On January 12 the Report on Armenia, developed by the Committee on the Honoring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe and submitted to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was publicized. A section of the Report was titled “Media Pluralism”. The Report notes that while there is no direct censorship in the country and there are numerous print organs and TV channels, the rapporteurs “are not convinced that plurality of opinion is upheld in the electronic media”. The document presents the situation of the Armenian media-legislation, in particular, the process of the adoption of the RA Law “On Mass Communication”. The rapporteurs note that after the outcry in 2002 related to the first version of the draft, its revised edition was submitted to the parliament, “based on a text originating from the representatives of the mass media, the Yerevan Press Club and Internews. This move is most encouraging.”
The Report also mentions that on December 4 the National Assembly of Armenia passed amendments to the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, which “has never satisfied the Council of Europe, as the experts’ recommendations have not been taken into account, particularly as regards the composition of (…) the Public Television and Radio Council and the National Television and Radio Commission”. The Report stresses that the Council of Europe had made its recommendations on amending the draft law, however “to date we do not know to what extent all these comments have or have not been fully taken into account by the lawmakers”.
The rapporteurs also addressed the issue of criminal libel and insult, as stipulated by Armenian legislation. “It is of course permissible for Armenia, like other European countries, to adopt criminal legislation on defamation. On the other hand, to prescribe prison sentences for such offences is completely disproportionate. We request the authorities to amend the Criminal Code in this respect”, CE representatives state.
Particular attention is placed in the Report on the situation of Armenian electronic media, in particular “A1+” TV company. Thus, the rapporteurs note that despite the undertaking of the authorities to hold a broadcast licensing competition on October 25, 2002, it did not occur until 8 months after, when the presidential and parliamentary elections were over. “To put a television channel off the air less than a year before the elections was tantamount to manipulating the media coverage of the campaign. Indeed the assessment made by the international election monitoring mission notes that public television did not display impartiality in that it mainly covered the activities of the outgoing President in its news broadcasts”, the Report says.
On their behalf the PACE rapporteurs note that the competitions the National Commission on Television and Radio held do not in principle violate the Armenian legislation. “The fact remains that given the silence or imprecision of the statutes, the commission assumed real discretionary power”, the authors of the paper believe.
“At the conclusion of our mission, we express serious doubts about the pluralism of the electronic media in Armenia. It seems obvious to us that there is a real problem of freedom to inform the public via audiovisual media. The change in the membership and mode of appointment of the national radio and television commission – whose 9 members are appointed by the President of the Republic – could possibly bring about an improvement. It would also be desirable for the commission’s decisions to be fully reasoned. But the unhealthy economic context in which commercial rivalry knows virtually no rules or bounds is unfavorable for establishing a pluralistic audiovisual landscape of good quality in Armenia”, – the Report says.
On the same day the Report of the PACE Committee on Culture, Science and Education on public service broadcasting was disseminated. The Report analyzes the situation of PSB in all the member states of the Council of Europe, including Armenia.
Thus, the Report notes that “serious deficiencies in the legal framework hinder the development of the organization towards independence”. The reporter also notes that the criticism of the Council of Europe on the appointment of all five members of the Council of the Public TV and Radio Company by the RA President was responded by Armenian authorities with a quote of a need for constitutional changes. As a temporary solution, the Council of Europe suggested that the RA Law “On Television and Radio” include a stipulation for filling in the vacancies in the Council by a public competition. Notably, this suggestion of CE was included into the amendments passed on December 3 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, November 28-December 4, 2003).
Both Reports and the resolutions on them will be considered at the upcoming PACE session on January 26-30.