INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS AS SEEN BY ARMENIAN MEDIA
On August 31 – September 2 in Tsaghkadzor a seminar titled “Coverage of Activities of International Organizations and Foreign Missions by Armenian Media” was held. The Seminar was organized by Yerevan Press Club and UNDPI Office in Armenia at the assistance of Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The meeting participants who included the representatives of media, the international organizations working in Armenia and diplomatic missions, discussed, in particular, such issues as the experience and problems in interaction between the international organizations and Armenian media; covering the activities of diplomatic missions, donor organizations, UN agencies in Armenian media; the integration of Armenia into European structures and the role of media. The discussion was hottest on the subject of informing the public about the mission and the work of international organizations. The representatives of the latter ones complained about inadequate attention paid to them by journalists, frequent cases of distorted information and publication of non-verified data. The media representatives on their behalf remonstrated the insufficient transparency of foreign structures, while admitting the necessity for the journalists to specialize in distinct areas.
During the Seminar the results of a survey conducted by YPC to reveal the opinions of Armenian media representatives on the activities of international donor organizations were also presented. Journalists of 10 leading media were polled. According to the respondents, the most important directions for the international organizations to operate include investment projects aimed at rehabilitating the industrial potential of the country and supporting the farming in Armenia. Family planning projects aroused severe criticism, since, as the respondents think, their humanitarian content is improper for the demographic realities of the country.
As to the projects targeted at the development of media, according to some of the respondents, it is necessary to strengthen the donor support to the independent TV companies. The refusal of “Gind” private publishing house, established with the assistance of Eurasia Foundation, to print “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, May 12-18, 2001) was described as a negative example. The respondents placed great emphasis on the training programs, publication of professional literature, projects aimed at specialization of journalists, stimulation of independent journalistic investigations. Respondents mention that the journalists encounter no difficulties in getting information on the activities of foreign NGOs. However, the interest of the audience and, therefore, of the media towards them is rather weak.
MEDIA VOICE THEIR DEMANDS
On September 4 in Tekeyan Culture Center a meeting of Armenian media leaders was held to discuss the most urgent issues that currently faced by this sphere. In particular, the conversation dwelled upon the possibility of establishing condominiums in the House of Press in Yerevan, where most newspapers are located, and the building at 28, Isahakian street, the residence of the major news agencies; the privatization of the offices in these buildings by the editions and agencies that occupy them, as well as the participation of the media in the privatization of “Haymamoul” Press Dissemination Agency.
The initiative of establishing a condominium in the House of Press proceeds from the RA Ministry of State Property. As far back as last week the head of this body, David Vardanian, announced, that if the media unite, concessions can even be made during the privatization process and low prices will be fixed. The issue was to be solved, as the Minister admitted, by the beginning of September.
However, the media leaders addressed the President Office of Armenia with a request to intervene into the process and postpone the decision until the media themselves discuss the problem in detail. As a result, the session of the corresponding state commission was delayed for a few days and was re-scheduled for September 5.
Meanwhile, at their meeting the media leaders decided to address two major appeals to the Government. First, until the privatization takes place, the premises occupied by the media should be used by them free of charge but with no ownership rights (their demand is based on the recent decision of the Cabinet requiring that starting from September 1 all enterprises should sign new contracts with the Ministry of State Property to lease the premises at higher rents). Second, the privatization of “Haymamoul” should be stopped until independent auditing of the activities of this enterprise in the past 10 years is conducted (if this is not done, the media may refuse the 24% stock offered). Besides, the media leaders expressed their willingness to establish condominiums in the two buildings mentioned above in the nearest future.
The question of whether and to what extent the demands of the media will be taken into consideration and satisfied by the authorities will be answered only after the session of the state commission, where the media leaders are invited to participate, takes place on the evening of September 5.
MEDIA AND THE STATE COMMISSION DID NOT FIND COMMON GROUND
As it had previously been scheduled, on September 5 at the RA Ministry of State Property the session of the commission that deals with the privatization of objects used by media took place. The representatives of executive power and the media leaders invited to the session did not come to an agreement. As the Chief Editor of “Azg” daily Hakob Avedikian informed Yerevan Press Club, “we agreed that we had not agreed about anything”.
Thus, the RA Minster of State Property David Vardanian rejected the demand of the media to halt the privatization of “Haymamoul” Press Dissemination Agency and conduct an independent audit of its activities. According to the Minister, the law makes no stipulation of the kind. Besides, as Mr. Vardanian assures, “Haymamoul” should be privatized to save this system and direct some of the funds obtained to repay the debts (about 100 million drams – $182 000) to the print media, and only by 50%. Notably, the state commission was also reluctant to enable the media to acquire a part of the stock of “Haymamoul”.
