On May 8, in Yerevan, Yerevan Press Club held presentation of the book “Eastern Partnership Media Freedom Landscape-2013”, which covers the situation of the media in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
The publication (in English and Russian) is based on research carried out in 2013 in the framework of the “ENP East Media Freedom Watch” project. The project supported by the European Union is implemented by Yerevan Press Club in cooperation with Internews Ukraine and other partner NGOs from the six Eastern Partnership countries.
The book is a collection of analytical reviews on freedom of expression and media in 2013 in each of the six countries (legislative field, practice, broadcasting, Internet and new media). The reviews were based on standardized methodology and contain expert recommendations. Colored infographics of the book demonstrate how Media Freedom Index varied in each of the six countries from March to December of 2013.
May 8 presentation in Yerevan was opened with congratulatory remarks by Dirk Lorenz, Head of Political, Economic, Press and Information Section of the Delegation of the European Union to Armenia. Boris Navasardian, Yerevan Press Club President, presented the results of the study.
Management of the “Armenia” TV company has dismissed two of its employees for misspelling the name of Hovik Abrahamian, the Armenian Prime Minister, in the caption to a news story.
The piece told about the visit of the Prime Minister to a boarding school in the village of Bureghavan, near Yerevan, and was aired at the news program “Zham” of “Armenia” TV on May 2. In the caption to the story the name of Hovik Abrahamian was distorted: instead of Hovik (Հովիկ) it was spelled as Havik (Հավիկ), translated from Armenian as “chicken”.
The mistake caused immediate dismissal of the author of the story and of the technical editor of the story. In an interview to Aravot.am, Gaguik Mkrtchian, the head of news service of “Armenia” TV channel, noted that one should not seek political context in the incident: “It was just an unintentional typo; the responsible for this have already been dismissed from the work” (quoted from Aravot.am as of May 5).
On May 5, the Prime Minister commented on the dismissal of the journalists on his Facebook page. Hovik Abrahamian stressed that he had “learned about the dismissal of “Armenia” TV channel employees from press publications”, and expressed confidence that it was just a technical mistake. “However, I want to say that dismissal of the journalists in such cases is undesirable for me”, the Prime Minis wrote, calling upon the management of “Armenia” TV company to reconsider its decision.
Apparently, the TV management promptly reconsidered its decision and the dismissed employees were recovered.
The entire story reminds of the famous example of amphibology in eloquent expression “panda eats shoots and leaves”, where the meaning of a sentence is changed to the opposite depending on the position of a comma.
On May 8, the media was not allowed to the meeting of the Standing Commission for Culture, Education and Social Issues of Yerevan Municipality, wherein the issue of placing a statue to Anastas Mikoyan in the Armenian capital was discussed. They were informed that “journalists’ participation in the meeting is not convenient”.
Meanwhile, the issue of building in Yerevan a monument to Anastas Mikoyan, Bolshevik, prominent politician and Soviet statesman during the rule of Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, had a great public feedback. Anastas Mikoyan was called “the Kremlin long-liver” for his exceptional political “vitality”. The public opinions, whether to put the monument to Mikoyan or not, divided.
According to information, posted on “A1+” website, Anahit Bakhshyan and Styopa Safarian, the members of the Council of Elders of Yerevan Municipality, tried to get an explanation from Artur Gevorgian, the head of the city hall press service. It was a straightforward question: what law regulates the appropriateness of the presence of journalists at the meeting? Artur Grigorian answered that it was a decision of Tamar Poghosian, the Standing Commission chairwoman, “A1 +” reports and adds that Poghosian promised to provide the journalists with the information after the meeting, urging them to wait one hour.
On May 7, the Administrative Court of Armenia started hearings of the lawsuit, filed by “Investigative Journalists” NGO versus RA Ministry of Environmental Protection.
In October 2013 “Investigative Journalists” requested the Ministry of Environment to provide information for journalistic investigation conducted by the NGO, on trafficking of the animals listed in the International Red Book, in Armenia. The “Investigative Journalists”, particularly, requested to provide them with copies of permits for import and export of animals issued by the Ministry in accordance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), in the timeframe from 2010 to December 9, 2013. Ministry of Environment responded merely with the list of the animals, imported and exported from Armenia. The Ministry refused to provide the copies of permits as they contain the names of importers and exporters, which constitute a commercial secret.
In the following request “Investigative Journalists” suggested the agency to provide the demanded information, after details containing commercial secret are blurred. The Ministry refused again. The following requests of the NGO yielded no results.
In its lawsuit, “Investigative Journalists” demanded to oblige the Ministry of Environmental Protection to provide the requested information fully and to compensate its court fees.
On May 7, “Hetq”, the online publication of “Investigative Journalists”, in a piece about the ongoing hearings cited the Ministry representative who stated that the agency provided all the information requested, except for the names of importer and exporter companies, which constitute a commercial secret.
