Thursday, 1 February 2007

The Armenian media landscape in the pretext of Parliamentary Elections; What is The Armenian Blogosphere? New Media vs. Old Media...

As the authoritarian control of traditional media intensifies in the context of the upcoming parliamentary elections, the blogs have an opportunity of filling in the vacuum of providing an “alternative viewpoint” and thus appealing to larger masses of readership. The situation, like always, is not that simple however. Although considerable progress was observed in the Armenian blogosphere during the past year, the blogs remain a niche type of media and with just a couple of exceptions, play no role whatsoever in formulating news agenda and participating in the democratic discourse in the country.

In the meanwhile, the incumbent authorities in Armenia are persistently pressurizing the traditional media, using a combination of hidden economic incentives and tax/legal pressures. The latest point can be illustrated by looking at the ownership and financing patterns of most media outlets in Armenia (some examples: Kentron TV owned by Gaguik Tsarukyan, AR TV by Hrant Vardanyan, H2 TV by Samvel Mayrapetyan), while contrasting that with recent cases against Arman Babajanyan editor of very oppositional newspaper and the newly imposed annual fee for servicing the broadcast frequency brought against Radio Companies, who enjoy a relative degree of economic freedom).

On January 23, at the plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe of January 22-26 in Strasbourg, the Resolution 1532 (2007) on Armenia's honoring of obligations and commitments to CE was adopted, in which PACE stated (“The Assembly expects Armenia to demonstrate its capacity to hold the parliamentary elections in 2007 and the presidential elections in 2008 in accordance with international standards, not least with regard to pluralist, impartial media coverage of the election campaign,”) the importance of holding free and fair parliamentary elections in 2007, presidential elections in 2008, and stressed the importance of ensuring pluralist, impartial media coverage of the election campaign. Further on clause 6.2 of the Resolution notes that “a few months away from forthcoming parliamentary elections, the Assembly attaches special importance to pluralism of the electronic media”, since “equitable access by all political parties” to them is “an absolute prerequisite for the holding of free and fair elections”. On the same note Anthony Godfrey, U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Armenia who "warned today[on January 23rd] in Yerevan that his government would revise the decision to allocate a hefty $236 million in extra aid to Armenia if its authorities fail to hold free and just parliamentary elections, slated for May".

A number of widely recognized organizations have recently posted reports on the state of freedom and democracy in Armenia, in which the country repeatedly ranks among partly free, oppressive towards journalists, etc. (See reports by: Freedom House; Reporters without Borders; Global Integrity).The following conclusion of the Freedom House is especially worth mentioning: “Systematic efforts to control media in countries of the former Soviet Union have intensified in 2006 indicating further erosion of civil liberties.”

In the light of all of the above, it is especially important to observe the development of a new type of media: Blogging in Armenia. The number of well established and regularly updated blogs is more then 30 at this point (see the Armenian blogs list on the right side of this web page for some links), which means that there are more blogs, then there are websites for all other media outlets in the Armenian internet, counting newspapers, news agencies, radios, TV company websites taken together. Unlike the traditional media, blogging operates on the principles of independence, voluntary contribution, and anonymity if necessary, which renders a degree of protection to the authors. It is a form of publishing which is harder to control, and hence at this moment there are no widely recognized blogs in Armenia obviously controlled either by the government or by any other political force.

It is important to note, that according to the report made on December 19, 2006 by International Telecommunication Union the total number of internet users in Armenia makes up 150,000 people and the number is growing (Armenpress, Decembe 19 newsroll). Although a very small percentage of these 150,000 uses internet as their prime source of information (I couldn’t find any statistics, but my most optimistic estimate doesn’t exceed 5%), the online media as a whole have a huge potential readership, which is several times bigger then the circulation of the biggest printed Armenian newspaper (most print newspapers have an average "tirage" of 1000-2500 (don't confuse "tirage" - number of published units with circulation, as circulation in the case of Armenian newspapers is actually much lower then their "number of published copies"), while the biggest newspapers like: Aravot, Haykakan Zhamanak printa little more then 5000 copies daily).

One of the important characteristics of the online media is also its “on-demand” nature, which means, that when there are important events happening the use of online media increases dramatically. To make justice to the traditional media we have to note, that the last feature is obvious for them as well, but for the bloggers the growth is incremental. The example of Armenian writer, journalist Hrant Dink’s murder should be considered here. On the day of Dink’s murder and the days immediately following it the usage of blogs and online newspapers in Armenia doubled and tripled in many cases. This means, that when people are really looking for information they turn to the internet. It was also important to note, that people who had something to say about the tragedy preferred to go to the blogs, as they had the possibility of instantly commenting on the issue, whereas the traditional newspapers do not provide them with such possibilities. They do provide the possibility of writing “letters to editor” type of interaction, but it is clearly not as popular as the commenting feature of blogs and forums.

