YPC Weekly Newsletter

2009


AMENDMENTS TO THE BROADCAST LAW ARE NONSENSE – TO SAY THE LEAST

The agenda of the first four-day session of the RA National Assembly included
the package of amendments to the RA Laws “On Television and Radio”, “Statutes
of the RA National Assembly”, “Statutes of the RA National Commission on Television
and Radio”, “On State Duty”. Yet the documents submitted to the consideration
of the parliament, similarly to the previous versions of this legislative package,
did not address any of such key issues of the broadcast sphere as ensuring plurality
of the regulatory body, transparency of broadcast licensing competitions, distinct
criteria for the decision-making of the National Commission on Television and
Radio in licensing process, development of the mechanisms of the regulation
of the activities of Public TV and Radio Company, the digitalization of broadcasting
in the context of Armenia’s commitments to the Council of Europe. It is the
need to solve these issues that the journalistic associations of the country
and international experts have been insisting on for many years already. Moreover,
the renewed package displays a number of other shortcomings as well.

On February 3 Yerevan Press Club, “Internews” Media Support NGO, the Committee
to protect Freedom of Expression and the Media Diversity Institute Armenia released
the following statement:

“Discussion of the updated package of amendments to broadcast legislation is
on the agenda of the regular session of National Assembly of Armenia. The quality
of that document has exceeded our worst expectations: the number of lexical,
logical and legal lapses has made it useless to subject it to detailed analysis
especially since our organizations, for the last years, have been consistently
and constructively responding to all the legislative initiatives in the area
of the mass media, comprehensively assessing all the official legislative drafts
and promoting their own suggestions. In particular, in December, 2008 Yerevan
Press Club and Internews submitted their detailed comments on the previous version
of that legislative package to the relevant parliamentary commission. Virtually,
none of our crucial remarks were taken into consideration. Instead, new provisions
appeared in the draft amendments to the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, a
part of them deserving to be called nothing more than “nonsense”.

In November, 2008 representatives of our organizations were invited to become
members of the working group on media legislation at the Standing Commission
of NA on Science, Education, Youth issues and Sport. The first meeting of the
group took place on November 20. On December 19, 2008 the National Assembly
organized hearings on some aspects of broadcast media regulation. However, those
undertakings, apparently, were of no benefit. As for the new version of the
legislative package, NA did not even find it necessary to present it to the
working group. In that case, why the group was formed for at all? Once again,
we have to state that various civilized forms of legislative process have an
exclusively “decorative” function here. In such a situation, and taking into
consideration the quality of the document that was proposed for discussion at
the parliamentary session, further serious work at that document would mean
expressing disrespect to our own professional dignity.

Not going into the details, indicative of the drafters’ incompetence and negligence,
we will take the liberty of pointing at the main methodological mistakes (or
deliberate tricks?) that have appeared in the updated package, in addition to
the already-existing ones. To begin with, it is a matter of crude substitution
of concepts. Since the first day of the adoption of the Law “On Television and
Radio” in 2000, local experts and representatives of international organizations
have been talking about the need for legislative guarantees of social-political
diversity at the Council of Public Television and Radio Company. Instead, the
drafters suggest professional diversity (expert in journalism, expert in broadcasting
or telecommunications, business or finance manager, etc.) Secondly, the drafters
have invented an oath for the members of the Council, as well as the National
Commission on Television and Radio, without devising any real guarantees for
the independence of those bodies, the necessity of which is being constantly
talked about. The demand to take an oath of devotion to civil society, freedom
of information and other lofty principles, in the absence of reliable mechanisms
contributing to independence, pluralism and accountability to the society, only
increases the concentration of hypocrisy that is already a big problem in our
public life. Once again, the two above-mentioned crucial shortcomings of the
legislative package are but a small part of unacceptable provisions and absurdities
contained in it.

In its Resolution 1643 (2009), Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe
calls upon the authorities of Armenia “to fully implement the forthcoming recommendations
of the Council of Europe experts” in regard to the independence of the media
regulatory bodies in the country. We don’t know about the contents of the latest
recommendations of CE experts, although the members of the above-mentioned working
group, probably, should have been notified of them (otherwise, how can they
help the specialized commission?) However, there is no doubt about the fact
that PACE Resolutions 1609 (2008) and 1620 (2008), as well as the numerous appeals
of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media concerning broadcast legislation,
have not been adequately reflected in the draft laws proposed for discussion.

Besides, the provision of Resolution 1643 on canceling all tenders for broadcasting
frequencies until July 20, 2010 has been totally ignored. PACE emphasized that
“the technical requirements for the introduction of digital broadcasting should
not be used by the authorities to unduly delay the holding of an open, fair
and transparent tender for broadcasting licenses, as demanded by the Assembly.”
Meanwhile, the related amendment to the Law “On Television and Radio”, adopted
on September 10, 2008 in defiance of all the democratic and procedural norms,
underwent no changes by the package drafters.

Unfortunately, everything happening around broadcast legislation indicates
that NA deputies simply have not realized the necessity of learning a lesson
from the situation when the delegation of Armenian parliamentarians faced the
real threat of losing the right to vote at PACE. Reassuring themselves and people
around them with exorcisms about gradualness of reforms, including in the area
of freedom of speech, as well as the impossibility of approaching European standards
in a brief period of time, they continue to discredit the very concept of reforms
in the sphere of information, harming the reputation of the country and the
prospects of its democratic development.
Here are some facts to back up our statement. The first version of the legislative
package that gave rise to this statement emerged in June, 2008. Since then,
the apparent shortcomings in the draft laws not only have not been removed but
have been supplemented with new, more glaring lapses. Not to mention that drastic
improvement of broadcast legislation has been on the agenda for more than eight
years. Is it what we call gradual reforms?

Under the circumstances we have no choice but to urge the deputies of the National
Assembly to quickly forget the package proposed for discussion for the current
four-day session, return to one of its previous versions and work at the fundamental
revision of the document, taking into account the numerous remarks and suggestions
of the working group members, as well as the recommendations of international
organizations and their experts”, – the statement of four journalistic organizations
says.

Discussion on the package of amendments to the broadcast law was postponed
to the next four-day session of the National Assembly.