Evaluating the events in the media sphere of Armenia during the recent months, Yerevan Press Club states:
On February 7, 2002 at the session of the RA Government, with the President Robert Kocharian at chair, the draft law “On Mass Communication” was approved. The adoption of this draft would lead the country to a retreat from the achievements of freedom of speech gained during the last years. The powerful protest raised by media and the public induced the authors of the draft to review it. Yet, the mere appearance of such a restrictive document, the absence of a dialogue with the journalistic community during its development and the approval of the draft on the highest level cannot but cause fear for the freedom of speech in Armenia.
On February 13, 2002 the prosecutor’s office instituted absurd criminal action against the Chief Editor of “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily, and on the same day the equally absurd court proceedings on the case versus “Golos Armenii” and “Yerkir” newspapers for publishing information disseminated by another medium started. Both these cases once again prove that the law-and-order bodies and the judicial system of Armenia continue to ignore the commonly accepted principles of freedom of speech, and the officials do not even attempt to understand that their activity is to be always critically considered by media.
In February-April 2002 the National Commission on Television and Radio held competitions on licensing TV and radio broadcasting with obvious violations of the sufficiently imperfect RA Law “On Television and Radio”. As a result of strictly subjective evaluation by the Commission, one of these competitions actually banned from air “A1+” TV company that enjoyed popularity with the audience and had an established niche among the broadcasters of the country. The Commission made essentially a political decision, or, possibly, implemented a political order, and the court of primary jurisdiction did not take into account any of the arguments of “A1+”, which challenged the decisions of the Commission. Yerevan Press Club repeatedly expressed its fear that a body formed through the will of one person, cannot be impartial and will always, in this or that way, depend on him. The National Commission on Television and Radio “justified” the most pessimistic forecasts, preferring the proposal that was not substantiated by real resources to the potential of a well-established TV company and ignoring the obvious public demand. In another competition, when evaluating the proposal by “Noyan Tapan”, the broadcast experience and the name of the TV company were not taken into account, either. The Commission, in essence, decided for the society what it should watch, and what it should not.
We understand that a number of parties could not fail to use the competition results, having an evident political context, for their own purposes. Yet we are concerned over the fact that the problem of “A1+” and “Noyan Tapan”, transferred from the information filed to the political dimension, may, with the elections nearing, become the subject of bargaining between the President of the country and the Parliament factions. Freedom of speech and the public right to information run the risk of falling a victim to these manipulations.
We are concerned that the situation of “A1+” broke the unity manifest among the journalistic community during the debates on the draft law “On Mass Communication”. This split weakens the information field and distracts the media from their proper mission, provokes the flow of mutual accusations and insults in the press.
We call upon our colleagues to refrain from the steps that deepen the split, not to subject the journalistic solidarity to the instantaneous interests of this or that medium and unite efforts to assert the principles of the freedom of information.
We call upon the political forces to stop using media as a small change to realize their short-term goals, not squander the potential of the free press for their narrow group interests.
We call upon the RA President and other power bodies not to divide the media into “friends” and “foes”, have an open dialogue with all for the sake of public consensus.
Yerevan Press Club states that it will continue its efforts aimed at restoring the broadcasts of “A1+” TV company, strengthening the media diversity and freedom of speech, also by improving the legislative field.
Adopted at YPC General Meeting
April 30, 2002