YPC Weekly Newsletter

2002


THE DRAFT LAW "ON MASS COMMUNICATION": THE STICK WITHOUT THE CARROT

In mid-January, 2002, the RA Ministry of Justice has introduced to public discussion its Draft Law "On Mass Communication".

Even a cursory look through the Draft is sufficient to understand that the Government persists in its desire to retain control over media by any means. The Articles "The State Control over Communication Activity", "Licensing the Communication Activity", "The License for the Communication Activity" (Articles 8,11,12) can hardly be given other interpretation.

Thus, the authors of the Draft believe the censorship can only be preliminary, mentioning in Article 7: "In the Republic of Armenia the communication is not subject to censorship, i.e., the coordination of information with state or local administration bodies before it is disseminated." This half-baked definition is in no way a guarantee against censorship. Moreover, the post-censorship is stipulated, the right to which is reserved to the state by the authors, by specifying in Item 2 of Article 8: "The state control over the communication activity is implemented by a body authorized by the state administration of the Republic of Armenia through a study of communication disseminated." This "study of communication disseminated" is nothing but censorship. In this regard, this Draft Law is a step backwards even if compared with the RA Law "On Press and Other Media Outlets", adopted in 1991 and prohibiting any kind of censorship.

The fact that the Draft Law stipulates licensing of communication activity and determines the procedure for license granting is even more disturbing. The organization licensed must pay an annual state fee (?!). If this fee is not paid, Item 6 of Article 12 stipulates that starting from the day after the payment deadline, the license is suspended and is renewed only after the fee and the appropriate fine are paid, as provided for by the law. "If the annual state fee is not paid during six months after the license is suspended, it is considered annulled." (Ibid.) This provision, in essence, is a scourge for media. Is communication activity equivalent to spirit or arms production, drugs import that it should be licensed? Besides, Article 12 itself contains controversies. When listing in Item 2 all the documents required for applying for licensing, the authors point out: "To receive a license, no requirement can be put forth for documents other than those specified by the present Article." Item 4 of the same Article stipulates a refusal in licensing, "according to the present Law and in accordance with the RA legislation on licensing". A question arises, if one needs to submit only a few documents for licensing, why should a refusal in licensing be specified and why is a reference to licensing legislation made? Does this mean that the unwanted media can be refused in licensing any time?

Significant violations of principles for civilized legal regulation of information sphere are present in a number of other provisions of the Draft. Yerevan Press Club is planning to soon introduce to the public attention a detailed analysis of the document.