YPC Weekly Newsletter

2004


PRESS FREEDOM PAYS

On May 3 in Yerevan “Partnership for Open Society” initiative that unites around 50 public organizations of Armenia, held a round table meeting on the World Press Freedom Day.

Ambassador of Germany in Armenia Hans-Wulf Bartels who opened the meeting congratulated the journalists on the international professional day. He stressed that the European Union closely follows the situation of freedom of expression in Armenia.

The Country Manager of World Bank Armenia Office Roger Robinson mentioned as a positive example of cooperation with the journalistic community the book “The Right to Tell. Role of Mass Media in Economic Development”, published by Yerevan Press Club with the assistance of the WB and the Open Society Institute (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, April 2-8, 2004). In his speech Mr. Robinson referred to the recently published article of the World Bank President James Wolfenson “Press Freedom Helps Fight Poverty”. Basing on the researches showing that the freer the press is, the less corruption there is in the country, the WB President believes: “As we mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, this year’s campaign theme, ‘Press Freedom Pays’, provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on the catalytic role that an open and free media can play in economic development and particularly in the fight against global poverty.”

The effective cooperation of the legislative and the “fourth” estates of the country is illustrated by the work on the improvement and adoption of the RA Law “On Mass Communication”, the Chairwoman of the Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture and Youth Issues of the RA National Assembly Hranush Hakobian said.

The representative of the UN Department of Public Information Valeri Tkatchouk read out the message of the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in which the United Nations, that proclaimed May 3 the World Press Freedom Day in 1993, reaffirms its “commitment to the freedom and independence of the media as an essential requirement for building a better and fairer world” and states its readiness to do its utmost for the journalists to be able “to do their vital work in safety and without fear”.

The possibility to perform the professional duty without caution is becoming all the more important in Armenia due to the frequent and unpunished displays of violence towards media representatives. The Chairwoman of the Journalists Union of Armenia Astghik Gevorgian familiarized the participants of the round table with the statement of the “Partnership for Open Society” initiative for May 3.

The statement says:

“’Partnership for Civil Society’ initiative congratulates all the media on the World Press Freedom Day.

Having analyzed the media situation in Armenia, we state:

1. In 2003 the RA National Assembly passed two laws that directly relate to the media sphere – “On Freedom of Information” and “On Mass Communication”. The two documents were adopted as a result of public dialogue and are mainly compliant with international standards. At the same time it is a source of much concern that amendments to the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, criticized by the journalistic community and international organizations, were shallow and inessential, failed to solve the main problem – ensuring the independence of the two regulatory bodies, the National Commission on Television and Radio and the Council of the Public Television and Radio Company. In the legislation another concern-provoking fact is that the implementation of the RA Law “On Freedom of Information” is in fact delayed, as the government to this day has not fulfilled the provision of the law: it has not defined the procedure for provision of information or its duplicate (copy) by the state structures and local self-governance bodies, state institutions and organizations. And, finally, having adopted legislation containing rather progressive clauses that regulate the media activities, the authorities must amend other laws to make them correspond to international standards and the newly passed bills. This calls, in particular, for the removal of libel and insult provisions from the Criminal Code passed in 2003 (Articles 135, 136, 318) that endanger the freedom of expression and can induce media to exercise self-censorship.

2. The consistent refusal to provide license to “A1+” TV company by the results of the broadcast licensing competitions in 2003 came to reconfirm that the National Commission on Television and Radio is not guided by the principles of objectivity and impartiality. Moreover, the National Commission declined the proposal of non-governmental organizations to involve independent experts with a right to consultative vote at least in one of the competitions, although this procedure is provided for by the law and the presence of experts would have ensured the transparency of the tender.

3. The Public Television of Armenia remains an addendum to the executive power and serves as its rostrum. This TV company has adopted the policy of praising the authorities and relegating the opposition, does not provide objective and impartial information, diversity of opinion.

4. The press mostly fulfils its function of disseminating diverse information, however, the newspapers circulations are small, they are mostly sold out in the capital and the regional centers. The press remains polarized and entangled in the controversy of authorities and opposition.

5. On April 5 and in the early morning of April 13, 2004 violence was exerted on the journalists covering the opposition rallies. If in the former case those who beat the journalists and broke their photo and video cameras were people dressed in civilian clothes, on the latter occasion the attackers were policemen. These offenders have not as yet been found and punished, and the damages to the media have not been compensated.

6. The reputable international organization “Freedom House” qualified the Armenian media in 2003 as not free.

We, the representatives of non-governmental organizations of “Partnership for Open Society” again demand the law enforcement bodies to find and punish the individuals who violently attacked journalists on April 5 and April 13 as strictly as the law stipulates.

We demand that Armenian authorities ensure the free and unimpeded activity of media and journalists, remove Articles 135,136 and 318 from the Criminal Code as being dangerous for the freedom of expression, refraining from their application till this is accomplished.

We state that we will continue to advocate the improvement of the media-related legislation, the establishment of real freedom of expression and truly independent media.”

During his presentation at the round table the President of Yerevan Press Club Boris Navasardian quoted the address of the UNESCO Director General Koiichiro Matsuura: “The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is the media in conflict and post-conflict zones and in countries in transition. In such situations, the media’s work to provide independent and trustworthy information can contribute significantly to processes of reconstruction and reconciliation.” In this regard the YPC President noted that the Armenian media, using the freedom that the authorities must guarantee, are to ensure the free information flow and by this contribute to the establishment of a dialogue both in the country and on the regional level to arrive at consensus of the parties.

Among those speaking at the event were the UNDP Resident Representative in Armenia Lise Grande, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States in Armenia Vivian Walker, the Executive Director of the OSI Assistance Foundation-Armenia Larisa Minasian.

At the round table the statement of “Article 19” international organization was disseminated on the incidents of violence against journalists. “Article 19” in particular called upon the authorities of Armenia “to respect the international standards in the field of freedom of expression, to conduct an immediate and full investigation of the reported assaults of journalists and human rights activists, and to undertake all necessary measures to ensure the safety of journalists in the future”.