
The two incidents have sparked discussion about whether Armenia needs some form of regulation covering what journalists can or cannot say freely on social media networks.
Facebook has become an increasingly influential forum in Armenia. The Socialbakers.com website which surveys social media use around the world says 416,500 people in Armenia were signed up to Facebook in April - more than 14 per cent of the total population and almost half of its web users.
"There's now a need for ethical standards for social media use," Gegham Manukyan, director of information and political programmes at the Yerkir Media television channel, said. "From the outset, all employees need to agree with management what they are going to post online."
Davit Alaverdyan, editor-in-chief of the Mediamax news agency, said it would be better if media organisations introduced their own guidelines for employees, rather than having formal legislation.
"The contract between employee and company could just have a line that regulates the journalist's behaviour online," he said.