According to “Hetq”, Grisha Balasanian, representative of “Investigative Journalists”, in his turn, said that the Ministry’s excuses had no legal grounds, since the companies’ names are not considered to be commercial secret. Balasanian also stressed that after the lawsuit was filed, the Ministry provided foreign journalists, visiting Armenia for filming a documentary on animal trafficking, with several copies of CITES. “If it’s a commercial secret, then why one media outlet had an access to it, while the “Investigative Journalists” had not? This is nothing else but arbitrary decision”, the representative of the plaintiff emphasized .
According to “Hetq”, Grisha Balasanian promised to bring a video footage to the next court session, capturing the passing of CITES copies to foreign journalists.
The draft law on amending the RA Civil Code was put into circulation at the Armenian National Assembly. The amendments introduce the institute of compensation for moral damage.
Media experts have repeatedly drawn attention of the Armenian authorities on the need for legislative regulation of the issue of compensation for moral damage caused by libel or insult. This issue often arises in trials on defamation in the media. The Article 1087.1 of the Civil Code (“Procedure and Conditions of Compensation of Damage to Honor, Dignity or Business Reputation”) does not provide for such mechanism.
The draft law was presented to the parliament by the Armenian Government. The pretext of the document reads that Armenia has ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in 2002. However, the legislative mechanism of legal protection against moral damage has not been introduced. The pretext also contains the directives of the European Court of Human Rights in a number of lawsuits of the Armenian citizens against the Republic of Armenia, which indicated the need to ensure the right to compensation for non-pecuniary damage in the national legislation. Particularly, such mechanism is needed in the case of violations of the Article 2 (“Right to life”), the Article 3 (“Prohibition of torture”) and the Article 5 (“Right to liberty and security”) of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as the Article 3 (“Compensation for wrongful conviction”) of the Protocol No. 7 to the Convention. According to the authors of the draft law, its adoption will increase the level of legal protection of citizens and will help to reduce the number of lawsuits being filed against the Republic of Armenia to the European Court of Human Rights, as well as the proper execution of the decisions made by ECHR previously.
The authors of the amendments suggest to supplement the Civil Code with the new Article 162.1, introducing the concept of moral damage. In this regard the amendments provide for compensation in the amount of 500-fold to 1000-fold of a minimum wage (the latter is established in Armenia in the amount of 1,000 AMD or less than 2 euros).
On November 5, 2013 the RA Constitutional Court ruled on the petition by citizen Artur Khachatrian (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, November 8-14, 2013), who had challenged the constitutionality of Civil Code provision for various kinds of losses, except for moral damage (Article 17 Clause 2). In the course of three years Artur Khachatrian’s lawsuit on material and moral damage compensation was heard by all national courts with only partial satisfaction – the claim for indemnification of moral damage was rejected.
According to November 5 ruling, the Constitutional Court adjudicated Article 17 Clause 2 of the Civil Code in controversy with the Armenian Constitution and ineffective. Besides, the Constitutional Court ruled that the given provision would lose its legal force on October 1, 2014, since its immediate abolition might cause legal imbalance. To prevent it, the Court considered it necessary to institutionalize the legislative regulation of moral damage compensation.
Lawyer Ara Ghazarian commented on this legislative initiative on his Facebook page: “The draft law still needs to be analyzed but generally it can be characterized as positive, since it provides for financial compensation in case of violation of three specific rights (right to life, protection against ill-treatment and right to liberty), which derives from the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.”
Towards World Press Freedom Day Gallup released a report on the perception of the level of media freedom in various countries of the world. The report compares the results of the polls conducted by Gallup in 2010-2013.
The report notes that the data obtained by Gallup coincide with the findings of latest study by Freedom House, which shows decline in the freedom of press in 2013. “In 2013, we saw more cases of states targeting foreign reporters and media outlets”, Karin Karlekar, representative of Gallup, said.
According to survey held by Gallup in 2013, 63% of all respondents in 132 countries and territories believe that their country’s media are free (in 2012, 67% of respondents believed so). 26% of respondents think that media in their country are not free (compared with 24% in 2012) and 7% did not know/refused to answer.
In Armenia 44% of respondents agree that Armenian media have a lot of freedom and almost the same number of people – 43% express the opposite view. Another 14% found it difficult to answer.
The list of the surveyed countries and territories includes the Mountainous Karabagh, where 63% of respondents think that their media are free, 29% find them not free, and 8% did not know/refused to answer.
In the other countries of the South Caucasus the situation is as follows: 61% of respondents in Azerbaijan believe that their country’s media have a lot of freedom, and only 27% think that they have not (13% did not know/refused to answer). In Georgia 51% think that media of their country are free, and 31% that they are not free (18% did not know/refused to answer).