Yerevan Press Club, Journalists Union of Armenia, Internews Armenia and Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression have come forward with a joint statement on the situation with the draft law “On Mass Communication” that was adopted by Parliament in the first reading on September 24.
The statement runs as follows:
“Realizing the importance of the public debate on the draft law "On Mass Communication", Yerevan Press Club, Journalists Union of Armenia, Internews Armenia public organization and Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression also voice their concern over the situation around the document in place during the past several days.
On the one hand, we reaffirm our content with the openness of the representatives of the RA Ministry of Justice and the Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture and Youth Issues of the RA National Assembly and their readiness to accept the proposals of the journalistic community aimed at the improvement of the draft law. We also reiterate our strong position: our organizations will support the draft in case it takes into account all the principal proposals we submitted.
On the other hand, we have to state that the constructive work is impeded by the incompetent public statements of a number of journalists and politicians that create unhealthy atmosphere and threaten to make the draft a hostage of political intrigues.
We respect the position of those of our colleagues who are against special legal regulation of media, saying that its absence is more preferable than the adoption of the most progressive law. These fears are justified by the imperfection of the administrative and the legal sphere and the possibility of arbitrary (naturally, never benefiting the media) interpretations of legal norms (although the legal vacuum in our situation can also be used against the freedom of speech). We are still ready to hold an open debate to develop a unified position supported by the majority of the journalistic community:
– Do we want to participate in the further improvement of the draft law, efforts aimed at its perfect compliance with the Europeans standards (for doing this, as it has already been mentioned, there are favorable conditions);
– Or we prefer to remain in the open field of the general legal regulation after the recognition of the existing Law "On Press and Other Media Outlets" as ineffective and introduction of clarifying amendments into the Civil Code (these steps are inevitable to make the legislation coherent)?
Any of these decisions are acceptable for our organizations, and we are ready to advocate it in all the agencies if our colleagues make a well-considered and coordinated choice. At the same time, we are strongly against any political speculations around the issues of media regulation.
The draft law in circulation was repeatedly attacked in public because it allegedly stipulated criminal responsibility of journalists for libel and insult as well as greater legal protection from media enjoyed more by state officials than by ordinary citizens. The journalistic community must really fight against these provisions most actively, but this fight must be focused in the due direction. That is, the criticism must refer not to the draft law "On Mass Communication", which does not contain (and cannot contain) provisions stipulating criminal responsibility, but to the existing RA Criminal Code.
The attempts to link the adoption of the Law "On Mass Communication" with the wish of the Government to conceal the details of the Karabagh resolution process from the public or with attacks on journalist look nonetheless ridiculous. Unfortunately, the incompetent statements are not confined to these examples. The draft law adopted by the National Assembly in the first hearing really has numerous shortcomings but the unjustified attacks on it do nothing more but divert the attention from the need to have constructive work on its improvement.
The appearance at the last moment of the alternative draft law of the National Press Club is also of little assistance to the effective participation of the journalistic community in the lawmaking. Firstly, this draft was very late and was submitted to the Parliament without any preliminary discussion and coordination with broad circles of journalists. Secondly, as a legal document it is inferior to the official draft in its quality and can hardly be considered more liberal. Thirdly and finally, the draft of the National Press Club gives grounds to all who are inclined to ignore the proposals of the journalistic associations to motivate their behavior by the controversies in our professional environment.
The whole story of the draft law "On Mass Communication" is a promising example of fruitful discussions and cooperation between the journalists, experts, international organizations, representatives of executive and legislative powers, as a result of which the draft, reactionary in its first edition, was in a year and a half brought to a condition close to the Council of Europe standards. Only one step is left, and so as to prevent it from being wrong we call upon:
– Our journalist colleagues to finalize their position on the question of "yes or no to the law", and if the majority of the colleagues are nevertheless for the law, to assist the improvement of the draft "On Mass Communication" by proposals and comments;
– Representatives of the Government and the National Assembly to remember that the Council of Europe expects them to reach consensus with the journalist community and not mechanically realize the commitment of passing a new media law;
– All the participants of the debate around the draft to refuse the ambitions and the consideration of the moment, be guided only by the interests of the freedom of speech and press;
– The leaders of the media to assist the constructive discussion of the draft on the pages of newspapers and on the air;
– The party activists to refrain from the benefit-seeking approaches to media legislation. To remember that the quality of the laws regulating the information sphere to a great extent determines the health of the political life and the development of democracy in the country.”
The statement of the four journalistic organizations will be disseminated at the meeting with media representatives that will take place on October 10 at 12.00 at Journalists Union of Armenia.