On August 27-28 in Yerevan a round table "Media Legislation and Liability" was held. The event was organized by Yerevan Press Club and "Article 19" Global Campaign for Free Expression under a program "Strengthening Democracy Through Free Expression in the South Caucasus". The project is implemented with the financial assistance of the Open Society Institute and the Foreign Office of the United Kingdom.
The round table brought together the representatives of media, state structures and non-governmental sector of Armenia, international organizations. The participants discussed the provisions of the RA Criminal Code, stipulating liability for libel and insult in media, as well as the official draft law "On Mass Communication".
One of the authors of the new RA Criminal Code, the Advisor to the RA Head of Police Michael Grigorian presented the rationale behind the criminalization of libel and insult for journalists. The counter-arguments on this urgent problem were introduced by the Legal Expert of Internews Armenia public organization Lusine Abovian. It is common knowledge that the discussion on the decriminalization of libel and insult, their transfer to the sphere of civil legislation started with an open letter (dated June 17) to the RA NA Speaker Arthur Baghdasarian, signed by the heads of six diplomatic missions operating in the country, eleven international organizations and local journalistic associations, including Yerevan Press Club (see details in the Special Issue of YPC Weekly Newsletter, July 18, 2003). The same question was raised by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Freimut Duve, in his Regular Report on the freedom of the media in the region, presented to the OSCE Permanent Council on July 31. Freimut Duve noted that on July 2 he addressed a letter to the Armenian authorities supporting the amendments to the RA Criminal Code, which has not been answered yet.
The second theme for discussions at the round table was the media legislation, in particular the draft RA Law "On Mass Communication", submitted to the consideration of the Parliament and causing numerous protest of the journalistic community. The last version of this document was presented by its author, the RA Deputy Minister of Justice Ashot Abovian, whose viewpoint was opposed by the RA NA Deputy Shavarsh Kocharian. The Yerevan Press Club approaches to the draft were described by YPC Expert Mesrop Harutiunian. The presentation of "Article 19" Legal Officer Julia Apostle was devoted to the European view on media legislation.