The following figures are a comparison of blogs vs. traditional media websites in the Armenian internet. The most popular English Language Armenian blog: Oneworld Multimedia for example gets 500 page-views per day at times; while most other English language blogs don’t get more then 50-80 page views per day. This does not include the pages/articles viewed using RSS/Atom XML feeds, which seriously decreases the actual number of page views of the blogs. The situation is rather different in the Russian language Armenian blogs, because they are based on LiveJournal, which enables the users to view other people's blogs inline at their own blog, using the Friends feature, so tracking actual page views is even more problematic.

Although the following comparison is not really compatible, because the concepts of pageviews and visitors are vastly different, the following figures could be looked at: Armenian Rating System Circle.am the most popular Armenian online media: A1plus gets 1700 visits per day on average; ArmeniaNow gets 600 visits on averageand Panorama.am barely passes the 400 ma on average.

Having said all of the above, I seem to have more questions, then answers. So here are some questions for discussion (although my page doesn't really have visitors, so expecting a discussion would be silly, wouldn't it?):

1. What do the bloggers see as their function in the Armenian media landscape? (Perhaps they see no function at all?)

2. What are the potentials for blogging to become an alternative channel for communication and public dialogue? (At this point looks like there are none!)

3. What are obstacles for the development of blogging? (expensive and low quality internet? No money via the Google Adwords?)

4. Why am I asking all this stupid questions? J (‘cause I’m looking for solutions, you see!)

6 comments:

  1. During the Hrank Dink assassination period I was exceeding 1,100 page views a day. However, now that Dink appears not to be of as much interest, I'm now averaging 428 readers and 752 page views a day.

    However, the general trend is downwards and the blog is stabilizing to a lower average of 301 readers and 535 page views a day. I suspect that this will now be my new readership now that Dink has left the media spotlight compared to how it was.

    Anyway, glad that your dispelling the myth of Armenian sites attracting hundreds of thousands of readers a month, as I posted about here. Still can't believe that Hetq Online is boasting 110,000 readers and really believes it is counting that rather than "hits," but as long as funders buy into that, I suppose they don't care.

    Hats off to Armenia Now for openly admitting that they only have around 7,000 readers per month. It's always worth looking at circle.am statistics, btw. According to their media page, Hetq Online had 860 readers, and Armenia Now had 642.

    In comparison, I had 341 readers, and so, as my site is only in English, and Armenia Now is in 2, with Hetq being in 4, can I assume that I'm probably attracting more English language readers than those two other sites?

    And all this despite the fact that my blog receives nothing in fundng and I don't have a staff. They have everything, including hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding and budgets for everything, yet their readership is pitifully low.

    This isn't a complaint about them, perhaps. It's a complaint about the potential readership. People just aren't interested. However, no doubt blogging and the online media will serve its role as an alternative source of information during the elections.

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  2. Hats off to Armenia Now for openly admitting that they only have around 7,000 readers per month. It's always worth looking at circle.am statistics, btw. According to their media page, Hetq Online had 860 readers, and Armenia Now had 642.

    In comparison, I had 341 readers, and so, as my site is only in English, and Armenia Now is in 2, with Hetq being in 4, can I assume that I'm probably attracting more English language readers than those two other sites?


    Incidentally, I was referring to stats yesterday, although my stats come off statcounter.com which works in pretty much the same way as circle.am albeit with far more information about other things related to web site analysis.

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  3. I think this picture is not really the right representation of Armenian print media. Armenian newspapers do not have the attractiveness of colour print and are not as thick as depicted in your illustration.

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  4. You are absolutely right. The problem is - I couldn't find real Armenian newspapers (as I'm in UK now) and take a suitable photo, so I just "stole" a photo from Google Image search. If you find that it creates significant obstacles in understanding the meaning and the context of the issues I am discussing, I will be more then happy to ask friends in Armenia make a suitable illustration and send it over for me to put in this blog.

    However, you should accept, that there are some Armenian newspapers will color print and ticker paper (although of very low quality), for example: TV Mole is full colors, Gind, Eter, 168 hours, Zhamanak all have two colors, the Russian supplement of Azg comes in 2-3 or full color depending on the issue, etc.

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  5. Onnik your blog is a pain to read due to the very small font you are using.

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  6. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. It is always great pleasure to read your posts.

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