On December 5, Information Disputes Council released an opinion on the suit of Hrazdan resident Gagik Atasian versus Mnatsakan Harutyunian, Director of “Hrazdan” TV company.
On January 18, 2012 “Aravot” daily (www.aravot.am) published an article by Mnatsakan Harutyunian, “Revelation: the Real Face of the ‘Man of the Year’”, which criticized Gagik Atasian. The same piece, followed by the editorial comments, appeared in “Hetq” online (www.hetq.am) and “Hraparak” daily (www.hraparak.am). Another similar piece by Mnatsakan Harutyunian, “‘World-known Film Director’, ‘Citizen of the Year’ or…”, was published in the newspapers “168 Hours” (www.168.am) and “Zhamanaki Mitk” (www.mitk.am). All these articles were also stored on the website of “Hrazdan” TV company (www.hrazdantv.am). On May 29, 2012 Gagik Atasian filed the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kotayk Region, demanding from Mnatsakan Harutyunian public apologies, moral loss for libel and insult in the amount of 3 mln AMD (about $7,300) and publishing the court ruling in the above-mentioned media outlets. The hearings on the case started on July 9 and are still pending. On October 26, the Court submitted the counter-suit of the respondent, who had contested the statements of Gagik Atasian, quoted in the August 7, 2012 article of “Aravot”, “The Plaintiff Says that Has Nothing against the Media”. In his turn, Mnatsakan Harutyunian demanded refutation and moral damage for libel in the amount of 2 mln AMD.
The IDC noted that the dispute touched upon topics of high public interest: within 2011-2012 Gagik Atasian consistently called in his interviews to media to shoot a feature film on the Karabagh war, with the involvement of world renowned actors, announced about the refusal from the governmental side to support his project, as well as the threats received from the Azerbaijani sources. All this contributed to wide public discussions in media and social networks. Thus, according to the IDC, Gagik Atasian has cast public attention on his personality and should expect wider scopes of criticism about him and his actions, compared with ordinary citizens.
Analyzing the January 18, 2012 piece of “Aravot”, the IDC stressed that it presented information about Gagik Atasian and his public statement, earlier disseminated by different media. At the same time, from the perspective of journalistic freedom the author has used permissible limits of satire. While expressing doubts on the accuracy of Gagik Atasian’s statements, Mnatsakan Harutyunian invoked his own investigation and facts that are well known in Hrazdan, which is the residence of the plaintiff and of the respondent. The IDC emphasized that the plaintiff contested the post scriptum part of the piece, where the author had sharply criticized Gagik Atasian, by accusing him for lying and keeping the public in deception for long time.
The IDC found it appropriate to evaluate the P.S. part of the article under wider scopes, in the context of the entire article and all the events surrounding it. On the background of these developments, the plaintiff has not presented any fact or justification that the information he provided to public corresponds to the reality. The IDC believes that the critics and value judgments about Gagik Atasian were made on sufficient factual basis and stemmed from the inconsistency between his public statements and behavior. Thus, the author has acted in good faith and within the scope of professional requirements.
The full opinion of the Information Disputes Council is available in Armenian and in English at http://ypc.am/expert/ln/eng.