YPC Weekly Newsletter

2007


“Ethical Journalism as a Ground for Quality Media”

“PRESS-CLUB” CYCLE: PROTECTION OF VOTERS’ RIGHTS

On March 10 another “Press Club” show went on the evening air of “Yerkir-Media” TV company. The guests of the program, the Human Rights Defender of Armenia Armen Harutiunian and the Chairman of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia Avetik Ishkhanian, discussed the rights of voters and their protection through laws, official procedures and public opinion.

The next program of “Press Club” cycle will be aired by “Yerkir-Media” on Saturday, March 17, at 19.00.

The “Press Club” cycle is produced under a project of Media Diversity Institute, with the support of the United Nations Development Program, Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia and the British Council.

18 MEDIA ADOPTED CODE OF CONDUCT

On March 10 Yerevan Press Club hosted a meeting of heads of media and journalistic associations, who supported the YPC initiative to jointly develop the main norms of professional ethics and further follow them in their day-to-day activities. At the meeting the Code of Conduct of Media Representatives was adopted and signed (see below). The Code was developed by a working group created on February 2 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 2-8, 2007).

The Code of Conduct was signed by heads of 18 media: TV companies – “A1+, “Gala”, “Lori”, Second Armenian TV Channel, “Sosi”, “Tsayg”, “Yerkir-Media”; Radio “HAY”; newspapers – “168 Zham”, “Aravot”, “Azg”, “Civil Initiative”, “Delovoy Express”, “Kumayri”, “Respublika Armenia”; Lragir.am online publication; “Media Style” LLC (publishers “Capital” and “90 Minutes” newspapers); “Arminfo” news agency.

At the meeting the Media Ethics Observatory was elected, listing 7 members: Hagop Avedikian (Chief Editor of “Azg” daily), Levon Barseghian (Chairman of the Board of “Asparez” Journalist’s Club of Gyumri), Astghik Gevorgian (Chairwoman of the Union of Journalists of Armenia), Emmanuil Mkrtchian (General Director of “Arminfo” news agency), Mesrop Movsesian (President of “Meltex” LLC), Boris Navasardian (Yerevan Press Club President), Lilit Simonian (lawyer, Head of the Center of Right and Information). The mission of the Media Ethics Observatory consists in considering the complaints-appeals regarding the violation of the Code of Conduct and presenting its opinion on them.

The signatories also committed to the Declaration on Election and Referendum Coverage Principles (see below), narrated in the Appendix to the Code.

CODE OF CONDUCT

We, representatives of mass communication media,

– Recognizing the necessity of following and uniting around rules of professional conduct, as well as the obligation of journalists to maintain the highest possible standards of work and ethics,

– Emphasizing the right of the public to be informed and the duty of the media to inform,

– Pointing out the necessity of safeguarding editorial independence and of not restraining journalists by any private interests,

– Agreeing that the media and journalists are accountable to their audience and each other,

– Stating that a single set of rules cannot be established for all cases, but common standards of professional journalism can be respected,

have adopted the following principles and the commitments that arise from them:

1. Accuracy and Impartiality

Honoring this principle means:

1.1. Prior to publishing, to check the accuracy of information from any source, not to conceal and not to distort facts, and not to publish obviously false information;

1.2. If the editorial office has received information of public significance, but has been unable to verify the facts, to mention so in the publication;

1.3. To rely on accurate facts when making analysis and comment;

1.4. To clearly distinguish facts and information from opinion and comment;

1.5. To seek ensuring that headlines, reports, photo, video and audio materials correspond to the reality, and that quotations are not used outside of context;

1.6. Not to distort the substance of photo or video materials, to mention about technical tricks in photos and video materials if any.

2. Integrity in Relations with Sources of Information

Honoring this principle means:

2.1. To the extent possible, to specify the sources of information;

2.2. To the extent possible, to avoid using confidential sources of information and, before promising to keep the source of information confidential, always to find out the motivation. However, if the information is provided upon condition of keeping the source confidential, never to disclose the source;

2.3. To avoid the use of undercover and secret methods of obtaining information, with the exception of cases when open traditional methods do not ensure the receipt of information of public interest. The need for such methods must be explained in the actual publication;

2.4. To respect copyright, to preclude plagiarism, and to mention the sources whenever quoting or making reprints.

3. Editorial Independence

Honoring this principle means:

3.1. To draw a clear line between journalistic materials and advertisement: each publication for which payment has been made, must have a relevant notice about it;

3.2. To give no advantage to advertisers and sponsors in editorial coverage;

3.3. To resist pressure by advertisers, sponsors, and media owners, which is aimed at influencing the reporting on events;

3.4. To refuse payments and gifts promised for publishing or not publishing information that contradict professional independence and result in a loss of trust.

4. Respect for Privacy and Other Human Rights

Honoring this principle means:

4.1. To respect and to protect the human right to private life: public need can only justify interferences with the privacy of officials, public figures, and individuals aspiring to the power or public attention;

4.2. In case of a conflict between the freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights, the medium itself decides what to give preference to and carries responsibility for its decision;

4.3. To be especially tactful when the sources of information or the heroes of publications are children or minors, and to be careful when disclosing the identity of juvenile defendants and victims of sexual crimes;

4.4. When collecting information about people that have suffered tragedy or sorrow, when taking interviews or photos of such people, or when broadcasting video or audio materials about them, to be tactful towards them;

4.5. To respect the presumption of innocence: when publishing the names of crime suspects before the trial, to consider the public need for doing so – striking a balance between the presumption of innocence, the right of crime suspects to fair trial, and the right of the public to be informed.

