On February 16 US-based Committee to Protect Journalists released the annual report on Attacks on the Press in 2009 in more than 100 countries of the world. Among the major developments of the previous year CPJ highlighted the unprecedented massacre of 31 journalists and media employees in Philippine, a spike in violence in Somali (forcing a high number of journalists into exile) and massive post-electoral crackdown on freedom of expression in Iran.
In the report section dealing with Armenia it is noted that the public remains polarized by the presidential elections 2008, with protest actions and government reprisals continuing well in 2009. The authorities seek to suppress critical debate over these issues, as a result journalists face intolerance, hostility, and violence. The authorities control over most broadcast media, the primary news source in a poverty-afflicted country with poor newspaper distribution and low Internet penetration, the report states. The Council of Public TV and Radio Company, composed of members, appointed by RA President, continues to set editorial guidelines for First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia, ensuring the pro-government coverage. CPJ research showed that most private TV and radio companies are owned by politicians and businessmen with close ties to the government, leading to significant self-censorship by journalists and limited critical news reporting on the air.
CPJ emphasizes that “A1+”, independent TV company, remains without a broadcast license. The TV company was pulled from airwaves in 2002 and has made a dozen unsuccessful attempts to get back on air. According to the ruling of European Court of Human Rights of 2008 the broadcast regulatory body violated the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms by rejecting the applications of “A1+” without explanation.
“Violent attacks against journalists continued amid a climate of impunity”, the report says and lists a number of incidents with media representatives: free lance journalist Gagik Shamshian at Yerevan State Linguistic University (March 13, 2009); the attack on Argishti Kivirian, Coordinator of Armenia Today news agency (April 30, 2009); the assault of Nver Mnatsakanian, author and host of “Perspectives” program cycle of “Shant” TV company (May 6, 2009).
CPJ also mentions the cases of impeding journalistic activities and restriction of their rights: the incidents on the day of Elections to Yerevan Council of Elderly (May 31, 2009); prevention of the crew of “Shant” TV company by police from covering protests in Gyumri (August 6, 2009); the approval by RA National Assembly of new media accreditation rules. The report also states the early release – for health reasons – of Arman Babajanian (in August 2009), Chief Editor of “Zhamanak” daily, condemned in 2006 for document fraud to evade military service.