On February 8 Council on Information Disputes released its sixth judgment on a defamation case. The missions of the Council, established on May 1, 2011, list preparation and release of advisory expert conclusions on court litigations regarding libel and insult, protection of private life and freedom of information, as well as providing consultations to the Armenian legislative and executive authorities, local self-government bodies and citizens (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, April 29 – May 5, 2011).
Council on Information Disputes noted that “Zhoghovurd” daily requested to render an expert judgment on the suit of RA citizen Gurgen Aghajanian versus “Zhoghovurd” founder, “Editorial Office of ‘Zhoghovurd’ Newspaper” LLC. On August 6, 2011 the daily received a letter in an envelope indicating the name of the sender, Gurgen Aghajanian. The letter was sent as a receipt notification, where the return address was that of the Department of the State Property Management of the RA Government. At the same time, the letter was not signed. It told about the abuse of office by Karineh Kirakosian, ex-Head of the State Property Management Department, member of Council of Republican Party of Armenia, and the former Deputy Head of Department Ashot Markosian. The newspaper addressed Karineh Kirakosian for comments. She assumed that the information brought in the letter was untrue and the author did it in revenge of his dismissal of years ago. On August 9, 2011 “Zhoghovurd” published an article titled "Galust’s Son Is Required to", which included the letter’s information as well as Karineh Kirakosian’s response. The article started with the words: “ ‘Zhoghovurd’ received a letter from Gurgen Aghajanian (…)”. The next day Gurgen Aghajanian declared that he had not written any letters and demanded to publish his text of refutation. “Zhoghovurd” denied publishing it for the text was not but a self-praise of Gurgen Aghajanian and could not be considered as a proper reply. Gurgen Aghajanian went before the court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash administrative districts of Yerevan with a suit versus “Zhoghovurd” founder (Karine Kirakosian and Ashot Markosian are third parties in the case). The plaintiff required the newspaper publish a refutation and compensate the moral loss caused by slander in the amount of 500,000 AMD, pay off the attorney expenses – 300,000 AMD and state duty of filling the court – 4,000 AMD. The overall amount of financial claims made 804,000 AMD (about $ 2,000).
The Council on Information Disputes found that from a legal perspective the daily had the right to publish the content of the controversial letter. However, from a professional ethics perspective it would have been preferable to publish the letter without mentioning the name of the author or make a reserve that the daily was not sure who the real author was, because it was not possible to verify the sender’s identity. Because this was not done, after publishing the article the daily should have granted Gurgen Aghajanian with a chance for a refutation or a response, as much as it regards the author of the letter, the Council stressed.
The Council also concluded that the plaintiff’s financial demand for moral loss compensation is not proportional.