YPC Weekly Newsletter

2010


AMENDMENTS TO BROADCAST LAW DO NOT SOLVE KEY ISSUES OF TV MARKET

On May 14 at AUA Business Center a conference “Media Legislation and Self-Regulation
Initiatives” was held. The conference was organized by Partnership for Open
Society initiative. At the event the issues of media self-regulation were discussed.
Specifically, the Charter of Ethical Principles of TV and Radio Broadcasters
of the Republic of Armenia, proposed by the Public Council at the RA President
(see YPC Weekly Newsletter, April 16-22, 2010), as well as the
draft law “On Introducing Amendments and Supplements to RA Law ‘On Television
and Radio”, endorsed by RA Government on May 13 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter,
May 7-13, 2010), were considered.
The assessments of professional associations, made at the conference, were summarized
in the statement of Yerevan Press Club, Internews Media Support NGO and Committee
to Protect Freedom of Expression, released on May 17.

In the statement three journalistic organizations, particularly, expressed
a concern as to the haste with which the draft was developed by RA Ministry
of Economy. The document does not show distinctly which provisions of the acting
Law “On Television and Radio” are amended, removed or expanded – with regard
to switching from analog to digital broadcasting. This impedes the conductance
of effective discussion by the public, and further by RA National Assembly deputies.

By noting that in September, 2008 a two year moratorium on holding broadcast
licensing competitions was introduced on the plea of digitalization, the signatories
emphasized that the study of draft law only reaffirms that this delay was unjustified.
The moratorium damaged greatly the diversity and freedom of competition at the
Armenian TV market. This draft law, which does not show any crucial and new
approaches, could have been adopted two years ago. Meanwhile, the suspension
of broadcast licensing competitions became an obstacle for the implementation
of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights of June 17, 2008 on the
case of “A1+” TV company, as well as a number of PACE resolutions, the statement
stresses.

The statement mentions that draft law does offer several new notions, it still
does not provide mechanisms for regulating the relations between the entities
involved in digital broadcasting and the process of digitalization. Besides,
both the draft law and the Concept Paper on Digitalization of Television Broadcasting,
adopted in November 12, 2009, do not include the principles for the envisaged
social package, the types of licenses to be provided to TV companies as determined
by these principles and grounds for their provision. The draft law does not
dwell on the structure of investments required from the broadcasters, as well
as on a number of other important issues.

The concern of journalistic organizations is raised by the specific number
of TV broadcasters (18), prescribed by the draft law. Meanwhile, an objective
and transparent audit of the TV frequencies has not been administered in Armenia,
which was recommended by international experts. The limited number of licenses
means in essence that some of the TV companies operating now would lose their
licenses, and increased barriers to entry for new TV companies, even those that
are ready for digitalization. The signatories also emphasized that the assignment
of necessary profiles for TV companies to be licensed, as it is done in the
draft, is impossible without a serious study of public demand.

The statement of YPC, Internews and Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression
also criticizes the inclusion of provisions in the draft that are not in any
way related to digitalization. At the same time, the draft does not solve crucial
issues, such as: satellite broadcasting, the fate of acting regional TV companies,
including the public “Shirak” channel, and their participation in licensing
competitions, no distinction is made with regard to terms and procedures of
broadcast licensing competitions.

It should be noted that on May 18 the OSCE Office in Yerevan presented the
expert analysis of the aforesaid Concept Paper on Digitalization of Television
Broadcasting. The analysis was made by Andrei Richter, Professor at Moscow State
University, and Dr. Katrin Nyman-Metcalf, Professor at Tallinn University of
Technology, on behalf of Office of OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media.
The Concept Paper was assessed in frames of the commitments of Armenia towards
OSCE, international standards and digitalization practices. The experts stated
a number of observations and recommendations, which were not reflected in the
draft law on the amendments to Broadcast Law.

At the presentation of May 18 Dunja Mijatovic, the newly appointed OSCE Representative
on Freedom of Media, who was in Armenia for the first time, spoke rather critical
about the amendments to the RA Law “On Television and Radio”. During the visits
of OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media (which took place on the same day)
with RA President Serzh Sargsian, heads of RA Foreign Affairs Ministry, RA Ministry
of Economy and Chairman of National Commission on Television and Radio, Grigor
Amalian, the issues dealing with digitalization were discussed. Dunja Mijatovic
expressed willingness to provide an expert assistance in the process of amending
the broadcast legislation.

On May 20 at the session of RA National Assembly the draft “On Introducing
Amendments and Supplements to RA Law ‘On Television and Radio’” was passed in
first hearing. Since the draft has many shortcomings, the deputies decided to
postpone the second hearing, and to hold parliamentary discussions on the issue
on May 26.