YPC Weekly Newsletter

2008


REFORMATION OF BROADCAST MEDIA URGENTLY NEEDED WAS THE MAIN CONCLUSION OF MEDIA DIVERSITY IN ARMENIA CONFERENCE

On July 8 at Congress Hotel in Yerevan “Media Diversity in Armenia” conference
was held. The event was organized by the Council of Europe, OSCE and Yerevan
Press Club. At the opening of the conference representative of Directorate General
of Human Rights and Legal Affairs of the Council of Europe Franziska Klopfer,
Advisor to the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Ana Karlsreiter,
Vice Chairwoman of the RA National Assembly Standing Committee on Science, Education,
Culture, Youth and Sport Issues Naira Zohrabian.

The presentation of the Chairperson of the Sub-Committee on the Media of the
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Andrew McIntosh was dealing
with the CE standards and PACE resolutions on media diversity. Andrew McIntosh,
in particular, stressed the need of bringing the broadcast legislation of Armenia
and practice in line with CE standards as soon as possible – without delaying
it till the PACE session of January, 2009. Armenia’s implementation of recent
PACE resolutions with regard to media freedom and diversity became the subject
of the panel discussion. In the discussion the President of Yerevan Press Club
Boris Navasardian (moderator) and representatives of political parties took
part, namely, RA NA deputy of Republican Party of Armenia Gagik Minasian, Director
of News and Current Affairs Programs of “Yerkir-Media” TV channel Gegham Manukian
(“Dashnaktsutiun” party), spokesman of “Heritage” party Hovsep Khurshudian.
The text of the address by the representative of National Movement Levon Zurabian
was also read.

YPC Expert Mesrop Harutiunian presented the priorities in reforming the legislative
framework on media. In the panel discussion regarding the role of broadcasting
regulation in measuring plurality of opinion the speakers were the Chairwoman
of the Journalists Union of Armenia Astghik Gevorgian (moderator), RA Human
Rights Defender Armen Harutiunian, Head of Licensing and Methodology Department
of the National Commission on Television and Radio Ishkhan Vardanian, the Chairman
of the Council of Public TV and Radio Company Alexan Harutiunian, Member of
the Board of Trustees of the Public TV and Radio Company of Georgia Marina Vekua.

The Chairman of the Board of “Asparez” Journalists Club of Gyumri Levon Barseghian
in his presentation addressed the issues faced by media owners, professional
community and journalists, in terms of attaining real diversity in media domain.
The relations of media owners, journalists and authorities were considered at
the panel discussion that brought together the Chief Editor of “Aravot” daily
Aram Abrahamian (moderator), the Broadcast Media Consultant, former Head of
South Caucasus, Russian and Ukrainian Services of BBC Elisabeth Robson, the
President of “Meltex” LLC (the founder of “A1+” TV company) Mesrop Movsesian,
the President of “Noyan Tapan” Media Association Tigran Harutiunian, Producer
of “Internews” Media Support NGO Armen Sargsian.

Upon the completion of the conference its organizers released conference conclusions,
presented below.

CONCLUSIONS OF MEDIA DIVERSITY IN ARMENIA CONFERENCE

July 8, 2008, Yerevan

On July 8, 2008 in Yerevan a conference was held on “Media Diversity in Armenia”,
organized by the Council of Europe, OSCE and Yerevan Press Club. The conference
participants, representatives of media, professional associations, official
structures and political parties of Armenia, international organizations and
diplomatic missions discussed the urgent issues of the media of the country:
the priorities of media legislation reformation; the role of broadcasting regulation
in ensuring diversity of opinion; the tasks of media owners, professional communities
and journalists to attain real pluralism in the news sphere.

The problems that were manifest recently in the work of the media, primarily
the broadcasters, were reflected in many documents on national and international
levels. In the ruling of the RA Constitutional Court of March 8, 2008 it was
noted that in the course of presidential elections, held on February 19, 2008,
“effective control of pre-election promotion was left out of the RA CEC attention”.

As regards the body that regulates the broadcast media activities, the ruling
of the Constitutional Court said that “National Commission on Television
and Radio was formalistic in terms of complying with the law. As a result of
this the media coverage displayed not only bias, but also, in some cases, violations
of legal and ethical norms”.

