Asset 3


End of content No more pages to load

Your search did not match any articles

Sara Petrosyan

Government Policy to Subsidize the Print Media is Wasteful and Pointless

The annual cost to run one daily newspaper in Armenia is more than the 48 million AMD government 2012 subsidy to over 80 non-governmental news outlets.

This “humanitarian” government program was launched in 1998, when struggling news outlet representatives petitioned the government to lift the burdensome VAT. The government decided to subsidize the media instead; including the regional, literary, children’s and national minority media.

Years later the list was expanded further to include everything but the periodic press. The subsidy list included professional magazines with a very restricted target audience, whose publishers were NGOs or state agencies, the organs of regional and compatriotic organizations, literary-cultural papers, etc.

You can only reach one conclusion by looking at the list – whoever has a contact at the Ministry of Culture has been able to get their publication included in the subsidy list. The allocated amount wasn’t increased but was split amongst the registered names.

Directors of news outlets imagined the state assistance differently. The decades old argument between publishers and media distributors was never resolved and the government offered no help in this regard. Locations of the print media were not freely privatized and handed over to the publishers.

Furthermore, locations and print houses were seized, and today, we have not one periodical approaching 100 years of operation that can celebrate that anniversary in appropriate style. In a word, the policy of state assistance is a policy of cajoling and gaining favour. The government wants to create the impression that, on the one hand, it is guaranteeing media diversity and diversity of opinion and, on the other, whilst they haven’t solved an essential issue, with that list we can achieve the reputation of being a nation of lovers of reading within a circle of the uninformed.

Due to this policy, the print media is free today but it has sacrificed its influence in return. National papers have regressed to becoming regional ones due to their limited circulation, mostly being sold in the capital. Regional papers, in turn, have become community papers. People’s worldview has been restricted to the confines of the community and neighbourhood.

You can’t retain the media by spending 300-500,000 AMD annually, even though the majority receiving subsidies state that they survive because of the financial assistance. They just don’t want to lose that assistance. The assistance allocated by the government works out to just one month’s expenses for those papers. Most of them confess that they have no readers and that they distribute the papers and magazines for free. They have no sales or subscribers, except in cases when they force pensioners to buy papers with their pensions or when they are able to force a few community leaders to buy them.

“To maintain papers in the regions, an administrative method is applied. There’s no other way possible. In other words, the regional governor must contact the village mayor and say that he or she must subscribe to such and such a paper; for example 5-10 copies. If a paper has 5-6 subscribers in each village it can survive. But there are 6 papers. Which one should a regional governor put in a good word for?”

The above is a portion of an interview given to Hetq two years ago by Kanteghn Aragatzi Editor Artavazd Nazaryan (April 23, 2010). What issues can a newspaper, kept afloat by administrative methods and sold via the intercession of a regional governor, raise in its pages without meeting with the disapproval of said regional governor. In fact, given such self-censored content, can such papers and magazines be in demand?

Given this manner of publishing the print media, we are also, perhaps, unique in the world – a subsidized press is published so that it can be distributed free of charge. There are well-known foreign papers that are distributed free of charge. They are unique to countries with a strong economy. They attract a great amount of advertising and their sales revenues aren’t all that decisive. But what issues can be resolved with papers that are published a few times a year or quarterly magazines. What is their social-political significance? It’s incomprehensible.

Many news outlets included in the government subsidy list are one man/woman operations. The editor is also the reporter, proof reader, and computer operator and delivery person. There are newspapers that have no office or are family operations. (I won’t call them businesses because a paper that costs 135 AMD to produce has been selling at 100 AMD for the past 18 years). These are produced in someone’s home, like lavash or some other household item. Here, we should the words of one of our talented reporters Valerie Aydinyan – “Beer bottle labels are also printed in the millions, but it isn’t the press”

A newspaper is the creation of collective work, where each contributes his/her small part. The editorial office is a defined environment which, especially in the regions, must bring together a certain intellectual and political potential. An editor and the staff must enjoy a respect and gravitas in the public sphere so that citizens can entrust them with their problems and concerns.

The situation of many papers today reminds one of the private commercial banks of 15 years ago in which there were those with permission to expand the activities of the bank; those for whom the “bank” was their hand bag. The banker would meet with clients in a park somewhere, jot down numbers on a slip of paper about the thousands of dollars the client had deposited, and leave. The citizens, who had just entrusted the bank with thousands of dollars, wouldn’t ask about the bank’s capital reserves or if the deposit was insured. Later, when the bank “went under”, thousands of scammed depositors would create a civic movement of “defrauded depositors”. They would protest but get back nothing financially.

In these days of crisis for the print media, when the print runs of the most influential and widely read papers are being cut, must we prolong the lives of papers, whose links with readers have long been cut, by providing artificial intravenous nourishment? Must government assistance to the press be restricted to such a method?

In each province of Armenia, in each sector, there are 5-6 media that are being subsidized. Based on the amount of the allocated amount, 500,000 AMD annually, we can state that this isn’t being done to make information accessible to the populace.

Most of these papers play no role in public life. They have no editors or editorial staff and residents have long forgotten about their existence. It’s worthwhile to develop the regional media but based on a well drafted set of standards in order to at least transform one into a truly regional paper and not solely on a community level.  Naturally, nothing can be accomplished with the paltry amounts now being allocated.

In Europe they wanted to preserve the impact of the media through subsidies, given that their newspapers play a role in social and political life and they assisted with the business plans of established papers in order not to decrease the role of the media.

In Armenia, there are only two factors necessary for government subsidies – that a paper be published once a month and that it print at least 500 copies.

Such a policy is wasteful and pointless.

Comments (1)

Հարգելի Սառա Կիսում եմ անկեղծ մտահոգությունդ և ցավ ապրում, որ :

Write a comment

Hetq does not publish comments containing offensive language or personal attacks. Please criticize content, not people. And please use "real" names, not monikers. Thanks again for following Hetq.
If you found a typo you can notify us by selecting the text area and pressing CTRL+Enter