By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia’s cash-strapped and low-circulation print media are looking to cash in on the approaching presidential and parliamentary elections -- a rare opportunity to earn extra income from political ads.
Newspapers plan to increase their print runs during what is expected to be the most expensive election campaign in the country’s history. Most of them say they will try to provide balanced and impartial coverage of all major contenders, but will not shy away from expressing their sympathies.
“Elections are a golden period for the Armenian media. It’s not a secret for anyone,” said Levon Ghazarian, deputy editor of the Russian-language “Golos Armenii” newspaper.
“They are a real blessing,” agreed Aram Abrahamian, chief editor of the “Aravot” daily.
Only one major paper, “Hayots Ashkhar,” claimed to expect no extra money from the elections. Its editor, Gagik Mkrtchian,” said “Hayots Ashkhar” will instead be seeking to contribute to President Robert Kocharian’s reelection in the ballot scheduled for February 19. “We have for years supported Robert Kocharian’s policies and will do everything so that he gets reelected,” Mkrtchian told RFE/RL.
Other newspaper editors are more cautious in advocating their political preferences, with Abrahamian saying that “Aravot” is ready to advertise anyone because he thinks its preferred presidential candidate, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, will not contest the elections.
Nikol Pashinian, editor of another popular daily sympathetic to Ter-Petrosian, “Haykakan Zhamanak,” said he is not happy with any of the candidates who have so far decided to run for president. Still, “Aravot” and “Haykakan Zhamanak” are certain to present the Kocharian campaign in a negative light and extensively cover campaigning by his main challengers.
This is also true of the “Iravunk” bi-weekly that has the highest circulation in Armenia: 17,000 copies per issue. The head of its editorial board, Hayk Babukhanian, said if leading opposition parties succeed in putting forward a single presidential candidate, “Iravunk” will definitely throw its behind him.
Virtually all newspapers assure that their political orientations, which fuel a tendency toward partisanship, will not keep them from presenting a broad range of opinions in the run-up to and after the elections.
There are currently seven national dailies publishing in Armenia with the combined circulation of less than 30,000 copies a day. Only one of them, “Hayastani Hanrapetutyun,” is owned by the state. The others’ independence is also questionable. The small printing runs and the resulting lack of advertising revenues means that the vast majority of Armenian publications are not self-sufficient. Recourse to wealthy patrons and political groups is their only way of survival.
Because of their low circulation, the newspapers account for a tiny share of the advertising market dominated by scores of television companies that have much larger audiences. The TV channels will therefore be the main beneficiaries of the anticipated bonanza of campaign ads.