YPC Weekly Newsletter

2007


STATEMENT OF YEREVAN PRESS CLUB ON THE ADOPTION OF AMENDMENTS TO THE BROADCASTING LEGISLATION

On February 26 the RA National Assembly adopted in the second hearing and finally
the laws “On Introducing Amendments to the RA Law ‘On Television and Radio’”
and “On Introducing Amendments and Addition to the RA Law ‘Regulations of the
National Commission on Television and Radio’”.

On February 28 Yerevan Press Club released the following statement:

“The adoption of the laws “On Introducing Amendments to the RA Law ‘On Television
and Radio’” and “On Introducing Amendments and Addition to the RA Law ‘Regulations
of the National Commission on Television and Radio’” by the National Assembly
of Armenia on February 26, 2007 shows that neither the government that has authored
the draft, nor the parliament is ready or willing to improve the broadcasting
legislation, to bring it into compliance with the modern principles of freedom
of expression and international standards. Once again, we are facing a closed,
“in camera” process of developing draft laws on media and the hasty discussion
and voting at NA – as during military mobilization.

The argument that the need to bring the legislation into accord with the amended
Constitution called for a rapid procedure does not hold water. Over a year has
elapsed since the adoption of the amendments to the Constitution, and both the
governmental and the parliamentary structures had enough time to hold discussions,
hearings, to study the proposals submitted, to get expert evaluation. The restriction
of the lawmaking process to that of stamping out legal acts, subjected to the
political interests of the day, do not in any way testify to the commitment
of Armenian authorities to the principles of democracy and the process of European
integration that they declare.

Yerevan Press Club and partner organizations in 2005 have repeatedly stated
that the provisions of the draft amendments to the Constitution that deal with
the communications, in particular, the broadcast media, do not create favorable
conditions for reforming media legislation, proposed alternative versions of
amendments. But the parliamentary majority with a firmness that deserves better
use advanced its own definitions. The further developments proved our fears
were justified: the amended Constitution has significantly restricted the prospects
of the law making on ensuring the independence of the TV and radio regulatory
body.

At the same time the amendments to the broadcasting legislation, adopted on
February 26, do not reflect even the positive stipulations of the amended Constitution.
Firstly, the proportion of the members of the regulatory body (the National
Commission on Television and Radio), appointed by the President and elected
by the Parliament, as provided for by the Main Law, will, following the amendments,
only be reached in 2011, after NCTR will have held a number of broadcast licensing
competitions. Secondly, the amendments do not ensure the public and political
diversity in NCTR composition: in accordance with the procedures proposed, the
decision about the appointment of NCTR members from NA will be made by the parliamentary
majority, which, as the political practice of Armenia shows, is always in the
same camp with the President. In other words, the regulatory body, like before,
will be formed solely by the political forces at power, and in this regard the
amended legislation does not introduce any significant novelty. Thirdly, like
before, the involvement of the public in NCTR formation and the transparency
of its decision-making is not ensured. Fourthly, the remaining subdivision into
the paid (that is, the full-time NCTR members – the chairman and the vice chairman)
and the unpaid members conditions huge gap in their competence and violates
the principle of collegiate decision-making. Fifthly, the expansion of the NCTR
competence and inclusion of the public broadcaster into it, as stipulated by
the amended Constitution, did not entail the description of the mechanisms of
regulating the activities of the Public TV and Radio Company by the National
Commission on Television and Radio in broadcasting legislation.

Once again the opportunity of improving the Law “On Television and Radio” in
general, eliminating the numerous deficiencies it had since its adoption in
October 2000, without restricting oneself to the provisions that run contrary
to the amended Constitution, is missed.

The whole process of developing and adopting draft laws “On Introducing Amendments
to the RA Law ‘On Television and Radio’” and “On Introducing Amendments and
Addition to the RA Law ‘Regulations of the National Commission on Television
and Radio’” demonstrated open and cynical negligence of the opinion of the journalistic
community by the government and the parliamentary majority. None of the proposals
of public organizations, presented as expert assessment, concept of reforming
the broadcasting legislation, finally, as a ready-to-use draft law, received
attention. Only individual remarks, noting the obvious technical omissions in
official drafts, were taken into account. Unfortunately, the demonstrative reluctance
of the authorities to discuss anything with stakeholders is becoming a tradition
in the Armenian law making practice.

The voting at NA on February 26 also ignored the appeal of the Parliamentary
Assembly of the Council of Europe to the RA authorities to hold consultations
with the CE experts before the adoption of amendments to the Law “On Television
and Radio”, as well as the recommendations of the Office of OSCE Representative
on Freedom of the Media and its offer to make an expert assessment of the draft
amendments. Formation of the broadcasting legislation in compliance with the
standards of the Council of Europe was one of the commitments that Armenia undertook
upon its accession to CE, and further on the need to improve it was noted in
numerous documents of this international organization. However, this process
remains a sign of resistance to democratic reforms in the country.

The stance on the matter, held by parliamentary factions of governing coalition,
can be somehow explained by mutual political commitments – after all, the draft
amendments were initiated by their coalition government. Yet the behavior of
individual deputies, who call themselves “opposition” or “independent”, but
who voted for the drafts and ensured their adoption is even shameful to comment.
Because it is they who keep complaining of the control that authorities have
over broadcast media, at the same time reinforcing the state of affairs by their
vote…

What has been said here causes concern not only because of the adoption of the
two drafts, but also in the context of the overall sociopolitical situation
in the country before the parliamentary elections. There are too many alarming
premonitions that the upcoming election campaign, instead of being a declaration
of commitment to certain values by political forces, will turn into a demonstration
of cynicism, reactionary sentiment and conformism cult“, the YPC statement says.