JOURNALISTIC ORGANIZATIONS URGED CIVIC ACTIVISTS TO EXPRESS THEIR CLAIMS AGAINST MEDIA IN A CIVILIZED MANNER, AND CALLED MEDIA FOR UNBIASED COVERAGE OF EVENTS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
On July 31, during the public gathering at the Mashtots square in Yerevan, the activists of the “Pay 100 Drams” movement, protesting against the bus fare increase, obstructed the works of the shooting teams of the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia, “ArmNews” and “Shant” TV companies. On August 2, the activists announced that this was a spontaneous boycott against the TV companies, rather than the journalists. The activists claimed that the TV companies’ reporters had come to the gathering only because of the presence of Vazgen Manukian, Chairman of the Public Council by the RA President. In the activists’ opinion, the broadcasters were not concerned with covering the movement; moreover they had been ignoring their struggle over the previous ten days (since it started).
On the same day, August 2, the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Media Initiatives Center (formerly, Internews Armenia), Yerevan Press Club, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club and “Journalists for the Future” delivered a statement regarding the July 31 incident.
“Acknowledging the problems of Armenian journalism and the challenges that the Armenian media field is facing, as well as understanding the discontent of the young activists with the often biased reporting of most broadcasters, we, nevertheless, find it unacceptable to prevent the staff of any television company from carrying out their duties. We are convinced that such an act is a violation of not only legal norms, but also of the ethics of public order.
We therefore appeal to the movement’s activists to avoid such actions in the future and to express their claims against the media in a lawful and civilized manner. While we highly appreciate the importance of the “Pay 100 Drams” movement, we find that obstructing the work of any media during public events contradicts the democratic nature of these.
At the same time, we also call upon the Armenian media and particularly the TV companies to ensure adequate and unbiased coverage of events of public interest and importance, respecting the right of citizens to receive information”, said specifically the statement of six journalistic NGOs.
FOI CENTER FILES LAWSUITS AGAINST STATE AGENCIES
On August 29, the RA Administrative Court held hearings on the suit of Freedom of Information Center (FOI Center) filed against the RA National Security Service (NSS). On February 11, the FOI Center requested the NSS to provide a copy of the Agreement on Procedure of the Revision of the Level of Privacy of Information Classified during the Existence of the USSR (signed by the CIS member-states on October 18, 2011), and to notify what information has been unclassified under the Agreement and what body can provide this information. The NSS sent the FOI Center an incomplete answer, thus on March 7, the NGO resent its request, but the answer was still incomplete. On April 5, the FOI Center filed a lawsuit demanding to oblige the NSS to provide the requested information in full. On April 12, the suit was taken into consideration. The hearings on the case started on June 11, while the ruling is to be released on September 19.
It should also be noted that the FOI Center has filed two other lawsuits with the Administrative Court versus state agencies.
In the August 19 lawsuit, filed against the Information Technologies Center of the Committee of the Real Property Cadastre of the Government of the Republic of Armenia, the FOI Center demanded to bind the agency with providing the requested information free of charge. On May 7, the FOI Center inquired about the Covered Market of the Yerevan Mashtots avenue. On May 21, the agency responded that the information may only be provided upon payment. Meanwhile, RA Law “On Freedom of Information” prescribes that information for up to 10 pages should be provided without payment.
Earlier, on August 13, the FOI Center filed a suit against the Yerevan Municipality, Municipality’s Head of Transport Service Henrikh Navasardian, the “Parking City Service” CJSC and its Director Vazgen Harutiunian. The FOI Center requested the above-mentioned entities to provide the copies of legal acts, based on which video cameras were placed at the parking stations of Yerevan. Since the FOI Center received no answer, it went to law.
As the FOI Center informed YPC, the above-mentioned two lawsuits are still pending a court decision on admissibility.
INCIDENT WITH ARMENIA TODAY’S COORDINATOR DURING PROTEST RALLY
On August 24, during the public protests against the construction of a residential building in the vicinity of 5 Komitas avenue, Argishti Kivirian, Coordinator of the ARMENIA Today news agency, was detained. According to the journalist, he was beaten by the law enforcers in the police car. Argishti Kivirian was summoned to the Arabkir Police Department of Yerevan with injuries and bruises on his face, from where the ambulance transferred him to “Erebuni” medical center. Argishti Kivirian’s story about the incident, as well as the interview with the doctor was placed on the same day on Lragir.am.
On August 25, upon the report of one of the police officers, who transported the journalist to the police department, the police instituted criminal proceedings versus him on charges of Article 316 (“Violence against a representative of the authorities”). In his turn, Argishti Kivirian addressed the police reporting about the use of force during his detention.
On August 27, upon the order of the RA General Prosecutor Aghvan Hovsepian all the files of the case were submitted to the RA Special Investigative Service.
