On October 28 in Yerevan a seminar “Media Professionalism and the Coverage
of the Constitution Referendum” was held by the Council of Europe Yerevan Office.
The role and responsibilities of Armenian media during the run-up for the referendum
on amendments to the RA Constitution (November 27, 2005) were discussed in the
context of CE standards, specified for the coverage of similar campaigns. The
event brought together heads and staff of national and regional media, representatives
of legislative and executive power, press-secretaries of Central Election Commission,
National Assembly and RA Constitutional Court.
The presentations of the speakers, invited by the Council of Europe, dealt
with the rights and duties of media during the campaign, the experience of referenda/elections
coverage in Great Britain and Slovenia, professional requirements to journalists,
specialized in the coverage of election campaigns. In particular, the Managing
Editor of BBC in Wales Ashok Ahir spoke about the need for balanced coverage
of the campaign and quoted the following example: if in the preparation of a
piece on referendum 19 people spoke “for”, and one – “against”, on BBC air there
will be only two opinions voiced – one pro and one con.
During the discussion Armenian journalists asked the Council of Europe experts
whether they do not think it controversial that, on the one hand, they are called
for balanced and impartial coverage of the referendum campaign, but on the other,
the seniors representatives of international structures and diplomatic missions
operating in Armenia openly stress the need for the public approval of the constitutional
amendments as otherwise the consequences for the country may be most adverse.
The Expert of the Venice Commission Owen Masters answered that the experts taking
part in the seminar are not competent to comment on such questions, and the
purpose of their visit is only to present to Armenian media the professional
and technical aspects of campaign coverage.