On July 21 a news conference was held at the presidential office marking the 100th day of Serzh Sarkissian’s presidency. 2 bloggers were invited to the press conference on equal terms with 38 journalists, making the number of invitees a symbolic 40. 40 questions were asked to the president – and bloggers were given the chance to get answers to 1 question each, on equal terms with journalists. In fact, considering that some pro-opposition media weren’t invited, including “Haykakan Zhamanak” newspaper which has the highest circulation among dailies in Armenia (the print-run is over 10,000 copies), the invited bloggers were ‘even more equal’ than some journalists. The precedent is surely unprecedented not only in Armenia, but accross most countries of the world.
It has to be said that Serzh Sargsyan had a blog established on his behalf even before he was sworn in as president of Armenia, collecting several hundred questions from Armenian bloggers on the shaky political situation after the disputed presidential elections held in February and the violent clashes between the opposition supporters and the police forces in capital Yerevan on March 1. With the initiative of Akunamatata_Ser, who remembered that back in March President Sargsyan had promised to answer the questions of bloggers again on his 100th day of presidency, around 50 questions were collected. As the blogger reports in another entry.
It turned out that the people on the helms of government actually look after us and even follow us. Today akunamatata_ser & pigh were invited to the presidential palace!!!!!! It turned out the fact that we remember and don’t forget the promises to bloggers hasn’t slipped the eye of the ‘big brother’
In an excited entry RealArmenia welcomes the participation of Armenian bloggers in the press conference, noteing, that “Armenia ,so far,becomes one of the rare country where the bloggers are going to be equal to journalists” and congratulating Sergey Chamanyan (akunamatata_ser) and Tigran Kocharyan (pigh) for the honor.
Not all accepted the news with the same type of excitement. An arrey of criticism and arguments broke out in the Armenian blogosphere.Nazarian remarked, that “The invited were palace bloggers serving the needs of the regime. The questions they asked obviously were pro-regime.” Unzipped went further, wondering “may be the real intention behind recent close engagements of presidential staff with few pro-government bloggers is to discredit blogs/blogging in the eyes of population, in general, from the beginning, without even allowing their further development.” Tumanyan has even looked forward 70 years and created a short negative-fantasy story in the best traditions of Orwell’s 1984.
Veteran journalist Mark Grigorian has initiated a more theoretical discussion on the acceptability of inviting bloggers, i.e. non-professional journalists to a press-conference, which pre-supposes at least a certain degree of professionalism. Mark Grigorian speculates, that although the invited bloggers have around the same numbers of readers as some newspapers, the blogs are still should not be considered as mass media:
The blog is not updated regularly (one day a blog might have several entries, on another days – none at all), the blogger might not necissarily be the author of information published on the blog, and the blog might not always contain inormation — we know that often blog entries are just photos or a link to a music video on YouTube, etc.
Hence blogging requires other skills, then those necessary for working in Mass Media. And that was perfectly illustrated on Armenian president’s press conference.
Former journalist and media professional Ogostos is also not impressed:
There is no logic in the appearance of bloggers in a presidential press-conference . If presidential spin-doctors consider bloggers full-fledged players in the information field and want to demonstrate their “transparency” by inviting bloggers, they should be aware, that this “transparency” is fully blown-up by the absence of pro-opposition journalists – who are undoubtedly NO LESS FULL-FLEDGED PLAYERS. If the presidential sprin-doctors view bloggers as civil-society, they should also invite other members of civil society and call it public consultations or something else, instead of inviting a press-conference.
In response to the wave of criticism, Pigh makes some valid points, saying he doesn’t respect most journalists because of their “unscrupulousness, non-professionalism and venal practices” and draws the picture of the experienced blogger, who has no editor slowing down and stopping from publishing any information, as there’s no salary involved at the end of the month. The blogger says his motive to attend the press-conference was to promote blogging and blogosphere, and he beleives the objective was reached. “Take it easy, people”, Pigh tells his critics, summerizing the acheivements:
Dear bloggers. It is so cool that we, positionists and oppositionsists, have stepped on the feet of journalists with our blogs. And even with our professionalism. I personally am flattered to see, that the number of my blog’s pageviews surpasses 90 percent of printruns of Armenian newspapers. It is great to be able to enter the blog, see a post and be able to express your agreement disagreement (instead of running to the courts and demanding refutation in the newspapers).  Virtual reality is slowly, but surely stepping on the feet of printed press. Progress, has slowly but surely penetrated here as well.