2003 ELECTIONS: ARMENIA, GEORGIA, AZERBAIJAN
On October 10-12, a seminar “Elections of 2003 in South Caucasus Countries and their Impact on Regional Processes” took place in Tsaghkadzor. It was organized by Yerevan Press Club with the support of Friedrich Ebert Foundation. Its participants – representatives of Armenian media and public organizations actively involved in regional processes – discussed those changes in the South Caucasus that are already underway and still anticipated in different life spheres of the region after current year elections. The urgency of the seminar by itself may be accounted for by important inner political transformations underway in the region. Immediately after presidential and parliamentary elections in Armenia, presidential elections in Azerbaijan are scheduled (15 October), and on November 2 in Georgia new legislative body of the country will be elected. Khachatur Bezirjian, previously Head of Central Electoral Commission of Armenia for many years and now Advisor to president of RA Civil Service Council, spoke about the peculiarities of election campaign in Azerbaijan. The presentation by Laura Baghdasarian, Director of “Region” Research Center of Association of Investigative Journalists, was devoted to the impact of coming elections in Georgia on the internal life of the country. President of Armenian Center of Political and International Research, Aghasi Yenokian analyzed possible consequences of the elections in Armenia for its relations with neighboring countries.
Head of “European Integration” NGO, Karen Bekarian addressed elections of 2003 in the three South Caucasus countries through the prism of integration of the latter in the Western structures. Observer of “Golos Armenii” newspaper, Aris Ghazinian offered an insight into Azerbaijani and Georgian election coverage by the Armenian press. In the presentation by YPC President Boris Navasardian, the issue of election impact on regional media activity was raised. According to Boris Navasardian, election campaigns in South Caucasus countries, against all expectations, do not serve as a stimulus for democratic development; on the contrary, they lead to restriction of civil freedoms, freedom of expression included.
GOOD REPUTATION NO LONGER A VALUE?
On October 13 the National Commission on Television and Radio announced the results of broadcast licensing competition, announced on September 1, 2003 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, September 1-4, 2003). The bids for the three frequencies at these competitions were considered by the National Commission on October 9. The 3rd VHF of Yerevan was claimed by “A1+” TV company and its current “occupant” “AR”. The 63rd UHF in Yerevan was applied for by the same “A1+”, “Noyan Tapan” and “Cinemax” that currently mostly re-broadcasts “Euronews” programs on this frequency. The only bidder for the vacant 37th UHF of Alaverdi city (Lori region) was “Ankyun+3” TV company.
By the voting results of October 13, the bid of “AR” scored 36 units, that of “A1+” – 26. In another competition “A1+” was graded one unit more – 27, “Noyan Tapan” scored 20 units, while “Cinemax” got 33. The right to broadcast on the Alaverdi frequency was granted to “Ankyun+3”.
It should be noted that during the past a year and a half “A1+” had four failed attempts to gain a license in a competition, “Noyan Tapan” had three.
Afterword by YPC: The numerous proofs that “A1+” became a victim of the political game, that the professional potential of this TV companies is much greater than that of its rivals, passing ahead of it in the previous competitions (this was repeatedly noted in the statements and comments of Yerevan Press Club) hardly need anything to add. There is another question of greater concern: what will be the feelings of those members of the National Commission on Television and Radio who graded “A1+” low again when they have to look into the eyes of their journalist colleagues? Everything is clear to everyone… Is it possible that the good reputation has finally ceased to be a value in our society?
USA ADVOCATE THE DECRIMINALIZATION OF DEFAMATION AND SAY THE FAILURE TO GRANT BROADCAST LICENSES TO “A1+” AND “NOYAN TAPAN” IS POLITICALLY DRIVEN
The Bureau of International Information Programs of U.S. Department of State disseminated the speech of Ronald McNamara made on October 7 in Warsaw at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting. In his speech the member of U.S. delegation Ronald McNamara expressed U.S. concern that freedom of expression, the media and information is deteriorating in the OSCE region. The speaker cited criminal defamation laws, the abolition of which has long been sought by the USA throughout the OSCE region, if not worldwide, as particularly pernicious in their effects.
Ronald McNamara noted that the United States commends the joint declaration of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the Special Rapporteur of Organization of American States on Freedom of Expression. It says, in particular: “Criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression; all criminal defamation laws should be abolished and replaced, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws.”
Stressing that the USA welcome the step Romania made to implement this principle in practice, the speaker said: “We join the OSCE Office in Yerevan in urging Armenia to follow the example being set by Romania and repeal its criminal defamation and insult laws.” As it has been reported, on June 17 the heads of 6 diplomatic missions operating in Armenia, 11 international organizations and journalistic associations, including Yerevan Press Club, addressed the Speaker of the RA National Assembly Artur Baghdasarian where the decriminalization of libel and insult and their transfer into the civil law field (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, June 13-19, 2003).
Further Ronald McNamara said that the USA would have to agree with the statement of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve that the situation of free media in the OSCE region has deteriorated in recent years – “despite some positive efforts and the vast resources and energy that have been spent to develop free media and protect journalists”. The speaker cited the examples of pressure on the freedom of speech and media in Belarus, Ukraine, Turkey and the countries of Central Asia to illustrate this point.
