The international human rights organization “Freedom House” published its Annual Survey of Press Freedom in the countries of the world in 2001. The survey evaluated the freedom of media in the countries by assigning numerical scores from 1 to 100 as free (1-30 points), partly free (31-60 points), not free (61-100) – the lower the score, the freer the media. The freedom of media is evaluated along three dimensions – legislation that influences media, political pressure, control over and violence towards media, economic influence and control over media.
According to “Freedom House”, the Armenian media in 2001 have scored 21 out of 30 for “legislation that influences media”, and 26 out of 40 for “political pressure, control over and violence towards media”. If compared with these two criteria, the economic influence and control over media are the least manifest in Armenia, scoring 13 on the scale of 30.
The sum of the scores along the three dimensions yields the aggregate rating of the condition of media in a country. For Armenia, according to “Freedom House” survey, this aggregate score made 60. In other words the Armenian media were classed as partly free. This assessment coincides with that of year 2000 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, May 5-11, 2001). Yet, at that time the score of Armenia was one point less, making 59. This means the situation with freedom of speech in Armenia has worsened in 2001. Should this trend continue, our media run the risk of finding themselves among the “not free” category, which is now only one step away.
“Freedom House” survey on Armenia notes, in particular, that the members of the National Commission on Television and Radio (the body that regulates the activities of independent broadcasters) are appointed solely by the President of the country. In the assessment of “Freedom House”, the requirement that TV and radio stations must produce at least 65 percent of their own programming is a financial burden which most media cannot meet (Editor’s note: here a small mistake is made – the law does not require the broadcasters to produce 65% of “their own programming”; the provision is made for locally produced programs and the transition is to be made gradually, with the requirement of 65% to be met by 2005). While most print media are privately owned, they are small and unprofitable, and depend on economic and political interest groups for survival. The survey also mentions the criminal prosecution for libel, saying this article is frequently enforced. Journalists often practice self-censorship, especially when covering the Karabagh conflict, the issues of national security or corruption. “Although direct threats and intimidation by government officials are rare, journalists are routinely assaulted and the government usually fails to bring perpetrators to account”, “Freedom House” survey notes.
The reduced freedom of speech in 2001 is also noted in Azerbaijan (whose score for 2001 was a unit higher than that of 2000, 77). The rating of Georgia has remained the same – 53.