YPC Weekly Newsletter

2002


PACE BELIEVES THAT ARMENIAN MEDIA LACK PROFESSIONALISM AND ETHICS

On September 26 at the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe the Committee on the Honoring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe presented its reports on Armenia and Azerbaijan. The document on Armenia in its section on freedom of expression notes in particular that that while Armenia has adopted a broadcast law, it is imperfect and is not satisfactory by Council of Europe standards. Besides, the law is hotly contested by the media themselves, primarily because the members of the Council of the Public TV and Radio Company and the National Commission on Television and Radio (the bodies that regulate the public and private broadcasting, respectively) are appointed by the President of the country. Secondly, "the technical standards laid down are so high that private television companies might find them impossible to comply with, and consequently lose their license". Further report present the situation with "A1+" and "Noyan Tapan" TV companies that were not awarded broadcast licenses.

In general, as the document says, "Armenia has clearly made progress with regard to freedom of speech, pluralism and free functioning of media".  "In the opinion of the international observers, the media are generally free to write what they please, and do so without restraint, regularly overstepping the boundaries of defamation", the report stresses.

The CE representatives note that there can be no truly independent media unless their sources of funding are independent of public subsidies, the business world and foreign states, which is not the case in Armenia. The rapporteurs believe that "the question of freedom of the media in Armenia is not so much one of any material and administrative obstacles or political pressure (…), as one of (absence) of professionalism or journalistic ethics, which both fall very far short of European standards". " Many journalists behave like mercenaries, ready to offer their columns to the highest bidder", the rapporteurs think. Stressing the importance of the appropriate journalistic training, the CE representatives find at the same time the Armenian media appear to be much more tolerant and conscientious than those in the other Caucasian countries.

"The Council of Europe should undoubtedly strengthen its program of co-operation with Armenia in respect of freedom of expression, the media and the ethics of journalism", the document says.

On the same day PACE adopted a resolution on honoring of obligations and commitments by Armenia. The resolution says that since its accession on January 25, 2001 Armenia has made substantial progress towards honoring the obligations and commitments it accepted. As to the media legislation, the draft law "On Mass Communication" has not as yet been submitted to the RA National Assembly, in spite of the commitment entered into. Considering that the allocation of the radio and television broadcasting licenses gave rise to strong protests in April 2002, PACE called on the Armenian authorities "to amend the law on broadcasting without delay, taking into account the recommendations made by the Council of Europe" and remind the authorities of the country about their "firm commitment to organize a new call for tenders for new frequencies on October 25, 2002". 

Not disputing the PACE assessment of the Armenian media, we cannot but ask how ethical the definitions used to characterize Armenian journalists are. Also, the rapporteurs, apparently, did not take into account the obvious fact that the professional standards in the Armenian media world were shaped on their own; they are a direct consequence of the state policy in the area that has been in place for the past 12 years. It is the Armenian political and business elite (it is homogenous, being represented by the same individuals), including all the branches of power, was the one persistently shaping the vices of journalism mentioned in the report.

The professionalism and the journalistic ethics that " fall very short of European standards" cannot pre-determine the media situation to a greater extent than the “material and administrative obstacles or political pressure”, as they are a derivative of the latter. Doesn’t this look like the tail wagging the dog?