Еженедельный Бюллетень ЕПК

2009


STATEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC ASSOCIATIONS ON DRAFT AMENDMENTS TO BROADCAST LEGISLATION

On April 9, Yerevan Press Club, Internews Media Support NGO, Media Diversity
Institute-Armenia, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, “Asparez” Journalist’s
Club and Vanadzor Press Club released a statement on amendments to broadcast
legislation.

“The agenda of the RA National Assembly includes the second hearing of the
package of draft amendments to the RA Laws “On Television and Radio”, “Regulations
of the National Commission on Television and Radio”, “Regulations of the RA
National Assembly”, “On State Duty”. Despite the few improvements against the
previous version of the package strongly criticized by our organizations in
the statement of February 3, 2009 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, January
30 – February 5, 2009
Ed. Note), the document,
as we see it, remains far from the demands of the time.

Any legislative initiative on television and radio must today be assessed from
the perspective of solving the four cornerstone problems of the Armenian broadcast
sphere:

– ensuring the independence of the National Commission on Television and Radio
– the body that regulates the activities of TV and radio companies;

– real reformation of the Public TV and Radio Company, inclusion of PTRC in
the field of legal regulation, creation of mechanisms of its responsibility
and accountability to the society;

– formation of new legal conditions of impartial and transparent broadcast
licensing competitions;

– revocation of the ban on allocation of frequencies.

The legislative changes that do not entail basic solutions to the problems
above can be only seen as cosmetic. In this regard the improvement of certain
provisions of the draft law package on broadcasting, proposed for the second
hearing by the RA National Assembly, are nothing but a reform imitation and
do not in any way contribute to overcoming the total control of the authorities
over the TV and radio air in Armenia.

As a main argument to support the package its authors refer to the positive
assessment of the Council of Europe expert. Meanwhile, the CE assessment, while
phrased in a very polite and cautious manner, contains criticism of a number
of important clauses of the drafts. In particular, this document clearly states
the absence of due guarantees to the independence of the National Commission
on Television and Radio and the Council of Public TV and Radio Company, as well
as about the incompliance of the PTRC structure to the internationally accepted
standards of good governance.

Even if one shares the satisfaction of the CE expert with most of the remaining
provisions of the package, the two mentioned shortcomings, referring to the
cornerstone issues of the broadcasting legislation, render the voting of the
RA NA deputies for the package questionable. What is the value of amendments
to the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, if they do not call for a basic review
of the mechanisms permanently criticized over the past 12 years, ever since
the debate of the broadcast legislation started?

It is quite surprising that the Council of Europe expert, assessing the package
of the draft law on regulating the broadcasting, overlooked the recommendations
of the Resolutions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe 1532
(2007), 1609 (2008), 1620 (2008) and 1643 (2009). Addressing the issues of Armenia’s
compliance with its commitments to the Council of Europe and functioning of
democratic institutions in the country, these Resolutions, proceeding from the
political situation in the country, define the agenda of reforms, also with
regard to media. The recommendations raise the issues of independence of the
regulatory body, the transparency of broadcast licensing competitions, and the
possibility of “A1+” TV company taking part in them, the ban on frequency allocation.
Considering the draft package without taking into account the four most recent
PACE recommendations on Armenia, the Council of Europe expert, on the one hand,
actually overlooked some questionable provisions of the legislation in force
(first of all, the ban on frequency allocation), and on the other – assessed
a whole number of legislative innovations without taking into account the problematic
practices of late (transparency and impartiality of broadcast licensing competitions).

The expert welcomes the expansion of Article 50 of the RA Law “On Television
and Radio” that call for the provision of “full reasons” to the applicants that
were refused a license. A reference is made here to the judgment of the European
Court of Human Rights of June 17, 2008 on the case of “A1+” TV company founder,
“Meltex” LLC. Yet, in essence, the new draft law proposes nothing new with regard
to justification of license refusal, the mechanisms of defining criteria that
NCTR members should be guided with during the assessment of the applications
are still not prescribed.

One could have quoted a number of other examples of the insufficiently thorough
analysis of the draft law package by CE expert. Yet the problem lies not with
the particularities, but with the technique that the media legislation is being
shaped with in Armenia. Despite the fact that a working group of local experts
is set up adjacently to the specialized standing committee of the National Assembly,
the recent drafts have not been discussed with this working group. The international
experts meet and discuss drafts only with their authors or MPs interested in
the draft promotion. Objections, comments, clarifications as to the problems
of practical applications of certain clauses that the representatives of Armenian
media community could share, public debate – all this is of no interest to any
one for a long time already. Such closed process of legislation formation cannot
yield other results than the ones we have today.

Meanwhile, when the authorities are interested to promote certain initiative,
even if extremely unprofessional in its development, it is immediately in the
limelight of attention, debate is raised about it on all TV channels. A vivid
example of this is the draft law on introducing new provisions to the Civil
Code, stipulating moral damage compensation, that has made so much noise lately.
The vehement endorsement of this initiative can be hardly regarded as anything
other than an attempt to divert the public attention from real problems in media,
obstruction of efforts of journalistic organizations in legislation and media
self-regulation.

Unfortunately, such red herrings have been used more than once and run contrary
to the policy of strengthening civil society as declared by the RA authorities.

Proceeding from this, we call on the RA National Assembly:

1. To revoke from circulation the package of draft laws on
broadcasting and to come back to it after thorough review and improvement in
accordance with the international commitments of Armenia and the suggestions
of the working group at the RA National Assembly Standing Committee on Science,
Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Issues. Otherwise we see no point in further
participation in the working group and shall call back our representatives from
it;

2. To immediately include a draft law on abolishing the ban
on holding broadcast licensing competitions in the agenda of the National Assembly.
To refuse from the idea of digitalization at the expense of free competition
and media plurality. To hold open debate of the TV and radio broadcast digitalization
program;

3. To delay the initiatives related to new forms of journalistic
liability for defamation until the completion of processes aimed at improving
the broadcast legislation, guaranteeing true public service broadcasting, pluralistic
private TV and radio, media accountability system formation. The attempts of
prioritizing the issue of legal liability of journalists damaging the development
of civilized media market will be viewed by us to be directed at the restriction
of free expression in Armenia”, the statement of six journalistic associations
says.