On April 7, Armenian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum expressed concern “with the programmes and reports overtly propagating xenophobia and spawning hatred between nations, broadcasted by the Russian TV channels Russia 1 and the First Channel which are rebroadcasted in the Republic of Armenia on the basis of intergovernmental agreements”. “This phenomenon has become more evidential in the context of recent political developments around Ukraine”, the statement reads.
The statement of Armenian National Platform (ANP), uniting 191 NGOs, attracted attention of the Armenian society, and we contacted Boris NAVASARDIAN, the national facilitator of the CSF, to comment on it.
– Don’t you think that a statement, urging to consider the issue of broadcasting Russian TV channels in Armenia, contradicts principles of media freedom and the right to obtain information, which should be a priority for civil society?
– I think this question is caused by misinterpretation of the ANP statement. Nobody demands to ban Russian TV channels or suspend broadcasting them in Armenia in general. We are talking about legal consideration of appropriateness of their broadcast through the National Broadcasting Network, which is a limited resource of frequencies. Set of TV channels, using this network, is determined under special procedures (frequency allocation for the public broadcaster, intergovernmental agreements and broadcast licensing competitions). This set actually reflects the information policy of the state. Thus, the state bears special responsibility to prevent information, contradicting Armenian legislation on broadcasting, from being disseminated through the National Broadcasting Network. There are mechanisms, under which licenses of those broadcasters which violate the laws systematically, are revoked. We faced cases when the National Commission on Television and Radio issued warnings to TV companies, which can be compared with a “yellow card” in football. I do not understand why these measures can be applied exclusively to Armenian companies, since everyone is equal before law. If a broadcaster is not ready to follow legal restrictions, it has no place in the National Broadcasting Network. Broadcasting through private cable networks can be an alternative for them. By the way, Russian TV channels, including Russia 1 and First Channel, are widely represented in almost all such packages. And the ANP statement has nothing to do with cable networks, as well as with satellite broadcasting, and accordingly does not contain threats to those Armenian viewers who do not want to lose access to the TV programmes of both broadcasters.
– However, provisions of the law also apply to those TV channels that are broadcasted via cable networks; consequently, they may fall under the restrictions.
– Certainly. But the ANP does not raise the issue this way. Personally, I am in favor of more liberal approach to cable packages since they provide for a larger variety of TV channels. And in these packages, as opposed to the National Broadcasting Network, no one takes place at the expense of another. Whereas, a well-known “A1+” TV company, for example, has not received a broadcasting license while the place that could potentially belong to it is somehow occupied by those, who neglect our national legislation.
– Critics of the statement argue that calls to xenophobia and ethnic hatred, in the light of Ukrainian events, are also present in the programs on CNN and EuroNews, but the ANP is focused exclusively on Russian TV channels for a certain reason.
– First of all, CNN is the only non-Russian foreign broadcaster, which is represented in the National Broadcasting Network. We cannot exclude that this broadcaster has violated Armenian legislation as well, but this couldn’t have happened systematically, at least because coverage of developments in Ukraine has not been the only priority for it, while in case of the news and political programs of Russia 1 and First Channel Ukraine it sometimes seems to be the only focus. And each day this news present more radical approaches to the issue. In addition, Armenian audience of CNN and of Russian TV channels can’t be compared, at least because of the language factor.
Secondly, anyone who has a claim against CNN and EuroNews is free to voice their concerns and present their demands. Why should discontent with these TV channels prevent us from raising a question regarding Russian TV channels? It is important to understand that the essence of our statement lies not in following the law blindly. We, as civil society organizations, are concerned with the problem of public awareness, moral and psychological climate in the country. And we see that many of our compatriots are repeatedly subjected to disinformation, total indoctrination and get very subjective interpretation of events. If domestic broadcasters met the information needs of society on Ukrainian issues, providing them with balanced and sufficient information, the harm from the activities of Russia 1 and First Channel would not be so obvious and substantial. And the ANP would leave the care on fulfillment of the legislation to those structures who are commissioned for that. But our broadcasters have compromised coverage of world events in the recent months to the Russian TV channels. Several talk shows, devoted to issues of international life, do not change the situation. They merely reflect a deep split in the Armenian society by the Ukrainian problem. This split occurs within the family, friends, and colleagues at work: those who were subjected to Russian propaganda, and those who are able to critically think over the information and use a variety of sources, are at odds. Sooner or later this will affect national politics, both foreign and domestic. Tolerating this state of affairs is disreputable to civil society.
