On March 4 at the Journalist Union of Armenia the press conference of the experts of the Council of Europe was held. The experts had arrived in Yerevan to discuss the draft law “On Mass Communication”, developed by the RA Ministry of Justice and approved by the Government. The CE representatives – Ramon Prieto Suarez, Thomas Gibbons and Carlos Landim – presented to the journalists their evaluation of the draft law, previously submitted for the review of this international organization.
In the opinion of the CE experts, the draft law has more negative than positive features, and it significantly restricts the freedom of expression. The experts mentioned, in particular, that the most serious deficiencies are the provisions of the draft law “On mass Communication” that establish excessive state control over the media activities, limit the freedom of receipt and dissemination of information, narrate the rights and the responsibilities of a journalist in an unduly detailed manner.
Thus, the attitudes of CE experts and the Armenian journalistic community coincide on all principal issues. Yet, unlike the CE representatives, who, having concluded that the document is in need of serious improvement, did not completely discard it, the journalistic profession still believes that any further work on the draft is useless. Useless, at least because if all the provisions that cause the utter discontent of media and were negatively evaluated by the CE experts are excluded, nothing will actually remain in the draft, and there will be nothing to work on.
As the Head of OSCE Office in Yerevan Roy Reeve, present at the press conference, noted that it is better to have no law at all than to have a bad one. Meanwhile, having become a member of the Council of Europe in January, 2001, Armenia, among other CE requirements, assumed also the commitment “to adopt, within a year of its accession, a new media law”. The time is practically out, but the consensus has not been reached.
It is not only the majority of media, journalistic associations, but also a number of parties, members of the Parliament of the country that speak against the draft. Now it remains to be seen what the Government, who approved the draft, and President Robert Kocharian -who in his conversation with journalists noted that the fate of the draft law would not be considered until the CE expert evaluation was received (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 16-22, 2002) – will say to this. It looks like by giving a low score to the draft law the Council of Europe settled the dispute between the journalists and the authorities.
Yet, on March 6, after the departure of the CE experts, the Prime Minister Andranik Margarian told the journalists he sees no sense in discarding the draft, if it is possible to bring it into a condition that would satisfy all.