On June 29 in Yerevan a seminar "Political Developments in Armenia and Their Media Coverage” was held. The seminar was organized by Yerevan Press Club with the assistance of Friedrich Naumann Foundation. Representatives of media, public, also journalistic organizations of Armenia, international structures took part in the event.
The subject matter of the seminar was pre-conditioned by the events that had occurred over the past few months with regard to the activities of Armenian media. These are in particular the opposition rallies, accompanied by violence against journalists (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, April 2-8, 2004 and April 9-15, 2004), the change of the owner of “Kentron” TV company, presently called “Aravot TV” (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, April 23-29, 2004), the amendments to the RA Criminal Code provisions on libel and insult adopted by the parliament recently (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, June 4-10, 2004) and, finally, the speech that the President of Armenia Robert Kocharian made at the PACE session in Strasbourg on June 23, where the problems of Armenian media were touched upon too.
The seminar was opened by Asparuh Panov, the deputy head of programs of Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Romania, Bulgaria and South Caucasus. The presentation of the Chairman of “Asparez” Journalist’s Club of Gyumri Levon Barseghian was devoted to the Armenian media reflection of the political situation in 2004, and the Chairman of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression Ashot Melikyan presented the cases of journalist and media rights violations through the lens of the inner political developments.
At the seminar the joint statement of Yerevan Press Club, the Journalists Union of Armenia, Internews Armenia public organization and the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression war released, adopted with regard to the June trial of the case on the attack on journalists on April 5 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, June 4-10, 2004) and the lack of progress in the investigation on other cases of violence against journalists.
"On June 10, 2004 the court of primary jurisdiction of Center and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan sentenced two people, who engaged in violent actions against journalists during the rally of April 5, to a fine of 100,000 drams each. The process became a comedy show. We cannot call it otherwise, because both the preliminary investigation and the court proceedings and the sentence cause doubt and frustration. The proceedings were only instituted on Part 1 of Article 185 of the RA Criminal Code ("Premeditated destruction or spoilage of property”), whereas the charges should have also been introduced on Article 164 (“Obstruction of legitimate professional activities of journalist”): the violent actions, committed on April 5 with regard to journalists, contain the signs of crimes, stipulated by these two Articles of the RA Criminal Code. Therefore, Article 20 of the RA Criminal Code ("Cumulative offences") should have been applied which was not done by the structure implementing the preliminary investigation. The court on its behalf did not correct the mistake of the preliminary investigation and did not send the case to additional investigation.
Neither the bodies of preliminary investigation, nor the court displayed any wish to protect the right of journalists to gather and disseminate information, to say nothing of the fact that the punishment defined is not adequate to the misdeed. Moreover, the supporters of those who committed the crime obstructed the entry of journalists to the courtroom and exerted pressure on the course of the trial.
We expected more disclosures and trials to come, however nothing was done to find those guilty of other violent acts.
Up to day no measures have been taken to punish the policemen who were impartially observing those who interfered with the work of media representatives and broke their equipment on April 5.
The policemen who gave a beating to journalists on Baghramian Avenue in the early morning of April 13 were not revealed and punished either. Not even a condemnation of their actions was made. Instead from the highest power levels statements were made that it had been impossible to tell journalists from the demonstration participants.
We once more demand that the right of the public to receive and the right of the journalists to impart information be respected that any attempt to infringe these rights be prevented.
We call on all the media and journalists be more united and consistent when it comes to professional solidarity, when the right to free gathering and dissemination of information is violated”, the statement by four journalistic organizations says.
The seminar participants noted the disputability of the answers that RA President Robert Kocharian gave in Strasbourg to the questions of the PACE deputies and journalists with regard to the media situation. In particular, the statement of the President that the Law “On Television and Radio” was proposed by the opposition was incorrect (apparently Kocharian meant to say that the discontent about the work of the National Commission on Television and Radio should be addressed by the opposition to itself). The appropriate official draft law was developed by the present RA Minister of Education and Science and at that time deputy Sergo Yeritsian, who has never had anything to do with opposition. Since the draft law of Yeritsian was supported by the specialized parliament committee, it was presented by Shavarsh Kocharian as a disciplined Chairman of the committee. However, the circumstance that the latter at the same time heads one of the opposition parties does not constitute sufficient ground to ascribe the authorship of the law to the opposition. The proposal of the President to hold a media monitoring in Armenia and remove the problem of “A1+” TV company from the agenda, should it reveal plurality on TV air and access of opposition to it, also has little ground. Firstly, there are reasons to maintain that the failure to provide a license to the TV channel has political motivation, that the number of competitions seemingly lost by “A1+” were conducted with legal violations and the appropriate suit is currently being considered by the European Court of Human Rights, and it is hardly fair to link this problem with the monitoring results. Secondly, during the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2003 (i.e., after the loss of air by “A1+”) both the OSCE observation mission and a number of local non-governmental organizations held monitoring and recorded a generally inobjective coverage of the elections by Armenian media. It is the elections and political tensions that allow determining the existence of freedom of expression and diversity of opinion in the country. During the periods when the political developments are proceeding relatively calmly, the count of the air access of certain parties cannot be illustrative enough. Monitoring can of course be conducted – the media situation analysis and how adequate their coverage of public and political life is, the degree of satisfaction of information demands of the citizens are always useful. But regardless of its results, the problem of “A1+” will remain.
As the only example of positive changes in the sphere of media recently the seminar participants noted the mildened punishments for libel and insult in the Criminal Code.