On July 4 Information Disputes Council released a conclusion regarding the ruling of court of general jurisdiction of Ajapnyak and Davitashen administrative districts of Yerevan on the suit of Gevorg Hayrapetian versus the founder of “Kentron” TV channel, “Multimedia-Kentron TV” CJSC. 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).
Gevorg Hayrapetian, being accused for a crime, had contested at court of general jurisdiction of Ajapnyak and Davitashen administrative districts of Yerevan the pieces aired in the programs from “Investigation” cycle of “Kentron” TV channel and broadcast on November 14-21, 2010. According to the plaintiff, the factual inaccuracies in the pieces discredited his honor and dignity. Besides, the pieces were aired on “Kentron” before the court verdict came into force (it was rendered on October 25, 2010 on accusation of high treason and was to be in effect after a month). Thus, the presumption of innocence was violated. The plaintiff demanded to bind the founder of “Kentron” to provide free air for refuting the untrue information, compensate the moral damage caused by libel and insult in the amount of 3 mln AMD (about $ 7,900) and to pay off the expenses for attorney’s services of 300,000 AMD. On June 16, 2011 the court of general jurisdiction revoked the lawsuit. Gevorg Hayrapetian appealed the ruling at the upper court jurisdictions, which also turned down the complaints. A similar ruling was rendered by the same court jurisdiction in another case on the protection of honor and dignity of Ashot Harutiunian, being accused for a crime, versus “Kentron” founder (see details in “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” Yerevan Press Club report for 2011 at http://ypc.am/about_freedom/in/eng). In fact, the Information Disputes Council’s conclusion also extends to this court ruling.
The court revoked the suit of Gevorg Hayrapetian on the grounds of Part 3 of Article 9 of RA Law “On Mass Communication” and Part 6 of Article 1087.1 of RA Civil Code (“Order and Conditions of Compensation of Damage to the Honor, Dignity or Business Reputation”), ruling out that the contested information of “Kentron” contained a reference to the source (i.e., the RA Procuracy, which provided data on the criminal proceedings) and the information was reproduced with good faith. The Council agreed with this position.
As regards the presumption of innocence, the court considered the respective demand of the plaintiff baseless, since the Armenian civil law does not set out any legal protection against violation of presumption of innocence. According to the Council, this issue should be viewed from the journalism ethics perspective. The Council highlighted the Recommendation Rec(2003)13 of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on the provision of information through the media in relation to criminal proceedings. One of the principles of this documents states: “Respect for the principle of the presumption of innocence is an integral part of the right to a fair trial. Accordingly, opinions and information relating to on-going criminal proceedings should only be communicated or disseminated through the media where this does not prejudice the presumption of innocence of the suspect or accused.”
The Information Disputes Council mentioned that even though “Kentron” TV channel has reproduced in good faith the information received from a reliable source, it must respect the presumption of innocence of the accused. This is also conditioned by the fact that Armenian media “have frequently stated that they prefer to work under self-regulation mechanisms, such as codes of professional ethics”, the Council mentioned.
The full expert conclusion of the Information Disputes Council is available in Armenian at http://www.ypc.am/expert/ln/eng.