COMMOTION ABOUT THE DRAFT LAW “ON MASS COMMUNICATION” UNCEASING
During the week the RA Deputy Minister of Justice Ashot Abovian met with the leaders of media and journalistic organizations to eliminate the controversies on the draft law “On Mass Communication”, developed by the RA Ministry of Justice and approved by the Government (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, January 26 – February 1, 2002 and February 2-8, 2002).
A part of journalistic community still adheres to the opinion that the draft law is to be completely removed from the circulation (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 16-22, 2002). Others are inclined to cooperate with the Ministry of Justice. Yet, it is not quite clear why were the journalistic NGOs, broadcasters, news agencies, newspaper editors invited to the Ministry in separate groups? It is not quite clear either what will be the basis for the further joint work on the draft law?
Meanwhile, the party activists, members of Parliament continue to support the journalistic profession and voice their criticism of the draft law “On Mass Communication”. Thus, the head of the Parliament faction of “Dashnaktsutyun” Party Aghvan Vardanian thinks that adopting the draft in its present edition is “definitely ineffective”, and “the security of the officials must not increase at the expense of media” (“Azg” daily, March 13, 2002). The leader of the National Democratic Union, deputy Vazgen Manukian called the authorities “to resist the temptation of interfering into the activities of media”. Having described the draft law as “very harmful” and non-incidental, Vazgen Manukian noted the probability of its being passed by the Parliament – at a certain point in time when the general alertness is benumbed (“Azg”, March 15, 2002).
ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN-TURKEY: JOURNALIST INITIATIVE-2002
On March 9-10 in the Turkish town of Urgup the first round table meeting under the trilateral project “Armenia-Azerbaijan-Turkey: Journalist Initiative-2002” was held. The project is implemented by Yerevan Press Club, “Yeni Nesil” Journalists Union of Azerbaijan and the Association of Diplomacy Correspondents of Turkey with the support of OSI Network Media Program. The organization of the meeting was also assisted to by the Turkish Democracy Foundation. The round table brought together representatives of media and journalistic organizations of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey as well as Turkish politicians, diplomats and economists.
The experts from the three countries made presentations on the coverage of the situation after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, in the USA, in the media of their respective countries in the context of regional problems; the prospects of economic and political cooperation in the region; the relations of Europe and Turkey. The representatives of the Armenian newspapers of Turkey (“Jamanak”, “Marmara”, “Agos”) who took part in the round table described the activities of their editions.
On March 11 in Ankara the round table participants met with the ninth President of Turkey Suleyman Demirel. At the meeting the representatives of Yerevan Press Club, “Yeni Nesil” Journalists Union of Azerbaijan, the Association of Diplomacy Correspondents of Turkey and the Turkish Democracy Foundation signed a statement. The statement stresses, in particular, the necessity for a problem resolution in the region through negotiations and a dialogue, assist the establishment of climate of trust between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. Welcoming all constructive contributions aimed at establishing understanding in the region, the parties reaffirmed the importance of partnership for the development of the dialogue between the three countries, and, as a consequence, the necessity for further information exchange on a regular basis.
On March 14 a press conference was held at the Journalists Union of Armenia, where the Armenian participants of the round table shared their impressions of the trip. During the meeting with journalists the project “Armenia-Azerbaijan-Turkey: Journalist Initiative-2002” was also introduced. The project envisages five-month monitoring of the media of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, a series of journalistic meetings.
In mid-February, under this project, a web-site “Media Dialogue” was launched featuring the most interesting publications from the press of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey on the subjects of common interest with the recent updates disseminated on weekly basis by e-mail.
THE LAWYERS OF THE CHIEF EDITOR OF “HAIKAKAN ZHAMANAK” CHALLENGED THE DECISION OF THE PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE
On March 11 the attorneys of the Chief Editor of “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily Nikol Pashinian filed an appeal against the decision of the Prosecutor’s Office of Center and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan with the court of primary jurisdiction of the same communities. The decision of the Prosecutor’s Office stipulated an institution of criminal proceedings, a preventive punishment and an accusation against the Chief Editor of “Haikakan Zhamanak”.
As it has already been reported, the criminal proceedings against Nikol Pashinian were instituted through the appeal of the Head of RA Main Civil Aviation Department (RA MCAD) Hovhannes Eritsian who found one of the publications of “Haikakan Zhamanak” (November 6, 2001) to be personally insulting for himself. The publication told that as a response to the order of Hovhannes Eritsian to his deputy calling “to study and report to the MCAD Head how, despite the regime zones, airplanes happen to carry aboard such periodicals that present authorities in a distorted manner”, the Chief Editor of “Haikakan Zhamanak” commissioned the journalists “to find out and report how imbeciles find their way to the state administration system” (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 23 – March 1, 2002).
