On March 11 the US Department of State released the report on human rights practices in different countries of the world in 2009, prepared by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
Addressing the freedom of speech and press situation in Armenia, the US Department of State noted in particular that “the Constitution provides for freedom of speech and freedom of the press; however, the government did not respect always these rights in practice”, and “there continued to be incidents of violence, intimidation, and self-censorship against and in the press throughout the year”. The report also emphasizes that media, especially television, lack political diversity and objective reporting. “The print media generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction but remained influenced by economic or political interest groups or individuals”, restated the report authors, noting that greater plurality of opinion exists in online publications, although their readership is limited, especially outside Yerevan. “Most stations were owned by progovernment politicians or well-connected businessmen, factors that continued to prompt journalists working for these stations to practice self-censorship. Major broadcast media generally expressed progovernment views and avoided editorial comment or reporting critical of the government.”
Unlike the February 2008 presidential elections, when progovernment media “showed a distinct bias in favor of the official candidate and eventual winner, then Prime Minister Serzh Sargsian”, the coverage of the campaign for the elections of Yerevan Council of Elderly in May 2009 was more neutral. “According to the monitoring of media coverage of the election campaign, conducted by the Yerevan Press Club (YPC), 96 percent of all references to the political parties/bloc contesting the election were neutral (…). Nevertheless, the YPC stated in its media monitoring report that certain television channels gave clear preference to one or another candidate and party”, the report of US Department of State says.
Among other considerable political events of 2009 the Department of State highlighted the protocols on the establishment of relations between Armenia and Turkey: the Armenian broadcast and print media extensively covered the public debates on the protocols, “permitting the expression of wide-ranging viewpoints that were both in favour and in opposition to the documents”.
During 2009 the journalists continued to be targets of attacks, the report stresses, and the failure to prosecute such cases fosters an atmosphere of impunity and serves to provoke further attacks against journalists. The report lists the incidents, trials regarding media representatives.
The US Department of State did not pass over the media legislation, either. Thus, the amendments to the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, adopted on April 28, 2009 by RA National Assembly, in the opinion of local experts, did not ensure the independence of broadcast regulatory body. The report also mentions, that on December 9, 2009 the National Assembly elected four new members to the National Commission on Television and Radio, and quotes the opinion of Styopa Safarian, NA deputy from “Heritage” faction: “not all candidates clearly meet the requirements laid out by the law” and no prominent media experts or civil society representatives took part in the selection process. The report presents the situation created after the two-year moratorium on holding broadcast licensing competitions, which was imposed in 2008 under the pretext of switching from analog to digital broadcasting in Armenia. The Department of State also cited the opinions of some journalists regarding the procedure of accreditation of journalists, approved by NA Speaker Hovik Abrahamian on August 21, 2009: the new document is excessively restrictive and hinders the reporting on the activities of the parliament.