YPC Weekly Newsletter

2008


OMBUDSMAN PRESENTED AN EXTRAORDINARY REPORT DEALING WITH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

On April 25 in Yerevan the RA Human Rights Defender Armen Harutiunian presented
his extraordinary public report “On Presidential Elections of February 19, 2008
and the Post-Election Situation”, describing, among other issues, the situation
of free expression and media in Armenia.

In the first report section, dealing with pre-election processes, it is noted
in particular that during the period, preceding the pre-election promotion,
the television coverage of a presidential candidate was distinct for “strongly
critical nature”. Although after the official launch of pre-election campaign
the consistent political bias of TV companies became somewhat milder, this “did
not leave a qualitative impact on the situation in place”. The ombudsman’s report
quotes a conclusion from a report of the OSCE/ODIHR Observation Mission regarding
the electoral campaign coverage: “On most of the media the candidates’ total
coverage time was more equitable (…). However, the coverage of Levon Ter-Petrosian
in various broadcast media contained many critical remarks, while the other
eight candidates were presented in a generally positive or neutral manner.”
On its behalf, the ombudsman’s report notes, the opposition forces also contributed
to the intensification of intolerance with regard of representatives of power:
“Thus, in all promotional materials (opposition media, disseminated video materials,
leaflets, etc.) the idea of law enforcement bodies as servants of authorities,
already having an “enemy” image, as a tool of compulsion and violence, was developed.”
In the opinion of Armen Harutiunian, the mutual accusations, one-sided comments,
in particular the ones made by the RA President Robert Kocharian and “Haylur”
newscast of the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia, contributed
to the escalation of tension, were a stimulus for even stronger negative endorsement
from the other side.

In the second section of the RA Human Rights Defender report the developments
on the ballot day, February 19, are described. The incidents listed include
the attack on the correspondent of “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily Lusineh Barseghian
on the premises of precinct 13/16 of Erebuni community of Yerevan.

The third section presents the post-election situation. “Many citizens were
inclined to accept all arguments against the authorities voiced at rallies and
disseminated by opposition media. The efforts, made by pro-governmental politicians
and media, to convince people that the voting results, announced by the Central
Election Commission, are valid, were in many cases received by citizens with
certain reservations, because as a result of deprivation of objective information,
the trust to the authorities reduced with every day”, the ombudsman report
notes. The television coverage of opposition rallies was “openly negative”,
while the silencing of the criticism of authorities made at rallies, in the
opinion of certain analysts, resulted in a significant increase of the rally
participants. Meanwhile, TV companies continued to present only the viewpoints
of pro-government figures. Speaking about objective factors, contributing to
the intensification of intolerance, the RA Human Rights Defender also names
“restriction of access to information” and “not fully guaranteed freedom of
expression”.

A separate chapter of the third section of the report is dealing with the regime
of the state of emergency, introduced on March 1, 2008 for 20 days by a Decree
of the President of Armenia. Assessing the media activities for the period,
Armen Harutiunian reminded the subclause 4 of clause 4 of the Decree, according
to which the publications of media on state and domestic policy issues could
be made solely within official communications of state bodies. “Even though
the restrictions introduced by the Decree did not stipulate censorship, which
is also prohibited by Article 4 of the RA Law “On Mass Communication”, on these
days factual censorship was applied. Due to this, the publication of several
nationwide newspapers was prohibited due to their content. A number of publications,
proceeding from the regime, introduced by the Decree, refused from operating,
since had no chance to present opposition and critical viewpoints, whereas the
publication of statements, discrediting and insulting to the opposition, often
aggressive, in other newspapers and TV channels was in no way restricted.” “A1+”
and Lragair.am web sites were also blocked. In the opinion of Armen Harutiunian,
the restrictions, introduced by the Decree, did not contribute to calming the
society down: “A most vivid example of such unacceptable coverage was demonstrated
by the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia, which not only neglected
this provision of the Decree, but also once again made a grave infringement
of the requirement of Article 28 of the RA Law “On Television and Radio”: “The
prevalence of a political stance in the programs broadcast (…) on public television
(…) is prohibited”. The National Commission on Television and Radio, which,
in accordance to the Law, is the independent regulator and is to implement the
control over the activities of the broadcasters, failed to perform one of its
main functions and did not prevent the violations of the Decree provisions not
only by the PTA First Channels, but also most of the private broadcasters. Since
the illegal displays in the media sphere during the emergency rule were directly
related to the election, holding those guilty accountable is as important as
the punishment of people who made infringements during the electoral process.
“Besides, under the circumstances of manipulative use of media they also made
a distorted presentation of statements of international structures and officials,
which disoriented the society and became an additional factor, adversely affecting
the international image of Armenia”, the report goes on saying.

In the conclusive part of the report the RA Human Rights Defender suggests
to take a number of measures, directed at overcoming the situation in place,
including: “To ensure freedom of expression, create conditions to ensure diversity
of opinion and impartiality in electronic media. In this regard, the reformation
of the broadcasting legislation will have much significance. It is also necessary
to guarantee the equal participation of the representatives of power and opposition
in the formation of the bodies, regulating and controlling the activities of
TV and radio companies.”

“The most dangerous and short-sighted thing that we can do now is the imitation
of reforms”, the report of the RA Human Rights Defender Armen Harutiunian concludes.