YPC Weekly Newsletter

2009


NEW PACE RESOLUTION: SWITCHING TO DIGITAL BROADCASTING SHOULD NOT DISTURB THE HOLDING OF LICENSING COMPETITION

On June 24 at the plenary summer session of Parliamentary Assembly of Council
of Europe the Resolution 1677 (2009) “The Functioning of Democratic Institutions
in Armenia” was approved. Points 11 and 12 of the document deal with the media
sphere.

By Point 11 of Resolution 1677 (2009) PACE welcomes the adoption, on April
28, 2009, of amendments to the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, “which were
elaborated in close consultation with the Council of Europe and are aimed at
ensuring the independence of the media regulatory bodies in Armenia”. With regard
to these amendments, the Subpoint 11.1 notes that “the appointment procedure
for the members appointed by the President of Armenia on the National Television
and Radio Commission and the Public Television and Radio Council is not regulated
by law”, and recommends that the President issue an order “to establish an appointment
procedure that mirrors the procedure applied for the appointments by the National
Assembly”. Notably, the Assembly considers that “despite the positive changes
to the law, these bodies cannot be held fully independent until such time as
all members are appointed through a politically neutral procedure”. In Subpoint
11.2 PACE reaffirms its position expressed in Resolution 1609 (2008): the composition
of both broadcast regulatory bodies “should reflect the Armenian society”. The
Subpoint 11.3 recommends that “serving politicians be barred from being members”
of regulatory bodies.

Point 12 of Resolution 1677 (2009) refers to “the holding of an open, fair
and transparent tender for broadcasting licenses”. Presently, says the Resolution,
discussions between the Armenian authorities and the Council of Europe are held
on a basis of a report prepared by an independent CoE spectrum analyst. PACE
reaffirms the earlier expressed position: “The technical implications of the
introduction of digital broadcasting in Armenia should not be used to delay
unduly the holding of such a tender and thus the execution of the judgment of
the European Court of Human Rights in the case concerning the denial of a broadcasting
license to the television channel ‘A1+’”.

It should be noted that PACE Resolution 1677 (2009) was adopted on the basis
of the report “The Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Armenia”, prepared
by the Monitoring Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments
by Member-State of Council of Europe (co-rapporteurs – Georges Colombier and
John Prescott). The report was endorsed at the session of the Monitoring Committee
on June 22, 2009.

In the Explanatory Memorandum of the document, in “Media Reform” section the
co-rapporteurs, particularly, refer to the amendment to the RA Law “On Television
and Radio”, adopted (by an accelerated procedure) on September 10, 2008 by the
RA National Assembly. It suspends the holding of broadcast licensing competitions
till July 2010. “This amendment was strongly criticised by the opposition in
Armenia”, the Monitoring Committee report stresses.

In view of the aforesaid citation it is worth to emphasize that the situation
around the moratorium on licensing competitions presented by the co-rapporteurs
is not quite sufficient. “This amendment was strongly criticized” hardly by
the opposition only, but, first of all, by the journalistic associations of
Armenia and the international organizations. Thus, the statement of five professional
organizations, including Yerevan Press Club, qualified the amendment as yet
another prove of that the governmental initiatives in media domain “are aimed
not at ensuring the constitutional right to free receipt and dissemination of
information, not at the improvement of the domain, not at the implementation
of the commitments to the Council of Europe and recommendations of PACE resolutions,
but at retaining and strengthening the total control over broadcasters, currently
practiced”. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Miklos Haraszti,
calling upon the Armenian authorities to review the addition to the broadcast
Law, pointed out, in particular: “By cutting off any potential applicant broadcasters
from entering the market until 2010, the limited pluralism in Armenia’s broadcasting
sector will be further diminished.” Yet, according to Global Campaign for Free
Expression “Article 19”, the adopted amendments are directed against “A1+” TV
company, contrary to the decision of European Court of Human Rights regarding
the case of “A1+”, as well as contradicted to Article 19 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 10 of the European Convention
on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom – both conventions are ratified by Armenia
and guarantee freedom of expression (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, September
5-11, 2008
, September 26
– October 2, 2008
, and October 3-9, 2008).

Besides, in the draft of the Resolution, presented in the same report of the
Monitoring Committee, the provision that the composition of the regulatory bodies
(National Commission on Television and Radio, and the Council of the Public
Television and Radio) should reflect the Armenian society was supplemented with
a following recommendation: the Assembly “therefore calls upon the National
Assembly to consider further amendments to that effect”. Yet the text of Resolution
1677 (2009) approved by PACE does not include this recommendation (see the abovementioned
Subpoint 11.2). A question rises, how will the provision of the Resolution be
implemented, if the REAL mechanisms to improve the level of independence of
the regulatory bodies still remain absent in the broadcast legislation?! Moreover,
the recently amended legislation does not solve any of the serious problems
of the broadcast sphere, raised by the journalistic community of the country,
as well as by the international organizations for years. The withdrawal of the
provision on the necessity of introducing further amendments to the broadcast
legislation from Resolution 1677 (2009) endorses the assumption of Yerevan Press
Club: the amendments of April 28, 2009 were the final chord of the 12-year epic
on forming the broadcast legislation in Armenia. “The practice of total control
exercised by the power structures over the broadcast sphere received the complete
legislative backing they wished so much, with the blessing of the Council of
Europe experts and the parliamentary opposition” (cited from the piece “The
Unaccomplished Reform or Strasbourg Is Happy with Us”, published in YPC Weekly
Newsletter of June 12-18, 2009).