It was two hundred years ago that Edmund Burke coined the term, the Fourth Estate, but the point he made is as relevant today as then. The reference is to the press, which the British philosopher and politician catalogued as a major power in public affairs, after the three “estates” of the clergy, the nobility and the commoners or bourgeoisie.
Roughly analogous today would be the church, government and the people. Notwithstanding modern perversions and manipulations of mass media, it remains true that the capacity for moral judgment and action, be it on the part of political bodies or the general public, depends on knowledge — awareness and understanding of increasingly complex developments in today’s world affairs.
The threatened genocide of Armenians in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) is the immediate issue. In Germany the press had been silent or low-key, even after Azerbaijan had effectively isolated the entire region, depriving the Armenian population of basic daily needs for survival. Following publication (also in this newspaper) of the expert opinion by former International Court of Justice Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, journalists opened their eyes and followed up with increasingly attentive, documented coverage, informing the reading public and political establishment of the alarming developments. In parallel, human rights organizations and political figures mobilized on governmental bodies.
The Ocampo Effect
The appearance of Ocampo’s report in early August was a wake-up call. Most important in Germany was coverage provided by Deutschlandfunk (DLF: Radio Germany), a public broadcasting radio. On August 22, it ran an interview with Anna Aridzanjan, a Yerevan-born journalist for the weekly Stern magazine, significantly titled, “An Underreported Conflict.”
Aridzanjan explained the dearth of coverage with the fact that Azerbaijan bars outside reporters from entrance. Asked if her sources, Artsakh journalists and human rights organizers, were reliable, she explained, they would reap no benefits from false reporting; their interest is to provide accurate information. German press attention has been scant, she said, due not only to lack of access, but because some consider the conflict too distant to be of interest. One asks, why should Germany pay attention? Germany should pay attention, she stressed, and cited Ocampo’s report on the genocide danger. “That is newsworthy,” she said, adding that it was not the first Armenian genocide. Furthermore, in 1915 the Germans knew it was underway and, as acknowledged in the 2016 Bundestag resolution on genocide, were therefore co-responsible. Locating the current crisis in the historical context is the task of journalists.