IDC HIGHLIGHTED NEED OF HAVING LEGAL DEFINITION OF “VALUE JUDGMENT”
On August 21, the Information Disputes Council released the opinion on the litigation between Armen Darbinian, Rector of Russian-Armenian (Slavonic) University, and the founder of “National Idea” online, “Center for Political Studies” LLC. As we have reported, the Rector of the Slavonic University contested some statements as contained in the piece, “Armenchik Darbinian Does Not Like to Pay and Why Does He Have To, If He Enjoys Government Protection?”, placed on www.n-idea.am on August 16, 2012. Armen Darbinian demanded compensation of moral loss caused by libel and insult in the amount of 4 mln AMD (about $ 9,700). The Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan started hearing the lawsuit on November 8, 2012 (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2012). On April 4, 2013 the Court partially satisfied the lawsuit, obliging the respondent to apologize publically and granting the plaintiff an award of 550,000 AMD, from which 400,000 AMD – compensation for libel and insult, equally, and 150,000 – attorney fees. On May 15, the founder of “National Idea” appealed the ruling of first instance court with the RA Civil Court of Appeals, which rejected the appeal and confirmed the ruling of the court of general jurisdiction on July 10.
The IDC noted that during the hearings of the case both of the court instances had considered all the contested expressions of the above-mentioned piece as statement of facts. The IDC disagreed that all disputed expressions were statement of facts, since some of them were value judgments. Like in many other cases, in this one also the court interpreted differently the terms “statement of facts” and “value judgment”. In this regard, the IDC concluded that there should be a legal definition of the term “value judgment”, which is now missing in the Article 1087.1 of RA Civil Code, “Order and Conditions of Compensation of Damage to the Honor, Dignity or Business Reputation”. The IDC also stressed that if a statement is a subjective assessment not based on facts, it should be considered as a value judgment and not a statement of facts.
LAWSUIT OF GURGEN AGHAJANIAN VERSUS “ZHOGHOVURD” ASSIGNED TO REVIEW
On August 2, the RA Civil Court of Appeals satisfied the appeal of Gurgen Aghajanian, who contested the ruling of general jurisdiction court on his lawsuit versus the founder of “Zhoghovurd” daily, “Editorial Office of ‘Zhoghovurd’ Newspaper” LLC. The Court of Appeals granted a review of the case by the first court instance. As we have reported, on March 19, 2013 the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan rejected the lawsuit of Gurgen Aghajanian, who contested the article "Galust’s Son Is Required To", published by “Zhoghovurd” on August 9, 2011. The suit with claims of refutation and financial award of 804,000 AMD (about $ 2,000) was submitted into consideration on August 29, 2011 (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 15-21, 2013).
HETQ.AM OBLIGED TO PUBLISH REFUTATION WITHOUT BEING INVOLVED IN THE LITIGATION
On July 31, the Information Disputes Council published the opinion on the complaint of Investigative Journalists NGO against the January 21, 2013 ruling of the Court of General Jurisdiction of Shirak Region. The subject matter of the litigation was the letter by four employees of the Gyumri Center for Food Safety, entitled “Free Us From This Vicious ‘Head’” and published in “Azg” daily on October 2, 2012. The letter contained critics about the Head of the abovementioned Center Hambardzum Matevosian. On November 7, 2012 the latter had filed a lawsuit with the Court of General Jurisdiction of Shirak Region against the authors of the letter. “Azg” daily was involved in the case as a third party. The court hearings started on December 6, 2012 and on January 21, 2013 the parties concluded a conciliation agreement. According to the agreement, the respondents assumed the obligation to publish a refutation in “Azg” and in case the daily does not operate, to refute the information in another newspaper with the same print run. Moreover, the respondents assumed the obligation of publishing the refutation on Hetq.am, the online publication of Investigative Journalists. On March 4, 2013 the Investigative Journalists filed a complaint with the RA Civil Court of Appeals on the grounds that Hetq.am was imposed an obligation to publish a refutation, whereas its founder was not a party to the litigation and, thus, was deprived of a possibility for legal protection. On March 21, the Court rejected the appeal, finding that the court has not imposed an obligation of a refutation on the online publication, but it was assumed by the respondents. On April 10, the Investigative Journalists filed a complaint with the RA Court of Cassation, which rejected it on May 15. Thus, the ruling of court of general jurisdiction was confirmed.
According to the IDC opinion, by confirming the conciliation agreement, the court in fact imposed an obligation on Hetq.am to publish a refutation. Meanwhile, the court had not ensured the online publication’s right to legal protection, provided by Article 18 of RA Constitution and Article 6 of European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The IDC also noted that the court violated Article 33 of the RA Civil Code, which prohibits endorsement of a conciliation agreement if it violates other persons’ rights and legal interests.