On March 11 “Shirak Regional Party Consensus” (an organization uniting 14 branches of opposition parties, active in Gyumri and Shirak region) condemned the actions of the Prosecutor’s Office taken against Nikol Pashinian. Earlier, the National Press Club made a statement of support to the Editor of “Haikakan Zhamanak”, calling on the Prosecutor’s Office “to discard the unjustified accusation” and “not to follow the voluntarism” of the MCAD Head.
The action of “Aravot” newspaper – the daily publication of the open address of journalist Tigran Hakobian to the Assistant Prosecutor in charge of the investigation – continues (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 2-8, 2002). During the past week another 32 people signed the letter, thus expressing their unanimity with the wish of the author of the address to know “how imbeciles find their way to the system of administration”.
In unison with the publication of “Haikakan Zhamanak” the same “Aravot” daily (March 12, 2002) published the photograph of Hovhannes Eritsian with a text identical to the one that insulted the MCAD Head. Yet, this time the journalistic investigation with the conventional title of “where do imbeciles come from?” was initiated by the Chief Editor of “Aravot”.
The Armenian editions gave the floor to the attorney of the “victim” as well. In the interview of Robert Aghajanian, the lawyer representing Hovhannes Eritsian, to “Taregir” online daily (March 13, 2002), quoted by several media, he explained the wish of MCAD Head to restrict the presence of the opposition media aboard the planes by his aspiration to maintain the calmness of the passengers “who go up the ladder scared as it is”, concluding that “Hovhannes Eritsian is a treasure for the Armenian aviation”. In the opinion of the lawyer, the MCAD Head who is so zealous in protecting the peace of mind of the passengers is beyond any suspicion in imbecility.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND PRESS IN ARMENIA: REPORT OF THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
On March 4 the U.S. Department of State released its annual report on human rights practices in different countries of the world in 2001, prepared by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
In the report on Armenia, the section “Freedom of Speech and Press”, the situation during the past year is described as follows:
“The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press; however, while the Government generally respects freedom of speech, there are some limits on freedom of the press, and journalists continued to practice self-censorship. There is no official censorship, publications present a variety of views, and the opposition press regularly criticizes government policies and leaders, including the President, on sensitive issues such as the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and privatization. However, to avoid repetition of the retribution experienced in the past from powerful officials and other individuals, most journalists continued to practice self-censorship, particularly when reporting on major cases of corruption or national security issues.
Journalists remain cautious in their reporting, especially about proceedings in the courtroom, and the range of subjects the Government considers sensitive for national security reasons is large. Some members of the press have access to army facilities and places of detention. Even in cases where they do have such access, permission for media visits is a prolonged and cumbersome bureaucratic process.
(…) Because there are a limited number of newspapers in print, television is the most widely accessible medium. The President’s office continued to influence state television news coverage significantly. (…) In Yerevan and major regional media markets, private television stations offer independent news coverage of good technical quality. Most of the more then 20 radio stations are private and independent. There are no restrictions on reception of satellite television and other foreign media, and they are not censored. There is foreign language programming.
(…)The process of license issuances for broadcast media is arbitrary and nontransparent.
In October 2000, Parliament passed a draft law on television and radio, which later was signed by the President but with reservations regarding the constitutionality of 7 articles of the law. The President appealed to the Constitutional Court and in January the Court ruled that 5 out of 7 articles were unconstitutional and must be suspended. (…)The law was criticized strongly by journalists and independent media experts for limiting freedom of speech. On January 12, in a display of protest, most private television stations suspended their prime-time broadcasting for 45 minutes. During the year, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture, and Youth Affairs worked together with the Yerevan Press Club and the international NGO Internews to bring the law into compliance with the Constitution.“
Besides, among the negative phenomena the report of the U.S. Department of State mentions, in particular: the interference of the authorities in the activities of independent Ashtarak TV cable company; the suspension of the broadcasts of independent “Noyan Tapan” TV channel due to the dispute between “Noyan Tapan” and broadcast license holder, described by “some opposition members of the National Assembly as political and financial pressure from the government”.
The complete report of the U.S. Department of State on human right practices in Armenia in 2001 can be viewed at: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2001/eur/
RESULTS OF THE COMPETITION ON THE BEST PIECE ON TOURISM ANNOUNCED
On March 12 the results of the competition by “Hairapetian Brothers” company for the best newspaper or TV piece covering tourism and hotel business in Armenia were announced. By the decision of the jury, the first prize ($1,500) was awarded to journalist Lilit Sedrakian and cameraman Arman Gharibian (“Hailur” newscast, Public Television of Armenia). The second prize ($1,000) was granted to journalist Ashot Levonian (“Golos Armenii” newspaper). The third prize ($500) was received by journalist Mary Haroutiunian and cameraman Arthur Hunanian (“Zham” newscast, “Armenia” TV company). The President of “Hairapetian Brothers” company Hovik Hairapetian, awarding the prizes, mentioned that this competition from now on would become a tradition.