Facing governmental reluctance, young women journalists in Armenia successfully reported on environmental issues.
Growing up in in the eastern region of landlocked Armenia, Lusine Aleksanyan feels privileged to have spent summer vacations with her family on the shores of nearby Lake Sevan. The largest body of water in both Armenia and the Caucasus, this high-altitude lake is not only used for recreation. The lake has also been essential to the country’s existence in terms of irrigation and hydroelectric energy since the early 20th century.
Yet Lusine found it odd that, quite suddenly, her family and others could not return to Sevan’s shores to swim. It was clear that the water was brackish and dirty, and that its level was declining.
“But no one really understood why,” she said recently. “And no one really seemed dedicated to finding out.”
Then, on the cusp of her teen years, she learned that sewage had been dumped into the lake and that the water hadn't been cleaned in nearly a half century. A few years later, she came to understand that, worse, governing bodies should have been more aware and responded.
She wanted answers, and as an intern at Factor TV, she was given the chance to find them. Since 2021, the station has offered journalism students the opportunity to put media theory into practice – to learn things like interviewing skills, working with a camera crew, video editing, fine-tuning pitches, interacting with government agencies and understanding data.
Armenia’s Factor TV interns like Julia Voskanyan learn journalism basics such as interviewing and working with a camera crew.
At the same time, trainers from BBC Media Action and DW Akademie have worked with Armenian media managers, regional media outlets, independent journalists, fact checkers and young journalists and students to strengthen critical coverage of public governance and civic life in Armenia. The partnership has aimed not only at empowering the country's media in response to political crises and conflicts, but also on the issue of climate change and the dissemination of disinformation and fake news.
Last year, Lusine and other trainees used what they were learning to pursue stories on Armenia's environmental problems, such as mining and waste recycling.
Lusine ultimately researched Sevan's declining numbers of crayfish and illegal fishing. Her analysis and fact-checking led to contradictions in what government officials told her as they attempted to minimize the problem. She and her colleagues had hoped to include images of crayfish, but, tellingly, could find none to photograph.
Like Lusine, Marine Dvoyan felt drawn to a story that affected her and her family personally. Near their home is a hazardous waste dump, along with many mines and mining factories, all of which, she found, are underreported issues in the media.
Her research showed that the Armenian government has been building underground drains to get rid of toxic waste materials. But then, she wondered, what happens?
At first, she said, her interview requests went nowhere. At the same time, there had been a request to the government to build on an area of land near a mining site, but it had been withdrawn once the builder learned that the area could be contaminated.
"The fact is," she said, and as she eventually reported, "that the government doesn't have the funds to eradicate these chemicals, and burying them underground doesn't solve the problem, either."
Factor TV intern Arpi Hakobyan here reports before a camera. Interns like Arpi at Factor TV gain interviewing skills, video editing, how to craft pitches, interact with government agencies and analyze data.
Similarly, when another intern, Ani Evinyan, researched a government initiative to have shoppers use recycled bags, she found it challenging to go up against Armenian authorities. The idea of the bags sounded well-intentioned, but she was curious that she saw so few people following through on the plan.
She approached Armenia's ecology ministry and was surprised to learn that the program's success, or lack thereof, wasn’t being monitored, and yet the government itself was planning to introduce more restrictions on plastic bags. This disconnect led her to ask people directly why the recyclable bags were seemingly unappealing.
"People told me that they were reluctant to use the new bags because they cost more," she said. "And although the bags looked thicker and more effective, they really weren't of better quality."
Her reporting ignited many social media reactions and discourse, but the government remained silent, she said.
These visible problems – water you can't swim in, shopping bags, quarry sites dotting the landscape – lend themselves to young reporters who are learning the journalism craft. Lusine said that initially, in starting at Factor TV, she felt pulled to political journalism "because everything in Armenia feels political.
"But then I had this chance to report on the environment," she continued, "and I found that there was a greater chance to be creative, and to tell stories not only with compelling images, but to tell stories that are important to me and others."
Factor TV's internship is part of the “European Media Facility in Armenia” project implemented by DW Akademie in cooperation with BBC Media Action, the Democracy Development Foundation (DDF), Hetq and Factor TV. The project is funded by the European Union and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).