On July 26 the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Miklos Haraszti
released a report on the state of media freedom in Armenia, which also provides
a set of recommendations on the improvement of media situation. The document
is based on the visit of Miklos Haraszti to Armenia on June 19-21 (see YPC Weekly
Newsletter, June 16-22, 2006).
Armenia, the report of the OSCE Representative says, has made significant progress
in improvement of media legislation, but the media pluralism remains limited
to the independent, but financially weak and less influential, print media.
The limited pluralism in the broadcasting sector is a major problem: “The broadcast
outlets, with the exception of a limited number of programs which present alternative
views, do not offer in a consistent way objective and pluralistic information
to society. Broadcast media can be described as predominantly pro-Government,
despite the transformation of state TV into a public service broadcaster and
the existence of a number of private channels. In conformity with current legislation,
all members of the regulatory bodies are directly appointed by the President
of Armenia.” As a first step to improve the state of broadcasting it is recommended
that “legislative changes provided for by the Constitutional amendment (adopted
by the Referendum of November 27, 2005 – Ed. Note)
should be prepared by the Government, discussed in a public forum with members
of civil society, and passed in Parliament as soon as possible, certainly before
the Parliamentary elections in 2007. However, legislative changes should not
be limited to a ‘half Presidential – half Parliamentary’ board. The composition
of all boards should represent the political and social diversity of the country,
and should include NGOs and professional associations”.
As to public service broadcasting, in the opinion of the OSCE Representative,
the members of its regulatory body – the Council of Public TV and Radio Company
– “should not be selected by one political force or by political forces alone”.
The selection criteria, the report stresses, should reflect transparency and
ensure both a high level of professionalism and pluralism of reflected views.
In order to fulfill the tasks of a genuine public service broadcaster, the Council
should carry out continuous monitoring of access of different parties to air
time and coverage of their activities, the results of which should be made public.
Although numerous private broadcasters exist, there is no systemic coverage
of the diversity of public opinion. The example of “A1+” and “Noyan Tapan” TV
companies, the report notes, are a proof that the licensing activities of the
National Commission on Television and Radio in the current legal setup, are
non-transparent and politically motivated: “In 2002, these fully operational
TV stations, regarded by many as politically independent from the Government,
were denied renewal of their licenses. Since then, “A1+” has applied more than
ten times, but was rejected based on different reasons.” The recommendations
on private broadcasting in the report note the need for such amendments of the
Law “On Television and Radio” that would be clear about broadcast licensing
competition procedures: “The selection criteria must include the interests of
pluralism; the licensing process must become more transparent, using more quantifiable,
thus publicly controllable benchmarks.” Despite the anti-monopoly provision
in the broadcast Law stipulating that “each physical or legal entity can be
licensed only for one Television and Radio Company”, in Armenia there are people
who own several broadcasting companies, which, in their turn, share the same
buildings and staff members. “This means that there aren’t any guarantees for
pluralism in ownership, which, in any society, is the foundation for a pluralistic
access to information”, Miklos Haraszti stressed in his report. To preclude
the monopolization of the broadcast market the OSCE Representative recommends
that the Law “On Television and Radio” include clear-cut market share provisions
and give NCTR the authority to check parent companies.
“The market for commercial advertising in Armenia is very limited, both in
size and scope. Broadcast media keeps prices artificially low by exceeding the
limits of advertisement amounts allowed for them. This abuse is made possible
by the poor enforcement of the laws regulating advertising, leading to unpunished
violations of both time and content limitations”, Miklos Haraszti’s report says.
To improve the situation a number of measures are recommended: to supervise
properly the implementation of the laws on advertising to ensure the development
of pluralistic advertising market; to legislatively ensure more power to NCTR
on monitoring the content and frequency of advertisements, including hidden
ones; to regulate by one law advertisement limitations of both public and private
broadcasters; to legally clarify the advertising limits per hour of broadcasting,
following international standards.
The Armenian print media are defined in the report of the OSCE Representative
as free, but financially weak, with limited influence. The main reasons behind
the financial weakness of the print media are explained by the limited commercial
advertising market, and the insufficiencies of the print press distribution
system. “(…) Neither subscription nor distribution should be subject to licensing.
The Government should consider introducing special protection of the print press
in order to promote media pluralism, for example a supportive distribution system,
VAT or tax breaks.”
Although Armenia adopted one of the most progressive Law “On Freedom of Information”
in CIS countries, access to information by media professionals remains limited
due to the poor implementation of the Law. To ensure the proper implementation
of the Law “On Freedom of Information” public discussion and adoption of sublegislative
acts is recommended. Besides, Article 5 “Recording, Classifying and Maintaining
Information” and Article 10 “Conditions of Providing Information” are not to
be changed, being important guarantees of free access to information.
The OSCE Representative, having positively assessed the legislative softening
of punishment for libel and insult, stressed at the same time that this reform,
launched in 2004, must be completed, namely, the defamation should be decriminalized
completely; a moratorium on criminal defamation charges may be introduced while
decriminalization amendments are being prepared and adopted; Article 318 “Insulting
a Representative of Authorities”, should be repealed; guidelines should be introduced
for civil courts in order to ensure that the amount of damages in civil defamation
cases is proportionate to the charge; an effective media self-regulation body
should be established and it should assume the mediating role in media-related