YPC Weekly Newsletter

2004


US STATE DEPARTMENT COMMENTS ON THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND EXPRESSION IN ARMENIA IN 2003

On February 25 the U.S. Department of State released its annual report on human
rights practices in different countries of the world in 2003, prepared by the
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

Speaking about the situation with the freedom of speech and press in Armenia,
the US Department of State notes that “while the Government generally respected
freedom of speech, there were some limits on freedom of the press, including
one incident of violence, the denial of broadcast licenses, and self-censorship”.
The evaluations in the report for the 2003 were mostly the same as in 2001-2002.
Thus, the state publishing house and press distribution agency acted as commercial
enterprises “with no visible government intervention”. The print media
themselves operated with very restricted resources and none of the newspapers
was completely independent from the interests of economic, political groups
or individuals. “Because of prevailing economic conditions, total newspaper
circulation was small (40,000 copies, by the Yerevan Press Club’s estimates,
or approximately one copy per 85 persons)”, the report says.

As to the Public Television of Armenia, it continued to take “policy guidance
from the Government”, “presented mostly factual reporting but avoided editorial
commentary or criticism of official actions”. The quality of reporting
on private television and radio stations, as the authors note, varied, and “self-censorship
inhibited the stations from expressing editorial opinions to avoid retribution”.

Noting that there is no official censorship in the country, the Department
of State mentions that there were reports of intimidation of journalists. “To
avoid repetition of the retribution experienced in the past from powerful officials
and other individuals, most journalists continued to practice self-censorship,
particularly when reporting on major cases of corruption or national security
issues”.

The document also remarks on the adoption of RA Law “On Mass Communication”
by National Assembly in December that demands the media to periodically report
their incomes and expenses, protects journalists in performance of professional
activity, abolishes the procedure of media registration.

As specific violations of freedom of speech and press in 2003 the research
mentioned the attack on the correspondent of “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” newspaper
Mher Ghalechian; the situation of “A1+” and “Noyan Tapan” TV companies that
were unable to receive broadcast licenses.

The Department of State also noted that “the Public TV, the major state-funded
newspapers, as well as most major private television stations, which are generally
pro-government, provided heavily biased reporting in favor of incumbent President
Kocharian during the presidential election campaign”. At the same time the first
television debate between the candidates took place during the second round
of the presidential election in Armenia.