On March 18 at the session of RA National Assembly the package of draft laws “On Introducing Amendments and Supplements to the RA Civil Code”, “On Introducing Amendments to the RA Criminal Code” and “On Introducing an Amendment to the RA Criminal Procedure Code” was adopted in first hearing. The drafts, initiated by deputies Hovhannes Margarian (“Orinats Yerkir” party), Ruben Gevorgian (“Prosperous Armenia” party) and Hovhannes Sahakian (Republican Party of Armenia), propose to decriminalize libel and insult, and introduce the institute of moral loss compensation. Yet, unlike the amendments, stiffening penalty for impeding journalistic activities and protecting the information sources (see above), this package cannot be definitely welcome.
Although both international organizations and the Armenian journalistic community have been talking about the necessity of decriminalization of libel and insult, this issue requires a high level of qualified and responsible approach. Meanwhile, within last year, the whole process of developing the legislative package raised serious concerns by the journalistic community (see Special Issue of YPC Weekly Newsletter of July 27, 2009). Its first version, prescribing only amendments to Civil Code, was initiated in weird circumstances by the Media Law Institute and did not deserve but mockery. Nevertheless, it immediately drew the attention of major TV channels, which are, as a rule, indifferent to the problems of media legislation.
In no less weird circumstances, without any prior discussion at the parliament, the draft was submitted to Venice Commission. After an extremely critical assessment of experts, it was turned into a package of draft laws, initiated by its present authors. In fact, the further work consisted in simply transforming the remarks of Venice Commission experts in the package, without taking into account the Armenian legislative and law-enforcement practice. Moreover, this was carried out without consultations and discussions with journalists and NGOs, who actively work in the media sphere. It seems that the hasty adoption of the document is a purpose in itself. This impression was backed up by the fact that despite the objections of RA Government, the package was approved in first hearing.
No wonder that in this case many provisions of the drafts seem to be shallow and groundless. In particular, they do not provide for a clear difference between the notions of false denunciation, libel and insult. And so far as the false denunciation, sanctioned by the Criminal Code, is being continually confused with libel in our judiciary practice, what decriminalization can we talk about?!
The package approved in first hearing does not set forth due procedures for defining the size of moral loss, either. Meanwhile, considering the poor experience, and, consecutively, the low level of proficiency of the Armenian judicial system in settling information disputes, the ambiguity of legislative provisions is fraught with crucial mistakes for media and journalists. This raises sufficient concerns of the media representatives who oppose the authorities and venture critics against them. One or two lost cases with demands to apply the largest size of moral loss can lead to the insolvency of such media.
P.S. A detailed analysis of the package of draft laws will be presented by YPC as soon as the official text of the document, enacted in first hearing, is released.