YPC Weekly Newsletter

2004


ROUND TABLE PARTICIPANTS URGE THE AUTHORITIES TO SOLVE MEDIA LEGISLATION PROBLEMS

On March 20-21 in Yerevan a round table meeting “Reforms of Armenian Media
Legislation and Their Compliance With European Standards” was held. It was organized
by Yerevan Press Club and “Article 19” Global Campaign for Freedom of Expression.
Representatives of executive, legislative, judicial power, NGOs and media of
Armenia, international organizations, foreign experts participated in the meeting.
RA Minister of Justice David Harutyunyan and Head of OSCE Office in Yerevan,
Ambassador Vladimir Pryakhin opened the round table.

The meeting participants discussed the whole spectrum of legislative initiatives
regulating media sphere and adopted by the Parliament in the recent year: RA
Law “On Mass Communication” (Deputy Minister of Justice Ashot Abovian made a
presentation on this issue), amendments to RA Law “On Television and Radio”
(presentation by RA National Assembly deputy Vazgen Khachikian). Particular
attention was paid to the amendments to RA Law “On Freedom of Information” recently
adopted by the Government (presentation by “Article 19” Legal Officer Peter
Noorlander). Other no less urgent topics were devoted to Armenia’s honoring
of the commitments to the Council of Europe in freedom of expression (presentation
by YPC Expert Mesrop Harutyunyan), necessity for decriminalization of libel
and insult (presentation by International Expert Ireneusz Cezary Kaminski),
Polish experience in public broadcasting (presentation by Member of Polish Journalists’
Association Board of Directors Agnieszka Romaszewska).

At the round table, Article 19 publicized its statement on the situation with
media legislation in Armenia. Emphasizing a certain progress in developing legal
guarantees for freedom of expression and media diversity achieved by Armenia
in the past four years – since its accession to CE, the organization expressed
its concern over a number of problems demanding urgent solution. In particular,
“Article 19” statement notes that regular refusal of the National Commission
on Television and Radio of broadcast license to “A1+” TV Company testifies to
“lack of political independence” of this body regulating private broadcasters’
activity.

On March 21, the last working day of the round table, one more statement was
adopted – this time by its participants. The statement runs,

“We, the participants in the “Round Table on Reforms of Armenian Media Legislation
and their Compliance with European Standards”, organized by Yerevan Press Club
and “Article 19” Global Campaign for Freedom of Expression, meeting on 20-21
March 2004,

Emphasizing the crucial importance of freedom of expression and information
as an individual human right, as a cornerstone of democracy and as a means of
ensuring respect for all human rights and freedoms;

Concerned that while some important steps have been taken to bring
Armenia’s media laws into line with European standards on the right to freedom
of expression, much remains to be done;

Call on the Government of the Republic of Armenia to take urgent action to
address the following concerns:

Criminal Defamation

The current harsh criminal provisions on defamation and insult should be abolished
and replaced with appropriate civil defamation laws, incorporating the following
standards:

– Actual damages awarded for defamation must be proportionate to the harm caused
and take into account whether or not alternative remedies, such as the right
to reply, have been accessed. Moral damages or any other punitive awards should
be limited and take into account their likely impact on the wider exercise of
the right to freedom of expression;

– Public officials, because of their status as servants of the people, should
enjoy less protection than ordinary citizens;

– No one should be held liable for the expression of an honestly held opinion;
and

– The burden of proof of the falsity of an allegation in a matter of public
of concern should be on the plaintiff.

Broadcasting Legislation

The independence of the National Commission of Television and Radio must be
strengthened. The entire process for appointing members should be open and democratic,
include full public participation and consultation and should not be dominated
by any particular political or commercial interest. Membership overall should
be required to be reasonably representative of society as a whole. The independence
of the Council of the Public Television and Radio Company must be strengthened
likewise.

The licensing procedures included in the Broadcasting Law of 2000 must also
be made more transparent. In particular, the Commission should provide full
and complete written reasons for the grant or refusal of any broadcasting license
application.

Freedom of Information

The proposed amendments to the Law on Freedom of Information threaten seriously
to undermine the right of access to information. These amendments should be
abandoned and the current law must be implemented with immediate effect. In
particular, the implementing rules and regulations necessary to make the Law
operational must be prepared immediately, in an open and consultative process.

Any future amendments to the Law must promote rather than restrict the right
to access to information, for example by limiting fees and reducing restrictions,
and be adopted in a consultative process fully involving civil society, as supported
by the OSCE Office in Yerevan. We welcome the statement of intent made by the
Minister of Justice in this regard and we ask that before any further discussions
take place, a report is published in which the concerns of the Ministry of Justice
with regard to the September 2003 Law are clearly set out.

Mass Media Legislation

We welcome steps taken in the Law on Mass Communication to protect journalists’
sources, and we also welcome the statement made by the Deputy Minister of Justice
regarding further work to bring criminal procedure laws in line with this. At
the same time, we are highly concerned at the restriction the law places on
the dissemination by journalists of classified information. This restriction
violates international standards and must be removed.

We are also concerned that the accreditation procedures currently being prepared
should promote, not restrict, the right of journalists to report on the activities
of state bodies. They should be fair, transparent and independently administered,
and not create yet another bureaucratic hurdle for journalists to overcome.

Consultation

We request that a permanent group be set up with the Ministry of Justice to
involve fully civil society representatives in any discussion of present or
future laws and regulations that affect the exercise of the right to freedom
of expression, including the implementation of these laws. This group should
collaborate and consult with the Working Group under the parliamentary Commission
on Science, Education, Culture and Youth Issues.”