YPC Weekly Newsletter

2008


USA DEPARTMENT OF STATE ON FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND PRESS IN ARMENIA IN 2007

On March 11 the USA Department of State released country report on human rights
practices in different countries of the world in 2007, 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 freedom of the press, but the government generally did not respect
these rights in practice” and “there were incidents of violence, intimidation,
and self-censorship in the press”.

Further the report lists the incidents with the media representatives that
occurred in 2007: institution of criminal proceedings versus the Chief Editors
of “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” and “Haikakan Zhamanak” newspapers Shogher Matevosian
and Nikol Pashinian, who took part in the march on October 23 in Yerevan, the
injuries inflicted on the correspondent of “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” Gohar Vezirian
when the police was dispersing the march; the assault of a tax officer on the
cameraman of “GALA” TV company Grigor Shaghoyan in Gyumri on November 6; the
explosion at the editorial office of “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” on December 13;
the police use of force against free-lance journalist Gagik Shamshian and of
tear gas – against the correspondent of “Hayastani Hanrapetutiun” daily Tsovinar
Nazarian during a demonstration of May 9; attack on the Editor of “Iskakan Iravunk”
newspaper Hovhannes Galajian on September 15; the arsons of the cars of the
founder of “Football Plus” newspaper Suren Baghdasarian (January 30) and the
Chairman of the Editorial Staff of “My Right” newspaper and Panorama.am news
portal Ara Saghatelian (February 8).

The report describes also the court proceedings versus media and journalists:
the suit of Gyumri Tax Inspection versus the founder of Gyumri TV company “GALA”
– “CHAP” LLC; the suspended sentence of the free-lance journalist Gagik Shamshian;
the continuing imprisonment of “Zhamanak-Yerevan” opposition newspaper Arman
Babajanian, convicted in September 2006 for document fraud to evade military
service. The report says that while he admitted his guilt, the sentence was
widely considered harsher than normal in such incidents, and some observers
charged that he was the victim of selective enforcement. On January 12 the Court
of Appeals shortened the sentence by six months; during 2007 Arman Babajanian’s
two appeals of early release were refused. In another section of the report,
the US Department of State classes Arman Babajanian to be a political prisoner.

The private print media, the report notes, expressed a wide variety of views
without restrictions, but no media outlet was completely independent of patronage
from economic or political interest groups of individuals. Newspaper circulation
was very limited, and most of the population relied on broadcast media for news
and information. Private TV stations generally offered news coverage of good
technical quality; however, in the opinion of report authors, the quality of
news reporting on television and radio varied. Most stations were owned by progovernment
politicians or well-connected businessmen, factors that prompted journalists
to engage in self-censorship. Major broadcast media generally expressed progovernment
views. All Armenian TV and radio stations avoided editorial commentary or reporting
critical of the government.

The report of the US Department of State reminds that “A1+”, “the last politically
independent television station to operate in the country”, is still unable to
broadcast. Observers view the decision of refusing a license to “A1+” to be
politically motivated, and all 12 attempts of “A1+” to receive a broadcast license
starting from 2003 were unsuccessful.

The report also describes the media activities during elections. In the opinion
of the US Department of State, during the 40 days before the parliamentary elections
of May 12 the broadcast media were more generous in the coverage they allocated
to opposition politicians than in past years. Several were given the opportunities
to speak about their programs and positions. Public television adhered to the
legal requirement to provide free time to each party, contesting in the elections,
and these broadcasts were aired without editorial restrictions: “Nevertheless
based on its media monitoring efforts, the OSCE reported that the enhanced coverage
was devoid of critical comment by television media.”

As concerns the presidential elections, as the report notes, the monitoring
of broadcast media, conducted ahead of them by the “TEAM” Research Center and
Yerevan Press Club with the support of the Open Society Institute Assistance
Foundation-Armenia, revealed strong bias in coverage of two presidential candidates,
Prime Minister Serge Sargsian and the RA First President Levon Ter-Petrosian:
“The Prime Minister, who received abundant coverage in his official capacity,
received mostly positive and sometimes neutral coverage, while Ter-Petrosian
received predominantly negative, and, on rare occasions, neutral coverage.”