YPC Weekly Newsletter

2007


USA DEPARTMENT OF STATE ON FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND PRESS IN ARMENIA IN 2006

On March 6 the USA Department of State released country report on human rights
practices in Armenia in 2006, prepared by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights,
and Labor.

Addressing the freedom of speech and press situation in Armenia, the US Department
of State noted in particular, that “the Constitution provides for freedom of
speech and of the press; however, the government partially limited freedom of
speech” and “there were incidents of violence, intimidation and self-censorship
in the press”.

The private print media, the report says, expressing a wide variety of views
without restriction, yet no newspaper was completely independent of patronage
from economic or political interest groups or individuals.

Due to low circulations most of the Armenian population relies on broadcast
media for information, which are mostly privately operated. The news coverage
offered by private TV channels of the capital and regional cities of Armenia
generally has good technical quality, however, in the opinion of the report
authors, the substantive quality of news reporting on television and radio varied.
Most broadcasting companies are owned by progovernment politicians or well-connected
businessmen, and this leads journalists to engage in self-censorship. Major
broadcast media “generally expressed progovernment views”, and the First Channel
of the Public Television of Armenia “generally avoided editorial commentary
or reporting critical of the government”.

The report by the US Department of State describes the situation with the failure
of the National Commission on Television and Radio to provide a frequency to
“A1+” – “one of the country’s last politically independent TV stations”. Observers
alleged the decision was politically motivated due to “A1+” previous criticism
of President Kocharian’s administration. The report notes, that all the subsequent
12 attempts of “A1+” to get a broadcast license were unsuccessful. Further,
the document quotes the recommendation of the report of the OSCE Representative
on Freedom of the Media Miklos Haraszti on the state of media in Armenia, which
stresses that the composition of the regulatory bodies, including NCTR, must
represent the political diversity of the country and include NGOs and professional
associations.

The rejection of the amendments to broadcasting legislation, proposed by the
Government, in autumn 2006 was characterized in the report as “an action unusual
in a National Assembly where the ruling coalition has a comfortable majority”.

According to the US Department of State, international media generally operated
freely in the country.

Besides, the report lists incidents with media representatives that occurred
in 2006, such as the imprisonment of the Chief Editor of “Zhamanak-Yerevan”
daily Arman Babajanian for document fraud to evade military service. Although
he admitted guilt, the punishment was harsher than customary for such offenses,
and some observers regarded him as a victim of selective law enforcement. The
report also mentions the e-mail threats in July received by the Chairman of
“Investigative Journalists” NGO and the Chief Editor of “Hetq” online newspaper
Edik Baghdasarian, that followed the publication of articles, “criticizing a
new political party”; the situation in which the free-lance correspondent of
“Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” and “Aravot” newspapers Gagik Shamshian found himself
in, harassed in July by the relatives and associates of the prefect of a Yerevan
community, and further charged with several offenses; the attack on the Editor
of “Iravunk” newspaper Hovhannes Galajian on September 6.

“There was no official censorship, although journalists and opposition parties
complained that the government put pressure on television stations not to grant
air time to several out-of-favor politicians”, the US Department of State report
stresses.