Mardo Soghom "As a journalist you have to care, and when you care it affects you."
My guest of this week's One on One more or less interviewed himself. As a former journalist from the Armenian section of Radio Free Europe he took hold of the microphone and began to talk about his life and experiences, as we sat in a café overlooking Prague's Charles Bridge. Mardo Soghom born Armenian, brought up in Iran, a citizen of the USA and resident of Prague says 'the world is my home'.
"I am a person you could consider a world traveler, a world citizen. I have lived in many countries, I know a few languages. And it is not difficult or strange, at least so far, for me to live in another country. Because as a human being every country in the whole world is yours. You don't have to say 'Oh, this is not my country, what am I going to do there, how can I live there?' It is just to understand local people who are culturally a little bit different from you. Once you understand them it is your country you can live there."
"However Prague and the Czech Republic are so nice that it is not so easy now to go and live somewhere else now. I am fifty years old, so you can figure that. I have been working for the radio station for seventeen years now and holding the microphone and talking to it is just natural to me. It is my job. Usually I am not on this side of the microphone, giving the interview. I usually used to take interviews. My job at the radio station is not journalism any more I am a manager now but you never forget the moments when you were on the other side of the microphone."
What exactly are you doing now that you have changed your job at RFE?
"Yes I was previously a broadcast department manager in two different departments. Now I am a special project manager for a media strategy called "convergence". Let me explain. Radio is a platform, television is a platform, a newspaper is a platform, internet is a different platform and sending news by mobile phone is a platform. To use different platforms to get more news to more people as often as possible, that is multimedia that is convergence. To converge, to bring together talent, bring together resources, to reach more people, more often, more comprehensively. For example we broadcast for five hours to Kazakhstan in Asia. It is a big country, an important country with a lot of oil and gas. But so far we use only radio to try to give news to people of Kazakhstan. Is it possible for the same journalists collecting the same news also to use television, also to use more internet, also to use mobile telephone or maybe print to try to inform a wider audience than radio can reach?"
What have been the ups and downs of your career in Radio Free Europe?
What tragedies did you report about?
"As a member of the Armenian broadcast department of Radio Free Europe in 1988-89, I reported about the big earthquake that happened in Armenia. It was one of the most difficult things. I was just a new starting radio journalist when fifty thousand people died in the earthquake in this country which had a population of three million, fifty thousand people out of three million. It was shocking. It was my introduction to the tough life."
"And then the fall of the communism that brought about many nervous and tensed moments. I remember when tanks were driving towards the heart of Moscow to overthrow Boris Jelcin. I was on a duty that day and I was covering it. I will never forget that day when everything in Russia could have changed again. And people were expecting that communism can come back suddenly. But it didn't, in the last moment democracy won. The few were afraid of the many and it didn't continue. "
"I also remember the November 1989. I was for a few days in a row in charge of doing news casts for the Armenian department. I was getting news from Reuters, Associated Press, from televisions here and there. 'People are gathering in Prague. People are marching, there are thousands of candles.' I was just surprised and I was saying 'Is communism going to fall because people are carrying candles?' But it did and I am proud because maybe one day I will be able to tell my grandchildren, 'When people in Prague were marching and the almighty communist government could not stop it and when they had to accept the reality, I was there, in a away I was there - I was covering it.'"
Radio Free Europe has closed down sections broadcasting to countries that it considers free. Will there be a day when Radio Free Europe will be closed because all the countries it covers will be free?
"I personally hope so. Every time we closed down a department I had mixed feeling of an accomplishment but also pain. Because you work in an organization and you see the name of that department for years and you know the people working there. And one morning you wake up and that department is closed and those people who have done a wonderful job are not there any more. They are not there any more because they succeeded. That is the irony. Not because they failed but because they succeeded. After a while you come to the conclusion that it is the right way to go about it. That when a country has its own free media and there is no need for an American or German, or any other foreign broadcaster to broadcast to that country ... great! It means that we have achieved our aim."
You have lived in New York Beirut, all over the world. If you were to compare the Czech lifestyle, what would your conclusion be?
"Every nation is different. Circumstances are different. You can never find two countries or two nations that are like each other. Things are very different. It is hard to compare. I like the Czech Republic for a few reasons. It is calm society contrary to what locals might think. People go about their routines in a civilized way. They are calm, it is a homogeneous country. There are no religious or ethnic conflicts. That's a great asset. I have lived in countries with different religious and nations and ethnic groups it is always tense. You don't feel that here. There is a certain standard in everything that is respected. Of course if you live in Germany or Switzerland it is taken for granted and here maybe it is less than that. But if you regard the Czech Republic not as Germany and Switzerland but as a country that was under communism for so many years and it is till finding its place in the world and it is still shaping its institutions and things are not finished yet you are surprised to see that there are standards. The bureaucracy with all its shortcomings is much better than in many other countries which formally had communist regimes. There are many things that are good and there are certain shortcomings.
"It is silly for me to say that ... but I really do miss the old Prague. I have been here for ten years and I can already talk about the old Prague. Things were so simple eight years ago. You didn't get this sense of commercialism. Every shop and every store had its character. You could say: 'If you go to the other end of the city you can find a flower shop that sells this and you can find a furniture shop with a guy who makes his own furniture and you can buy it there. Of course now it is big shopping centers, shopping malls and you can find the same store in every place selling the same things. Yes, there is commercialization and as an old resident of Prague I do miss the old Prague."