The Bureau of International Information Programs of U.S. Department of State disseminated the speech of Ronald McNamara made on October 7 in Warsaw at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting. In his speech the member of U.S. delegation Ronald McNamara expressed U.S. concern that freedom of expression, the media and information is deteriorating in the OSCE region. The speaker cited criminal defamation laws, the abolition of which has long been sought by the USA throughout the OSCE region, if not worldwide, as particularly pernicious in their effects.
Ronald McNamara noted that the United States commends the joint declaration of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the Special Rapporteur of Organization of American States on Freedom of Expression. It says, in particular: “Criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression; all criminal defamation laws should be abolished and replaced, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws."
Stressing that the USA welcome the step Romania made to implement this principle in practice, the speaker said: “We join the OSCE Office in Yerevan in urging Armenia to follow the example being set by Romania and repeal its criminal defamation and insult laws.” As it has been reported, on June 17 the heads of 6 diplomatic missions operating in Armenia, 11 international organizations and journalistic associations, including Yerevan Press Club, addressed the Speaker of the RA National Assembly Artur Baghdasarian where the decriminalization of libel and insult and their transfer into the civil law field (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, June 13-19, 2003).
Further Ronald McNamara said that the USA would have to agree with the statement of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve that the situation of free media in the OSCE region has deteriorated in recent years – “despite some positive efforts and the vast resources and energy that have been spent to develop free media and protect journalists”. The speaker cited the examples of pressure on the freedom of speech and media in Belarus, Ukraine, Turkey and the countries of Central Asia to illustrate this point.
As compared to these countries, freedom of the media is more highly developed in the Caucasus, but, as the statement ran, concerns remain. In particular, in Georgia against the backdrop of the upcoming November parliamentary election the official pressure on the independent “Rustavi-2” TV station is renewed and in Azerbaijan harassment of the media and intimidation of journalists continue.
With regard to our country Ronald McNamara noted: “In Armenia, ‘A1+’ and ‘Noyan Tapan’ remain off the air, after failed efforts to win tenders for broadcast licenses that were widely seen as politically driven.”
Ronald McNamara finished his speech by thanking on behalf of his country the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve for his steadfast efforts over the past six years in developing this structure: "While Mr. Duve started out with little in the way of resources, over time he built an office that should be able to work constructively to protect one of our most cherished freedoms."