YPC Weekly Newsletter

2006
April 28 - May 4
WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY IN ARMENIA SHADOWED BY AN AIR CRASH

In the early morning of May 3 the aircraft flying Yerevan-Sochi crashed during the landing. The participants of the round table, held on May 3 at the Journalists Union of Armenia, commemorated the victims of the crash, expressed their condolences to the families of the deceased.

The event dedicated to the World Press Freedom Day was organized by Yerevan Press Club, Journalists Union of Armenia, Internews and the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression.

At the round table the four journalistic associations announced the establishment of a joint annual award “The Time for Freedom of Press” to celebrate May 3. The first awardee was the Chief Editor of “Aravot” daily Aram Abrahamian - for a series of articles under “Armenia-2020” heading, published on the Saturday issues of the daily. Aram Abrahamian received a certificate and a gift of watch.

At the event also a joint statement was presented, saying:

"Yerevan Press Club, Journalists Union of Armenia, Internews and the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression welcome the tradition established in the country to widely celebrate the World Press Freedom Day, when the enormous role of the media in the development of democracy, strengthening of civil society, ensuring the rule of law, enhancement of international cooperation and security is stressed.

The upcoming years define a number of important tasks for Armenia, the achievement of which conditions the development and prosperity of the country. These include the conductance of free and fair elections, effective actions against poverty and corruption, implementation of major international programs under European Neighborhood Policy and the Millennium Challenge Account, real progress in the resolution of Karabagh conflict, use of the regional integration potential, etc.

The guarantees for freedom of expression and the existence of strong independent media are the most important factors determining the fulfillment of the tasks above. In this regard our organizations think the following directions of our activities to be priorities:

- Reformation of the legislation on media (first and foremost, television and radio), the need for which is imposed by the amended RA Constitution. Despite the fact that we have repeatedly expressed our discontent by the depth of the amendments to the Constitution, that refer to media, we think it possible and expedient to make the reform more profound by the improvement of separate laws;

- Enhancement of the role of press in the fight against corruption, human rights violations calls for the greater legal protection of the journalists themselves, the insurance of their unobstructed access to official information, the elimination of possible imprisonment for libel and insult, increased responsibility of the authorities for the hindrance of the professional activities of journalists. In this regard lobbying of a number of legislative initiatives and practical steps are envisaged;

- The assistance to wide-scale, open and free political debate and impartial coverage as a necessary condition for democratic elections. Taking into account the exceptional influence of the TV air on political processes as well as the special mission of the Public Television of Armenia it is necessary to avoid the repetition of biased coverage on the pre-election campaign by most TV channels, including PTA, in 2007-2008. Our organizations will do their best to help the appearance of such programs on the TV air, particularly, on the Public Television, that would assist the citizens in making a free and informed choice;

- Information support to the programs of European Neighborhood Policy and Millennium Challenge Account, the process of thorough reformation, economic development and eradication of poverty. Their success will be largely dependent on the effective public control, elimination of imitational activities and waste of resources. We will be contributing to the professional and consistent reporting on all the stages of the program implementation and to close cooperation of media with the interested and competent representatives of the civil society;

- Creation of conditions for a wide press coverage of the possibilities for the resolution of Karabagh conflict, overcoming other regional problems and activation of European integration processes in the South Caucasus. To this effect various forms of dialogue and information exchange with the colleagues from the neighbor countries are to be used, the trends of mutual isolation and “cold war” methods are to be opposed;

- Increase of transparency and impartiality of the activities of the National Commission on Television and Radio, the trust to which, as to a broadcast regulatory body, has reduced significantly, in particular, after the competitions it held with unsuccessful participation of “A1+” and “Noyan Tapan” TV companies. Our organizations will be advocating the involvement of independent experts in the bid consideration with a consultative vote, as stipulated by the RA Law “On Television and Radio”;

- Introduction and observation of norms of professional journalism by the establishment and development of self-regulation institutes and media accountability systems, such as Press Council, inner ombudsman, ethical codes, etc.

We call on the journalistic community, colleagues to unite efforts and to coordinate joint actions to meet the targets above, leading to strengthening of freedom of expression and media in Armenia.”

