On March 10, Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) publicized its
annual world press freedom review for 2003. The review examines the state of
the media in over 184 countries, territories and administered areas.
The section devoted to Armenia states that after Armenia’s independence in
1991, the development of a free press and freedom of speech has been rather
slow and often variable. Though there is no direct censorship, but “popular
independent channels are kept off the air, and, as the president of Yerevan
Press Club has pointed out, many journalists in Armenia associate elections
with press freedom violations and fear for their safety”.
The difficult economic climate, according to the IPI review, makes it hard
for the media to become fully independent, and many media are being influenced
by political parties and financial-industrial groups that support them.
As an example of legislative regulation of media activity, the review particularly
refers to the situation with adoption of RA Law “On Mass Communication” and
the new Criminal Code, which preserved provisions on criminal persecution of
the journalists for libel and insult. It is emphasized that legislative branch
rejected the appeals of many Western countries and reputable international organizations
about the necessity to decriminalize libel and insult.
As International Press Institute states, the first round of the presidential
election in Armenia did not run smoothly for the media. The first case of fining
a TV company for violation of the regulations for election campaign coverage
of presidency candidates was registered. Besides, representatives of various
independent national media were subjected to intimidation and physical attacks
on the day of elections. There was pressure on “Ankyun+3” TV (Alaverdi, Lori
region) during parliamentary election campaign.
“Attacks on journalists also took place which were unrelated to the elections”,
the review notes. In particular, the researchers describe the trial on the murder
case of Chairman of the Council of RA TV and Radio Company, Tigran Naghdalian,
beating of “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” newspaper correspondent, Mher Ghalechian,
and head of “Or” newspaper, Gayane Mukoyan.
The review also mentions ban on the air of oppositional TV channels “A1+” and
“Noyan Tapan”. “The official reason for the denial was the claim of the National
Commission on Television and Radio that the ‘A1+’ station lacked the technical
and financial preparation to broadcast. However, many media workers did not
agree with this claim”, the review states.
The situation with press freedom in Armenia is illustrated by other instances
of pressure on media in 2003.