As compared to these countries, freedom of the media is more highly developed in the Caucasus, but, as the statement ran, concerns remain. In particular, in Georgia against the backdrop of the upcoming November parliamentary election the official pressure on the independent “Rustavi-2” TV station is renewed and in Azerbaijan harassment of the media and intimidation of journalists continue.
With regard to our country Ronald McNamara noted: “In Armenia, ‘A1+’ and ‘Noyan Tapan’ remain off the air, after failed efforts to win tenders for broadcast licenses that were widely seen as politically driven.”
Ronald McNamara finished his speech by thanking on behalf of his country the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve for his steadfast efforts over the past six years in developing this structure: “While Mr. Duve started out with little in the way of resources, over time he built an office that should be able to work constructively to protect one of our most cherished freedoms.”
PARLIAMENT MEMBERS PROMISE
On October 14 upon the suggestion of the working group on the media legislation, established on the initiative of the OSCE office in Yerevan, at the National Assembly of Armenia a meeting with the Chairwoman of the NA Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture and Youth Issues Hranush Hakobian was held. At the meeting the draft law “On Mass Communication” and the planned amendments to the RA Law “On Television and Radio” were discussed. A number of NA deputies, RA Deputy Minister of Justice Ashot Abovian, acting Head of OSCE Office in Yerevan Michael Wygant, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Natalia Voutova, members of the working group on media-legislation, including the President of Yerevan Press Club Boris Navasardian took part in the discussion.
As Hranush Hakobian noted, most of the proposals on the draft law “On Mass Communication” made by the journalistic associations and media, will be taken into account in the edition of the draft to be presented for the second hearing in mid-November.
The work on the draft law “On Mass Communication” with active participation of YPC, Journalists Union of Armenia, and the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression continues.
As to the amendments to the Law “On Television and Radio”, the suggestions of Internews Armenia public organization and Yerevan Press Club, supported by the working group on media legislation, will, as the National Assembly representatives assure, be studied.
“FREEDOM OF INFORMATION IN ARMENIA” ROUND TABLE HELD
On October 15 in Yerevan a round table “Freedom of Information in Armenia” was held. The event was organized by the Center of Freedom of Information of the Association of Investigative Journalists if Armenian and international organization “Article 19” under the “Strengthening Democracy through Free Expression in the South Caucasus” program, realized in partnership with Yerevan Press Club and the financial assistance of Open Society Institute and UK Foreign Office. The meeting brought together the representatives of “fourth estate” and “third sector”, the deputies of the RA National Assembly, an expert from Hungary. The participants discussed the main principles of the Armenian legislation on freedom of information, necessary steps to ensure its implementation, the role of the state structures and the NGOs of the country in enforcing the Law “On Freedom of Information”. As it has been reported, the law was passed by the Parliament on September 23 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, September 19-25, 2003).
THE COURT REJECTED THE SUIT OF THE HEAD OF “ARMENIAN ENCYCLOPEDIA” VERSUS THE CORRESPONDENT OF “ARAVOT” NEWSPAPER
On October 14 at the court of primary jurisdiction of Center and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan the hearing of the suit of Chief Editor and director of “Armenian Encyclopedia” publishing house Hovhannes Ayvazian versus the correspondent of “Aravot” newspaper Satik Seyranian “on the rejection of information discrediting the honor and dignity of the citizen in the media”. The reason for the litigation was the article of Satik Seyranian “When the Institution Has No Master”, published in two issues of “Aravot” daily (September 9 and 10, 2003). The article told in particular about the sale of the building of “Armenian Encyclopedia” to one of Armenian banks, and in the opinion of the author the fault here rests not only with the government but also the management of the publishing house. The story also told about the waste of the assets of the publishing house by its head. On September 13 “Aravot” published the letter by Hovhannes Ayvazian, where the Chief Editor and Director of “Armenian Encyclopedia” called all the facts cited in the article fictitious and demanded the author to make a public apology, otherwise “the discussion will continue in court”. In the comment to the letter Satik Seyranian wrote that not only she is not going to apologize to the head of the publishing house but is also ready to present additional facts.
At the court session Hovhannes Ayvazian demanded that the journalist present these very additional facts to the court. This demand exceeded the suit. The court ruled to reject the suit.
JOURNALISTS WERE NOT RECOGNIZED AN INJURED PARTY IN THE TRIAL ON THE CASE OF OCTOBER 27
On October 9 at the court proceedings on the case of terrorist attack on the National Assembly of Armenia committed on October 27, 1999 at the National Assembly of Armenia (during which 8 senior officials of the country were shot dead, including the Speaker of the Parliament and the Prime Minister), the petition of journalists Ruzan Khachatrian, Anna Israelian, Narineh Dilbarian and Alexander Melkumian to recognize them to be an injured party. The petition was submitted to the judge at chair Samvel Uzunian on September 29. The journalists motivated their address by the fact that the during the tragic events they, too, incurred both material and moral damage, and it is unclear why some of the deputies who only spent a few minutes in the session room were recognized to be an injured party, while the representatives of “the fourth estate” who stayed there much longer were only summoned as witnesses. The court rejected the petition of the journalists on the motivation that the terrorist attack was directed against the NA deputies and the representatives of the power, and not against the journalists.