MAY 3 2006: ROLE OF MEDIA IN ERADICATING POVERTY

On May 3 at the UN Office in Armenia an event was held to celebrate the World Press Freedom Day and organized by the UN Office in Armenia, Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia and “Partnership for Open Society” initiative. Opening the meeting, the UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative Consuelo Vidal expressed condolences to the families of the passengers and crew members of Yerevan-Sochi aircraft - the victims of the May 3 crash. Consuelo Vidal noted in particular that this year the theme of the World Press Freedom Day is the role of media in the eradication of poverty. The Head of OSCE Office in Yerevan Ambassador Vladimir Pryakhin in his speech addressed the assessments of the press freedom in Armenia by international organizations and their role in the democracy development. The Chairwoman of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture and Youth Issues Hranush Hakobian analyzed the freedom of speech situation nowadays and 15 years ago, when Armenia gained independence, in the context of legislative changes. The presentation of the Deputy Executive Director of Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia David Amirian was dealing with the cooperation of the civil society and media in general and the activities of “Partnership for Open Society” in particular. The Chairman of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression Ashot Melikian presented the Annual Report of Yerevan Press Club and the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression on the freedom of speech in Armenia in 2005 (see below). The event also hosted an exhibition “Journalists at Work” of photojournalist Hakob Berberian (HakBer) and “Photolure” photo agency.

LACK OF INDEPENDENT BROADCASTING IS THE MAIN PROBLEM OF FREE EXPRESSION

The web site of Yerevan Press Club (www.ypc.am) in “Studies” section features the Annual Report of the Yerevan Press Club and the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression on the freedom of speech practices in Armenia in 2005. The report chronologically lists cases when the rights of journalists and media were violated, litigations, legislative initiatives and amendments, pertaining to the media system. One of the main problems of the free expression in Armenia in 2005 remained the lack of independent broadcasting.

MONITORING OF DEMOCRATIC REFORMS ON YPC WEB-SITE

On YPC web site in the “Studies” section “Monitoring of Democratic Reforms in Armenia” report is placed. The study was administered by Yerevan Press Club under a homonymous project of YPC, supported by the Open Society Institute Human Rights and Governance Grants Program. In the report preparation a number of NGOs who are members of “Partnership for Open Society” initiative took part.

The study aimed at determining the compliance of Armenia with its commitments in human rights and democracy after the accession to the Council of Europe. Thus, the monitoring presents the situation since the moment of Armenia's full-fledged accession to the CE (January 25, 2001) and till December 15, 2005 - after the amended RA Constitution comes into force.

THIRD “PRESS-CLUB” SHOW

On May 2 the third talk show of “Press Club” series, devoted to the World Press Freedom Day, went on the evening air of “Yerkir-Media” TV company.

The subject for the discussion of representatives of media and journalistic associations was the freedom of speech and independence of press in Armenia, the attitude of public towards media.

It is expected that at 21.00, May 9 (next Tuesday) “Press Club+” will give floor to the representatives of Communist Party of Armenia, sharing their opinions on the issues of the day.

INTERNEWS RADIO COMPETITIONS

On May 3 at Internews office a round table was held with the participation of managers of the Yerevan radio companies and the listeners - journalism students. The event was organized under Internews project “Re: Media”, supported by the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia. After a brief presentation “City-FM” (former “Hit-FM”), dealing with the new image of the radio station, the subject of the discussion at the round table were the news, their financial justification for radio stations, the specifics of the Armenian media market.

Internews also announced the conduction of monthly Internet competitions among radio stations. Their winners are determined by online voting. The winner of the first contest, held by Internews in April, for the best jingles was “City-FM" radio company, aired on 106.0 MHz in Yerevan. It received a monetary prize. The next Internews competition, in May, is held among news radio programs.

The newscasts can be heard and voted for at Internews web site www. media.am

“ENEMY OF PRESS” ACCORDING TO NPC

On May 3 National Press Club (NPC) announced another “Enemy of Press”. This time the title was conferred on the Head of the Administration of the RA President Armen Gevorgian - “for performing the role of main censor of Armenian media”. Similarly to the previous years, the title of “Friend of Press” had no awardee.

