Sunday, June 17, 2012

Armenian Broadcast of Eurovision in Baku an Exercise in Propaganda

I wrote this article on May 27, a day after the Grand Final of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, with the intention of having it published immediately on I submitted it to the editors of this Armenian website that publishes media analysis and critique; however, due to various factors (not having to do with the content or angle of the piece, but rather with technical matters on the organization’s part), it was not published. So I decided to publish it here on my blog. I realize it’s been nearly 3 weeks since the Eurovision contest took place, so I hope you’ll forgive me for publishing old news. I spent a lot of time working on this piece and then waiting for it to be published on — and then when it wasn’t, I decided it had to be published somewhere. So here it is.

"A few buildings, a bit of culture and some clouds. What all this has to do with the 'Land of Fire' I don’t know," said one of the announcers on Armenian Public TV, commenting on the images of Azerbaijan shown between acts of the Grand Final of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest held on May 26 in Baku. And so began the tirade of superfluous remarks and ridicule by Armenian hosts on the H1 channel, which decided to air the contest even though the country had opted not to participate this year.

The hosts, head of the Armenian Eurovision delegation Gohar Gasparyan and Armenian Public TV’s news reporter Artur Grigoryan, began the show with excuses and explanations as to why Armenia backed out at the last minute. They cited “Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev’s announcement that Azerbaijan’s number one enemy are Armenians around the world,” a statement the hosts considered “unacceptable,” while reaffirming their support for the move — a decision, incidentally, made by Armenian Public TV itself.

While Azeri dancers in national dress — the music and costumes of which reminded me of the Armenian — performed in the opening act, the H1 commentators suggested viewers enjoy the performance. However, Gasparyan and Grigoryan didn’t wait too long to condemn Azerbaijan for its human rights violations (in one instance citing the notorious case of “donkey bloggers” Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli), Eurovision entry (“pop mugham”), customs and hosts (“they have obvious difficulties with this language” — when one of the hosts spoke in French).

Though, in general, commentaries on live broadcasts of international events such as the World Cup and Eurovision are common in Armenia, I found the comments on this particular broadcast to be unnecessarily — though perhaps expectantly — politicized. I understand that it was a “reluctant broadcast” (as one tweep described it) but if a TV station has decided to broadcast an entertainment show then it should keep its focus on culture and not on politics.

According to fellow blogger and tweep Lena Osipova, however, it wasn’t all that bad: “Armenian hosts [were] desperately trying to be as reserved as possible in their commentary.” In her opinion, Gasparyan seemed much more careful than Grigoryan (“She seems reluctant to let him speak much”) though she too expressed criticism of the commentary on Armenia’s public television: “DISliking the proprietary statements regarding the bits of Azeri culture. WHEN will ppl finally come to realize it's all shared. Any chance?” she tweeted. 

I personally would’ve appreciated a more straightforward translation and description of events on the screen by the hosts. During the breaks between acts when images (“postcards”) from Azerbaijan were shown, the Armenian hosts suggested there was no connecting thread or thematic relevance to Eurovision in these cultural interludes. As was to be expected, they harshly criticized the image of “Garabagh Horses”, but when the same as well as other images were shown later, they ignored them, choosing to introduce the upcoming contestant instead (which should be commended, perhaps?).

So Armenia backed out of the contest at the last minute but the country’s state broadcaster — which had the responsibility and eventually decided on our non-participation — chose to air the contest for its viewers. Why? I believe the reasons H1 broadcast the show is two-fold: on one hand, it was an opportunity to increase the station’s ratings; and on the other hand, it was a chance to air its opinions (particularly on Azerbaijan) and to yet again justify its position on not sending an Armenian contestant.

And so, what was supposed to be a fun, entertaining, perhaps even peace-making affair turned out to be another tool for the state to “prove” how much superior we are to the “enemy” — in short, to engage in further propaganda.

And though many readers might disagree with me, after all, it could’ve been much worse, I believe H1 and the hosts could’ve done a better job of bridging the divide between our two countries and used this unique opportunity to highlight the similarities, especially in culture, instead of the differences between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Reportedly, Armenia has already confirmed its participaton in the Eurovision Song Contest to be held in Stokholm next year. I’m guessing the Armenian broadcasters’ comments won’t be as spiteful next year. 

P.S. I highly recommend reading Lena Osipova's balanced and comprehensive blog post titled "Eurovision 2012: In between propaganda and... propaganda" for even more details (incl. videos). Unlike me, she was more timely in publishing her commentary :-) 

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