The extraordinary report of the RA Human Rights Defender Armen Harutyunyan,
published on April 25, 2008 and titled “On Presidential Elections of February
19, 2008 and Post-Election Situation” described, among other issues, the situation
of free expression and media in Armenia. Addressing the pre-election processes,
the ombudsman stressed the “strongly critical nature” of the coverage the
TV companies gave to one of the presidential candidates. While after the official
launch of the pre-election campaign the consequent political bias was mitigated,
yet “this did not influence the situation qualitatively”. While presenting the
post-election situation, the RA Human Rights Defender characterized the coverage
of the opposition rallies by the TV companies as “openly negative”. The TV companies
continued presenting the viewpoint of only the pro-governmental politicians.
During the emergency rule (March 1-20, 2008) “factual censorship
was implemented”, the report by Armen Harutyunyan said, although it is prohibited
by Article 4 of the RA Law “On Mass Communication” and was not stipulated by
the restrictions provided for by the Decree of the RA President on Imposing
Emergency Rule.
As a result, “the publication of several national
newspapers was prohibited for their content”, web sites were also blocked. In
the opinion of Armen Harutyunyan, the restrictions imposed by the Decree did
not contribute to relieving the tension in the society, either: “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 RA Human Rights Defender
proposed a number of measures to overcome 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 documents above stress the need for practical steps to strengthen media
freedom and diversity in Armenia. This issue was also raised in the two recent
PACE resolutions.

On April 17, 2008 the PACE approved Resolution 1609 (2008) “The Functioning
of Democratic Institutions in Armenia”. In Paragraph 8 of its Resolution PACE
recalled the commitments of Armenia to the Council of Europe and once again
urged the Armenian authorities to make a number of reforms. In particular, Paragraph
8.3 of the Resolution says: “The independence from any political
interest of both National Commission on Television and Radio and the Council
of Public Television and Radio must be guaranteed. In addition, the composition
of these bodies should be revised in order to ensure that they are truly representative
of Armenian society.
The recommendations made by the Venice Commission
and Council of Europe experts in this respect must finally be taken into account.
The Assembly reiterates that apart from reforming the legislation, the authorities
must take steps to ensure freedom and pluralism of the public television and
radio on a day-to-day basis. Also, the harassment by the tax authorities of
opposition electronic and printed media outlets must be stopped.”

On June 25, 2008 Resolution 1620 (2008) “The Implementation by Armenia of Assembly
Resolution 1609 (2008)” was adopted, quoting the four main requirements of the
Resolution 1609 (2008) of April 17, 2008, also that “to initiate an open and
serious dialogue between all political forces in Armenia” with regard to a number
of issues, including freedom and pluralism of the media (Paragraph 1.4 of Resolution
1620). Paragraph 6 of Resolution 1620 (2008) says: “The Assembly
recalls that there is a need for a pluralistic electronic media environment
in Armenia and, referring to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights
concerning the denial of broadcasting license to ‘A1+’, calls on the licensing
authority to now ensure an open, fair and transparent licensing procedure, in
line with the guidelines, adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council
of Europe on March 26, 2008 and with the case law of the European Court of Human
Rights.”

As it was mentioned by the experts in the conference “Media Diversity in Armenia”,
those problems were hardly a surprise. They were a consequence of inconsistent
reforms and insufficient attention to the recommendations of local and foreign
experts, representatives of reputable international organizations.

On July 26, 2006 the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Miklos Haraszti
released a report on the state of media freedom in Armenia, also presenting
recommendations on the improvement of media freedom situation in the country.
Noting that limited pluralism in the broadcasting sector was a major problem,
as a first step to improve the state of broadcasting Miklos Haraszti recommended
that “legislative changes provided for by the Constitutional amendment 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.

Among the recommendations on private broadcasting the report noted 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.

The conference discussions showed that there is an urgent need for reforms
to improve media plurality. In particular there was a unanimous opinion that
the law and practice of broadcast media regulation needs to be brought in line
with Council of Europe standards. The agenda of this and other necessary reforms
has already been defined over the past years in the above mentioned documents
and commonly accepted assessment of media situation in Armenia. The fulfillment
of this agenda will enable Armenia to comply with the requirements of PACE Resolutions
1609 (2008) and 1620 (2008) in time for the January 2009 session. To ensure
success of this process there is a need for an open and serious dialogue which
involves the country’s authorities, international and local experts, civil society
and all political forces.