“FREEDOM HOUSE” RATES ARMENIA THE SAME

On April 27 “Freedom House” international organization published its annual global survey on freedom of press in 2005.

The media situation was assessed by “Freedom House” by assigning a numerical score from 1 to 100 by the following categories: free (1-30 points), partly free (31-60 points), not free (61-100) - the lower the score, the higher the freedom. The latter was defined by three dimensions: legal environment in which media operate; political influence on reporting and access to information; economic pressure on the news content and dissemination. The sum of the three dimensions yielded the cumulative rating of the media situation in each country.

Out of 194 countries and territories 73 (38%) were rated free, while 54 (28%) were rated partly free and 67 (34%) were rated not free. 17% of the world's inhabitants live in countries that enjoy free press, 40% have a partly free press and 43% have a not free press. The list is headed by Finland and Iceland - 9 points each, followed by Denmark, Norway and Sweden - 10 points each.

“These findings are a source of real concern”, declared Jennifer Windsor, “Freedom House” Executive Director. “We find particularly disturbing the deterioration in press freedom in countries that had made overall democratic progress - including in press freedom - in the past. We need to remain vigilant in noting the erosion of press freedom in democratically-elected countries.”

The press of the three Baltic countries was recognized by “Freedom House” to be free. Out of the other post-Soviet countries, only two - Georgia and Ukraine - are classed by “Freedom House” as partly free, the rest remain not free, similarly to 2004. Notably, the situation of Ukrainian media improved in 2005 (53 points versus 59 in 2004) owing to “democratic achievements”, while that of Georgian media somewhat worsened (57 versus 56 in 2004). Progress is noted in Kyrgyzstan - 64 points (71 in 2004). The situation remained unchanged in Moldova (65 points), Kazakhstan (75) and Turkmenistan (96), that was on the last place but one in the “Freedom House” rating, being followed only by North Korea. As compared to 2004, in 2005 the ratings of Russia (72 points versus 68), Azerbaijan (73 versus 72), Tajikistan (76 versus 74), Belarus (88 versus 86), Uzbekistan (90 versus 85) declined.

The rating of Armenia, similarly to the previous two years, did not change - 64 points. Thus, the Armenian media for the fourth year already, since 2002, are classed as not free by “Freedom House”.

The section of the survey on Armenia notes, in particular, that “throughout the year the government sometimes limited constitutional protections for freedom of the press”. The RA Law “On Fight Against Terrorism”, in force since 2005, restricts media coverage of terrorism issues, notes the “Freedom House” study, and the opinion of Yerevan Press Club is quoted that characterized the law as “vague and open to abuse”. “The government has yet to decriminalize libel offenses”, “Freedom House” believes: the Criminal Code allows imposing stricter sanctions, up to imprisonments for insulting officials. At the same time, the report notes that no libel cases were brought against journalists in 2005.

Despite the local pressure and Council of Europe recommendations, the broadcast license of “A1+” TV company, deprived of air in 2002, was not renewed, “Freedom House” stresses.

“Although there is a good amount of media diversity and pluralism, some major broadcast media maintain progovernment bias, and there is no independent public broadcaster. There is no official censorship; however, the president's office provides policy guidance, particularly for Public Television of Armenia (H1). Expressing political opposition often results in prosecution, harassment and intimidation”, “Freedom House” notes. Most journalists resorted to self-censorship in covering controversial topics, such as corruption or issues involving Mountainous Karabagh, the report says.

While most newspapers are privately owned, “they are dependent on support from business conglomerates or political interests”. “Because of low print circulation, television is the main provider of news and information. Economic pressure, such as the use of official advertising to influence coverage was more common than direct political pressure”, “Freedom House” believes.

Among the examples of pressure on journalists and media the report quotes an incident with the ignition of the car of the Chief Editor of ”Syunyats Yerkir” newspaper Samvel Alexanian and the closure of investigation on the similar case of the editorial car of “Haikakаn Zhamanak” daily, as well as the clutter during the broadcasts of the Radio “Free Europe”/Radio “Liberty” Armenian Service on the day of the referendum on constitutional amendments (November 27) and the subsequent days.

When reprinting or using the information above, reference to the Yerevan Press Club is required.

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Editor of YPC Newsletter - Elina POGHOSBEKIAN