A Journalist's Task: Remain 'Cold-Hearted' When Police Officer is Insulting You

29.04.2013, Newsroom

Լրագրող

Hetq reporter Ani Hovhannisyan promises to keep an eye on the future career of the police officer who insulted her.

During an incident on Apr. 27, the officer, Vardan Ghukasyan, who was in plainclothes, pushed and insulted the reporter when she attempted to ask a street patrol officer why he was taking Gevorg, a busker playing the guitar on Northern Ave., to the police station. [Link to article in Armenian with accompanying video footage of the incident here.]

The day after the incident, Ghukasyan was dismissed from his job.

Hovhannisyan says she will continue to monitor developments.

"I am going to be vigilant, to see what will happen with Vardan Ghukasyan, and at the right time I will take the matter to court if I see that this is [RA Police Chief Vladimir] 'Vova' Gasparyan's usual PR move. If Vardan Ghukasyan is back in the system, I am going to raise a huge wave of protest against not only Vardan Ghukasyan, but also Vova Gasparyan," says the reporter. 

The incident between the police officer and the reporter roused much discussion not only in the media, but also on social networking sites. Discussed and criticized were both the officer's and the journalist's behavior.

The reporter, Hovhannisyan, acknowledges the right and wrong aspects of her actions. She considers "losing her cool" during the incident as wrong. 

"What was wrong in my actions was when I called him a 'rascal [lakot].' If I provoked him, as many have said, I wouldn't have said that; rather, I'd let my provocation continue. I was so insulted and felt so bad about myself, which resulted in losing my cool, which, if I was more cold-hearted, I might've thought twice and not said it," she says. 

In Hovhannisyan's opinion, it was good to be at the scene of the incident — though at the cost of a dispute.

"Both as a human and a journalist, I wasn't going to walk by indifferently, and I wasn't not going to say, 'Oh well, they're taking Gevorg; let them take him; what business is it of mine?' I did right, even stopping the officer with my hand, so that he gives me information," she says. 

How should the police officer and the journalist have behaved in this case? Media experts and the head of the police press office respond.

David Alaverdyan
Chief Editor, Mediamax news agency

464

I think, no matter what, the officer's behavior was simply unacceptable. Regardless of whether in front of him is a journalist or an average citizen, an officer should never drop to the level of street conversations and especially sorting out relations with his hands. And that he's been fired from his job on the police chief's order is quite righteous: it will be a very good impetus for other police officers to understand how not to behave. 

I would advise journalists, nevertheless, to be a little bit more cold-hearted, regardless of how the other person acts. We have to remember that our main work is to get information to the public. Besides getting into an argument, we have an even more powerful weapon — the ability to disseminate information. I think that in this case there was the possibility of verifying from a higher-ranking officer or from the police press office the reason for removing the musician from the scene. 

International practice dictates that under no condition is a journalist to have a personal involvement or interest in getting into conflict with law enforcement agencies. 

Ashot Meliqyan
President, Commission to Protect Freedom of Expression

465

Of course, the officer was quite guilty, and the punishment which he received was proportionate to his behavior. But I also need to emphasize that our colleague also acted in a way that wasn't appropriate to a journalist. In any case, she should've addressed the officer in a more civilized manner and she should've fulfilled her professional obligations in a more restrained manner. I think, in this conduct of the journalist's, there is a breach of professional and general ethics. 

If we are working in extreme conditions, in any case, we have to understand that we're doing work that is of public significance, and have to hold ourselves up higher, overcome any provocation, and not succumb to the level of conduct exhibited by law enforcement representatives. 

I think both the journalist and the law enforcement official have lessons to learn from this dispute.

Gegham Manukyan
Director of News and Political Programs, Yerkir Media TV   

The action of the police officer (especially in plainclothes), indeed, is objectionable, and it seems it's not the first case that that guy has made such threats. 

466

But as a journalist, I have to honestly say that our news media family has to have ethical norms, and whatever we require of police officers, ministers, local councillors, and regional governors, we, in the first place, have to do the same, and we have to make this requirement with that right.

The video that I saw, regretfully, was a sad picture. The journalist might be justified: "They pushed me, and I was unable to control myself." Similarly, [Republican faction MP] Mher [Sedrakyan] sometimes cannot control himself. 

469

Ashot Aharonyan
Head of the Department of Press and Public Relations, Police of the Republic of Armenia

The conduct, I think, is understood, if the police officer has been dismissed from his job. In order to avoid altercations between journalists and police officers, tolerance is needed on both sides, though in the last two years such incidents have been sporadic.

Anna Barseghyan

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