It’s a Friday afternoon in Yerevan, and broadcasters from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Armenian Service, Radio Azatutyun, are sitting in a studio to conduct a forum discussion with three popular Armenian actors and singers. Their boisterous video conversation is being carried live online and aired over the radio.
But the topic of conversation isn’t celebrity gossip: these local stars are debating major changes to the urban landscape of Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. Yerevan’s parks and playgrounds, popular for the touch of green they provide in this crowded and ancient city, are under threat as developers buy up public land to build luxury boutique retail stores. Local environmentalists and urban activists are up in arms, and Radio Azatutyun’s popular youth program, Max TV, has invited some of Armenia’s most prominent cultural figures to hash out the problem. As usual, the Max TV hosts invite their listeners to pose questions to the guests via Facebook.
Max TV is a component of broader initiative run by Radio Azatutyun called Maxliberty, which broadcasts to students and other young people in Armenia. Maxliberty, which airs for two hours every day, makes concerted use of new media, particularly social networks like Facebook and YouTube, to provide its young audience members with a platform for generating their own news content and directly communicating with Azatutyun’s journalists and guests.
Maxliberty’s interactivity with its audience is paying dividends: Maxliberty is now the number one radio program among young listeners in Armenia. At the end of February, the Youth Foundation of Armenia announced that Maxliberty programming had polled best among all Armenian youth radio stations in surveys conducted by the foundation. The foundation’s results track closely with recognition that Maxliberty has received from a variety of local and international organizations, including UNICEF
and the British Council
. In honor of Maxliberty's achievement, Armenian prime minister Tigran Sargsyan presented the station with the youth foundation's award at a ceremony in Yerevan.
“I am very pleasantly surprised by this recognition,” Narine Ghaelchyan, the Yerevan-based director of Maxliberty, said. “Right now, Armenia is getting ready for the country’s parliamentary elections. We will pay close attention to that and we will continue to focus on covering youth wings of political parties.”
Since the foundation’s announcement, dozens of Maxliberty’s fans have congratulated the radio via Facebook. Harry Tamrazian, the Prague-based director of Radio Azatutyun, isn’t surprised. “It is Azatutyun’s embrace of all existing media and social platforms that makes us so popular with younger audiences,” he told Off Mic.
This is Maxliberty’s tenth year in operation. Today, it is an inseparable part of Azatutyun, a radio station that takes pride in its growing share of radio listeners in Armenia -- 11 percent of Armenian adults listen to Azatutyun every week.
The use of social media platforms has put Azatutyun well ahead of other media in Armenia. Tamrazian proudly notes that other Armenian media outlets often copy Azatutyun: “After we started our video talk shows, daily video news and Internet TV, other major news websites in Armenia began producing their own video talk shows. “ Azatutyun’s videos are featured in primetime on Armenian national television.
Tamrazian also credits the breadth of Maxliberty’s reporting for its success. Producers aim to keep the show’s content diverse. “To keep people returning to our broadcasts and to our website,” Tamrazian says, “we have to give them a wide range of information, a wide range of everything.” Maxliberty shows deal with everything from politics and economics to pop-culture and marriage advice.
Sometimes, Maxliberty’s programming even pushes for the improvement of other media content in Armenia. Case in point: one recent talk-show
discussed the quality and impact of Armenian soap operas, which have received wide local criticism for their low standards and questionable taste.
Maxliberty decided to embrace the topic by inviting representatives from several industry perspectives -- a writer one of the most popular soaps, a film producer, and a camera man who was offered to participate on this soap for a large sum of money but refused the job to keep up his good reputation -- and mediated a round-table discussion among them. Audience members asked tough questions of the panelists, stimulating a lively debate. “We want our audience to have a platform for expression,” Tamrazian says. “We value their opinions greatly.”
-- Kristyna Dzmuranova