The commission also declined another request of the media: until the privatization of the House of Press and 28, Isahakian street is completed, the premises occupied by the media should be used by them free of charge but with no ownership rights. Instead, Minister Vardanian persistently advised to establish a condominium, in particular, in the House of Press, so that later every edition has a possibility to privatize its territory. Mr. Vardanian gave no specific answer to the question of what the price of the privatization will be, he only promised the prices will be most favorable.
Apparently, the dispute between the media and the executive power is to be arbitraged by the RA President Robert Kocharian. As David Vardanian stated, he will meet the head of the state and will introduce both attitudes to the problems discussed to him so that the existing controversies are overcome.
Meanwhile, the media leaders decided to call another meeting one of these days to determine their further course of action.
RE-LICENSING OF BROADCASTERS COMPLETED
On September 5 the National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR) granted licenses to broadcast, and to produce and broadcast to another 13 TV and radio companies of Armenia (according to the RA Law “On Television and Radio” the licenses are granted within 10 days after an appropriate decision is made and the procedural requirements are fulfilled). Thus, the re-licensing process of the private broadcasters that started on August 2 was completed.
As Yerevan Press Club was told by the Chairman of the NCTR Grigor Amalian, applications for the licenses were filed by 40 TV and radio companies (out of 42 former license-holders), with the exception of “Lori-Vanadzor” radio and Spitak TV. 38 of them were re-licensed, and two were denied a license. These are close joint-stock companies AATV and the Republican Center of Cable Television Systems. According to the Chairman of NCTR, the reason for denying the license is the fact that originally these enterprises, rebroadcasting different TV companies, had been licensed to only build and maintain the cable broadcasting systems, but not to broadcast and produce. Nevertheless, AATV persists in rebroadcasting, and this induced Mr. Amalian to appeal to the appropriate bodies to stop the illegitimate broadcasting.
Along with this, on September 4 the order of licensing the production of TV and radio programs was published. According to the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, the application for this license should be submitted to the National Commission within 30 days since the publication date. It should be noted that the Law stipulates granting of three types of licenses: production (with no expiration); broadcasting; production and broadcasting.
THE COURT PROCEEDINGS AGAINST “ARARAT” NEWSPAPER STILL UNDER WAY
On September 5 the court proceedings on the suit brought by Marineh Gabrielian against the regional “Ararat” newspaper to protect honor and dignity continued (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, June 9-15 and 23-29, 2001). The case was renewed on August 31. As it had already been reported, the plaintiff had previously challenged the judge of primary jurisdiction Tatul Poghosian and addressed the upper bodies with a request to review the case in any other region of Armenia. In the opinion of Gabrielian, this would give greater objectivity to the proceedings.
Accordingly, the RA Council of Court Chairmen transferred the case to the court of primary jurisdiction of Armavir region, where, in the Echmiadzin office, the proceedings were renewed at the chairmanship of judge Vardan Grigorian and the hearings continue.
During the session of August 31 the court was at last able to determine the issues that the plaintiff wants to be refuted by the newspaper. The main points are the fact of keeping an Azerbaijani prisoner of war at the house of Gabrielian in 1993 who was subsequently sold to his own family (allegedly for $25 000) as well as the consistent humiliation and harassment of Gabrielian’s mother-in-law by herself. This information, given in the letter of 115 residents of Khachpar Village and published by “Ararat” newspaper is denied by the plaintiff. The defendant, the Chief Editor of “Ararat” Karineh Ashughian, referring to the signatures and the evidence given by the villagers, refuses to publish the refutation.
The two last sessions of September 3 and 5 were devoted to the determination of how valid the information published was. To do this, the people who had signed the letter addressed to the newspaper were called to the courtroom as witnesses. All of them, without exception, confirmed the information in the letter to be valid.
During the coming session, scheduled for September 12, the court will hear out the evidence given by other witnesses, too. Meanwhile, the Chief Editor of “Ararat” Karineh Ashughian requested to stop the proceedings and transfer the case to the prosecutor’s office to investigate, in particular, into the fact of keeping and selling an Azerbaijani prisoner of war so that to make it easier for the court to determine who is right and who is wrong in the conflict in question. The defendant assumed an obligation to file this request and submit it to the court during the next session. Time will show what the decision of the chairman will be.