The draft law “On Mass Communication”, developed by the RA Ministry of Justice and approved by the Government (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, January 26 – February 1, 2002, and February 2-8, 2002) aroused a storm of indignation and a torrent of criticism among the media of the country.
The document also received most severe evaluations from the Chairman of the RA NA Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture and Youth Issues Shavarsh Kocharian. Having called the draft nothing but a misunderstanding, the deputy mentioned that in comparison to the acting media law, which became obsolete long ago and does not meet the European standards, this draft law is directed backwards, into the Middle Ages. In the opinion of the Chairman of the Parliament Committee, the establishment of an authorized state body, which would in fact assume control over the activities of media, means essentially the restoration of Glavlit. Shavarsh Kocharian expressed hope that the Government will have enough common sense not to submit the draft to the Parliament at all.
The author of the draft, the Ministry of Justice represented by its head, David Haroutiunian, does not think the Government must revoke the draft, the numerous provisions of which, as Minister thinks, are misinterpreted. The fact that the journalists reject the draft law was commented by the head lawyer of the country as follows: “If the thieves and criminals do not accept the Criminal Code, does it mean it must be removed from circulation?”
At the RA NA session deputy and journalist Haik Babukhanian demanded that the Minister of Justice apologize to journalists and the shameful draft law be removed from circulation: “The media are only the mirror showing the bitter reality. If some people do not like their reflection in the mirror, it is not the mirror they should break, but their faces that should be attended to.”
Talking to journalists the RA Prime Minister Andranik Margarian said that neither the Government should exert pressure on journalists, nor the journalists on the Government. The Prime Minister expressed willingness to discuss the provisions of the draft that cause the discontent of the media.
The President of Armenia Robert Kocharian noted that until the expert evaluation from the Council of Europe is received, the further fate of the draft will not be discussed, and journalists do not need to worry. "Yet, I also think that our media would like to be completely out of legislative regulation, but it is wrong, too. (…) We all need free media, but we all need responsible media as well ", Robert Kocharian added.
“Yerkir” weekly published the opinions of three members of the Government ("Yerkir", February 22-28, 2002). All the three of them admitted that they had not read the draft law “On Mass Communication”. Yet, the Minister of State Property David Vardanian said: “They declare journalistic solidarity, I counter it with a declaration of functionaries’ solidarity.” The Minister of Social Security Razmik Martirosian did not conceal that “personally I have enough problems with media”. The Minister of Transport and Communications Andranik Manukian, being an ardent supporter of freedom of media, makes the reservation that “the media must know when to stop”.
All this makes it easy to understand why such a document, received with a unanimous “no“ of both the journalistic profession and the media experts, could get the approval of the Government.