– There is also an opinion that the ANP statement will not change anything. In this case, why are these “dry shots” for?
– I am sure that each action leads to consequences. The mere fact that the problem became a subject of extensive debate in Armenia gives meaning and significance to the ANP statement. People haven’t even thought about the things mentioned above. Hopefully, now our society has much more understanding of the role of media and the principles of legal regulation of this field. In addition, the last ANP conference, which was held on April 16, showed that its members plan to submit to the National Commission on Television and Radio specific cases of violation of the Armenian legislation by the Russian TV channels mentioned above, with relevant legal comments. We will seek for adequate measures to be taken in this regard.
On April 19, Rauf Mirkadirov, well-known Azerbaijani journalist, columnist of “Zerkalo” daily and “Zerkalo” special correspondent in Turkey for last three years, was arrested in Baku. According to General Prosecutor’s Office of Azerbaijan, Mirkadirov has been charged with high treason (Article 274 of the Criminal Code), in particular, for cooperation with intelligence services of Armenia. Fuad Agayev, the journalist’s lawyer, says that according to investigation, Mirkadirov shared secret information with Laura Baghdasarian, journalist and Director of Armenian “Region” Research Center.
The lawyer noticed that Rauf Mirkadirov was suspected of sharing information on military potential and dislocation of Azerbaijani armed forces with Armenian intelligence services, which allegedly happened during three international conferences in Armenia in 2008-2009.
Laura Baghdasarian was deeply surprised with the fact of her involvement in this case. She posted a feedback on her Facebook page: “It turns out that Rauf Mirkadirov was detained in Azerbaijan because of me. It appears as though I work for Armenian intelligence services. I’m quite surprised with the fact that Rauf Mirkadirov shared with me information on dislocation of Azerbaijani armed forces. These charges are humiliating for intelligence services and armed forces of Azerbaijan since these agencies are worthless if a mere “Zerkalo” journalist, though a skilled one, possessing much more courtesy than many of his colleagues, can get this information.”
According to Laura Baghdasarian, Rauf Mirkadirov was a co-author of a joint Armenian-Azerbaijan project of the “Region” and the Institute of Peace and Democracy, based in Baku, participated in the Internet press conferences “on our joint web site www.publicdialogues.info”. “I assume that my Azerbaijani partners, representatives of the Institute of Peace and Democracy, can face problems as well, due to the fact that they collaborate with Armenia’s ‘main secret agent’ that is with me”, Baghdasarian stressed.
The head of the “Region” noted that her organization has been collaborating with Institute of Peace and Democracy (chaired by Leyla Yunus, a well-known Azerbaijani human rights activist) as partner NGOs since 2005. Laura Baghdasarian is convinced that both in Armenia and Azerbaijan “everyone knows about our activities, since we don’t hide anything. We always tried to find common interests for cooperation between societies of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia”. “Anyway, now our peacemaking activities have reached a dead-end, since from now on our partners and newsmakers from Azerbaijan will hesitate to work with me, as ‘I’m working for Armenian intelligence services’,” the head of “Region” said (quoted from a piece by “ArmInfo”).
Laura Baghdasarian can’t understand why this issue has been raised only now in 2014, if the Ministry of National Security of Azerbaijan was aware of “Mirkadirov’s alleged espionage with Armenian counterparts” in 2008-2009?
Meanwhile, there are opinions that the situation with Rauf Mirkadirov could be caused with his articles that criticize the authorities of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia.
On April 20, “Zerkalo” daily, writing about the arrest of its columnist, noted: “Our colleague is charged with espionage. Who could he be spying for? The question seems rhetoric to us. Certainly, not for Turkey, or why would they turn him in? Iran – the version does not hold water. Georgia sounds absurd. Maybe, for Russia? If so, this is quite eccentric. Rauf must be beating his dog in front of the lion then. Who is there left? Certainly, Armenia. Why would a responsible Azerbaijani journalist work for anyone else but Armenia?..”
