As it has already been reported, on January 11-12 in Yerevan the Seminar titled “European Standards of Media Regulation” was held. On January 12 the Constitutional Court of Armenia recognized that a number of provisions of the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, passed on October 9, 2000, contradicted RA Constitution. On the same January 12 the majority of TV and radio companies of Armenia voiced their protest against the Law by interrupting broadcasting for a while (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, January 8-12, 2001). A month before, according to the polling of journalists conducted by Yerevan Press Club, the NA deputies who voted for the Law were named among those who hindered the development of the Armenian media most in 2000 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, December 23-29, 2000).
All these events as well as the opinions and evaluations expressed in their course serve to prove one point: the newly adopted RA Law “On Television and Radio” is inadequate to both international legal standards and the interests of the broadcasters. Yet, the response of some of NA deputies to these evaluations appeared rather controversial. On the one hand, they declare their readiness to reconsider the Law statutes if the concerned parties introduce their coordinated suggestions. On the other, they started all-round defense and attempt to discredit the mere fact of the wide public protest against Armenian broadcasting legislation.
This is accomplished by arguments and methods that bring no honor to some members of the Parliament. In particular, the latter ones keep insisting that the Law is good. It turns out that journalists, heads of TV and radio companies, lawyers, experts on telecommunications, representatives of non-governmental organizations, international experts dismiss the Law as a bad one, whereas the members of the Parliament still take pride in their child! This leads to the only possible conclusion – the deputies passed the Law for themselves only, and it satisfies them completely. Besides, if the Law is a good one, what can this readiness to reconsider account for?
The legislators justify “some of the imperfections” of this legal act by the time pressure it was adopted in. Meanwhile, the work at the Draft Law had been going on for four years. Parliamentary hearings were held, numerous seminars and conferences were organized, the document was subjected to repeated and thorough examination by local and foreign experts, detailed recommendations from the Council of Europe were received. If after all this the deputies passed the Law under time pressure, it may testify only to the absence of due interest and attention to the matter. The result is adequate…
Even more fascinating versions are voiced: one of the authors of the Law, NA deputy Sergo Eritsian took the public protest to be plotted by a certain international organization, having tied all the recent events into one scenario. Why, the deputy interrogates, had there been no protests and alternative suggestions before? But, firstly, during the 4 years of the consideration of the Draft Law all interested parties submitted a great number of suggestions and at great number of stages. Verbal remarks and evaluations were given during the discussions at the Parliament Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture and Youth Issues. Finally, Yerevan Press Club had developed an alternative draft law. However, out of this vast amount of ideas only certain unimportant definitions were favoured with attention. Sometimes it looked as if the opinions of journalists were needed only to act against them.
The Draft Law “On Television and Radio” aroused unpreceded in Armenia interest and legislative activity of journalistic community, so the legislators should not try to disguise their reluctance to take into consideration the initiative “from below” as absence of such.
The absence of protest actions immediately after the adoption of the Law is also easy to understand. It was rather reasonable to hope that the President of Armenia will not sign the document that contradicts the international requirements, the RA legislation, and, in many points, even itself. These expectations were not fulfilled, yet the Law was submitted to the Constitutional Court, and the “hope address” was transferred there, too. Unfortunately, the Constitutional Court found it possible to consider only the statutes that referred to the distributions of the competence of the legislative and executive bodies in the regulation of broadcasting sphere. The Law did not get any more democratic or any closer to the real needs of society after the Court verdict. It is this circumstance, and not the above mentioned Seminar, organized by OSCE, Council of Europe at the assistance of Yerevan Press Club and Internews Armenia, that prompted the strike of broadcasters.
The attempts to present the time coincidence of these events as an “international plot” against the National Assembly is also eloquently displaying the level of the authors of these “revelations”. The date of the Seminar had been fixed in advance, and the hearings at the Constitutional Court had initially been scheduled for December 29. Thus, none of the Seminar organizers could have brought the date closer to the hearings in the Court.
In general, the discourse on the unacceptability of “pressure” on behalf of the international organizations at the Armenian legislators, protests against “interference into the interior affairs of Armenia” look rather curious. It appears that we do want to be proud of membership in the Council of Europe, to go at the expense of the latter to Strasbourg, to participate in the work of PACE. But we find it beyond our parliamentary selves to take into account the recommendations of the experts that introduce no special demands to the RA legislation but only compare the Armenian laws and the international documents (signed by ourselves) and pay attention to the apparent discrepancies!
The climax of the defensive strategy of some NA deputies was another “major revelation”: Yerevan Press Club had received a grant to develop an alternative draft law, that is why it is so diligent, and the parliamentarians had received no grants! It is interesting what are the rather big material resources of Armenian Parliament and the over 2 million USD, annually allocated by the state budget for NA current expenses, intended for, if not for law-making?
As to YPC, this organization has received no special grants for developing specific draft laws, and moreover, to pushing them through in every possible way. It is a part (and not the most important one, also) of some financed YPC programs to contribute to the improvement of media legislation. This allows YPC to merely pay the services of one legal adviser. Other members of YPC “legislative” group work on a voluntary basis, and yet have submitted to the Parliament 6 rather satisfactory draft laws. Moreover, the media representatives who announced the strike against the Law have no financial interest in defending the initiatives of YPC, they are governed by considerations that have nothing to do with grants!
It seemed that the draft laws developed by Yerevan Press Club were to be taken as assistance to the members of Parliament, “deprived of sponsors’ affection”. However, it proves to be the contrary… Does such mentality correspond to the declarations made by certain deputies about their good will and respect towards public opinion?