On April 19, the US State Department released the country reports on human rights practices for 2012, prepared by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
One of the sections of the Armenian country report touches upon the rights to freedom of speech and press, which “the government did not always uphold”: “There were several incidents of violence toward journalists, largely in connection with the May 6 National Assembly elections. The number of lawsuits for libel and defamation decreased.”
The State Department stresses that “print media continued to lack diversity of political opinion and objective reporting”. At the same time, referring to the reports of international and national observers, the State Department notes that, in contrast to previous elections, broadcast media provided diverse and objective coverage of campaign of the May 2012 parliamentary elections. The report highlights that “the government did not release a promised audit of the country’s television and radio frequencies that provided the technical basis for limiting the number of digital broadcasting licenses it permitted after the switchover from analogue to digital transmission planned for 2015”. The country report also mentions about the “A1+” TV company, which, since September 2012, broadcasts 20-minute daily news programs on the air of “ArmNews” TV channel.
According to the country report authors, media, particularly broadcasters, feared reprisals for reporting critical of the government: “Such reprisals could include lawsuits, the threat of losing a broadcast license, selective tax investigation, or loss of revenue when advertisers learned the media was in disfavor with the government. Fear of retribution led to a high degree of media self-censorship.”
“Online media were the primary alternative source of information, and, unlike broadcast media, provided diverse political opinions. Their content was largely unrestricted,” the State Department emphasizes.
There were some incidents of violence against journalists in connection with the May 6, 2012 National Assembly elections. Thus, unknown persons attacked Elina Chilingarian, correspondent of Armenian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty outside a polling station in Yerevan. Police opened a criminal case upon the incident but closed it on July 13, 2012.
On March 21, 2012, the National Assembly passed a new Law “On the State of Emergency”, which allows the restriction of freedom of expression and media during a declared state of emergency.
The report also stresses the November 15, 2011 ruling by the RA Constitutional Court, which “resulted in fewer libel and defamation suits during the year and the imposition of smaller damages against media”.