On April 24, “Zerkalo” published a statement of Rauf Mirkadirov, which says: “For about 25 years of my professional activity I have been serving the interests of Azerbaijan. I always believed that in dealing with the Karabagh issue and Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, the authorities and the opposition should not confront each other; this also refers to the media coverage of the issue. Therefore, I view the charges of espionage in favor of Armenia as a betrayal of the national interests. I assess these charges to be groundless from the legal perspective. Those who accuse me of espionage for Armenia are committing a great sin in front of Allah.”
On April 25, Laura Baghdasarian and Leyla Yunus issued a joint statement (see below).
On April 25, Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute of Peace and Democracy, and Laura Baghdasarian, Director of “Region” Research Center came up with a joint statement regarding the arrest of Rauf Mirkadirov, a well-known Azerbaijani journalist and columnist of “Zerkalo” daily, on April 19, in Baku.
As we have reported, Rauf Mirkadirov is charged with high treason, particularly, he is accused for cooperation with intelligence services of Armenia (see above).
The statement reads:
“We, the two women, human rights defender and journalist, two mothers from Azerbaijan and Armenia, have been cooperating for almost 10 years, shoulder to shoulder in the uphill struggle for building and enhancing Public Dialogue between our nations warring for more than 20 years.
It is almost 10 years since we have been going hand in hand with joint articles, books, and finally with the first and still unique joint website www.publicdialogues.info. This is a ground for dialogue between Azerbaijanis and Armenians.
It was the website where citizens of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, the USA and the EU countries communicated, argued and discussed major problems of our societies.
We are against future wars! We do not want our children and grand-children to hate and kill each other! We are against the politics sowing discord, against the hatred to the neighbor.
On April 19, 2014 the authorities of Azerbaijan arrested journalist Rauf Mirkadirov. He was arrested on charges of espionage for Armenia (Article 274 of the AR Criminal Code; term of punishment – from 10 years till life sentence). Rauf Mirkadirov is an active participant of numerous Internet conferences held in our website and international conferences held in Armenia.
Rauf Mirkadirov, the Gerd Bucerius International Prize Winner and Honored Journalist of Azerbaijan, is accused for his participation in the public diplomacy actions.
On April 22, 2014 following the decision of the President of Azerbaijan, a joint group of investigators of the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of National Security was set up to ‘uncover a big network of spies of Armenia in Azerbaijan’. It is not difficult to foretell that they want to include the participants of our Dialogue in this network. They have already begun putting strain on Arif Yunusov, a husband of Leyla Yunus. A. Yunusov authored 8 books and over 230 articles on the contemporary history of Caucasus, particularly the Karabagh conflict. Every year starting from 2001 Arif Yunusov has actively participated in international conferences held in Armenia.
Currently Arif Yunusov is hospitalized being in potential stroke condition.
‘Uncovering the spy network’ the authorities of Azerbaijan will put an end to joint Azerbaijani-Armenian projects with participation of independent NGOs.
We are calling all the people of good will around the globe!
Raise your voice for protection of peace in Caucasus, for putting an end to hatred and enmity between the Azerbaijani and Armenian people!
Call for immediate release of Rauf Mirkadirov, a father of two little girls!
Demand to stop the persecution of the participants of the public diplomacy, the activists of our Dialogue, the advocates for peace and democracy in our countries!
SUPPORT US IN THIS VERY TRYING TIME!”
On April 22, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club of Gyumri declared its intention to sue Nelson Voskanian, the Mayor of Goris, who does not adhere to provisions of the RA Law “On Freedom of Information”.
On March 7, the journalistic organization inquired the Mayor of Goris to provide the information on procurements of vehicles for the municipal administration for the period of the last seven years. “Asparez” requested the copies of the decisions of the Goris Council of Elders on cars procurements, their models, and the price they had been purchased for, etc.
According to the post notice, on March 12, the municipal administration received a request. On March 26, more than a week after expiration of the 5-day period allotted by law to respond to written requests, Levon Barseghian, the “Asparez” Board Chairman, had a telephone conversation with the responsible official from Goris City Hall. The latter confirmed having received the request and assured that the letter of the journalistic organization was handed over to the finance department for a response.
Meanwhile, the “Asparez” has not received the answer for its request yet. On this matter the organization announced it would file a lawsuit if the requested information is not received until April 30.