5. Respect for Representatives of Different Groups and for Universal Values

Honoring this principle means:

5.1. To avoid prejudice against people on the ground of their race, sex, age, religion, nationality, geographic origin, sexual orientation, physical handicap, external look or social status;

5.2. Not to promote in any way ethnic or religious hatred and intolerance, or any discrimination on political, social, sexual, and language grounds;

5.3. Not to advocate war, violence or pornography in any form;

5.4. To be careful when disseminating information about terrorist acts, to rule out content and reports that may instill sympathy towards terrorists, to treat witnesses of events as sources of information delicately, and to avoid disclosing the identity of relatives or friends of hostages and possible victims without their consent.

6. Integrity in Relations with the Public

Honoring this principle means:

6.1. To support the free exchange of opinions, regardless of any differences between such opinions and the editorial views;

6.2. To be ready to meet with and allow a response from individuals against whom accusatory publications have been made;

6.3. To admit mistakes and to be ready to correct them;

6.4. To encourage the public to express their criticism of the media and to be ready for a public discourse on matters of journalistic ethics.

We undertake to follow the principles laid down in the Appendix to this Code of Conduct during the official promotion campaign for elections and referenda.

We, the representatives of mass communication media that have signed this Code of Conduct, hereby submit to the authority of the Media Ethics Observatory elected by us to examine the conformity of our acts and publications to the provisions of this Code, and state our willingness to publish decisions of the Media Ethics Observatory in our media.

Adopted at the meeting of media and journalists who signed this Code of Conduct on March 10, 2007.

Appendix
To the Code of Conduct of Media Representatives

DECLARATION ON ELECTION AND REFERENDUM COVERAGE PRINCIPLES

We, the representatives of mass communication media that have signed this Code of Conduct, hereby undertake to follow the principles laid down below during the official promotion campaign for elections and referenda:

1. To be tolerant in respect of all parties and candidates;

2. Not to insult the candidate personally and not to ridicule a candidate’s views and opinions;

3. Not to publish materials containing defamation, blackmail, and threats aimed at candidates;

4. To give all candidates equal possibilities for presenting their platforms and views in the media, and to apply the same tariffs when allocating paid space or air time in media;

5. Not to publish materials containing hidden political advertising, and to separate materials presented for (free or paid) publication by groups supporting any party or candidate or produced at their request from other materials, or to make mention about it;

6. Broadcast media must refrain from supporting any specific candidate or party, and the print media must provide clear advance announcement of their intent to do so.

We hereby submit to the authority of the Media Ethics Observatory elected by us to examine the conformity of our acts and publications during the official promotion campaign for elections and referenda to the provisions of this Declaration, and express our willingness to publish decisions of the Media Ethics Observatory in our media.

On March 13 at the Journalists Union of Armenia a press-conference of the members of the Media Ethics Observatory was held. At the meeting with journalists the initiative of media representatives was presented along with the documents adopted and the principles of the Observatory’s work. It was also stressed that the Code of Conduct remains open for signing. The initiative can be joined by phone: +374 10 53 00 67, 53 35 41 or by e-mail: pressclub@ypc.am

Complaints to the Media Ethics Observatory can be sent via e-mail to boris@ypc.am or mesrop@ypc.am

The support of self-regulation initiatives by Yerevan Press Club is provided under a project “Introduction of a Self-Regulation Model in Armenia as an Advocacy Tool for Freedom of Media”, supported by OSI Network Media Program.

INTERNATIONAL SEMINAR ON JOURNALISTIC ETHICS

On March 14-15 at the Congress Hotel in Yerevan an international seminar “Ethical Journalism as a Ground for Quality Media” was held by Yerevan Press Club with the support of OSCE Office in Yerevan, the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the OSI East-East Program. The seminar brought together media experts from Bulgaria and Romania, representatives of media and journalistic associations of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.

Welcoming address at the opening of the seminar was made by the Head of OSCE Office in Yerevan Vladimir Pryakhin, the Chairwoman of the RA National Assembly Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture and Youth Issues Hranush Hakobian, the Executive Director of the OSI Assistance Foundation-Armenia Larisa Minasian, Senior Advisor to the OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media Alexander Boldyrev, President of Yerevan Press Club Boris Navasardian.

In a panel discussion, dealing with the development of media accountability systems (moderated by the Chairwoman of the Journalists Union of Armenia Astghik Gevorgian), the Dean of the Journalism Department of the Yerevan State University Garnik Ananian and the Chief Editor of “Azg” daily Hagop Avedikian took part.

The Editor of Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter and the head of the monitoring group Elina Poghosbekian presented the findings of monitoring seven TV channels of Armenia, implemented by YPC ahead of official promotional campaign for elections to the RA National Assembly.

The participants of the panel discussion “Media Ethics During Election Campaigns”, moderated by the YPC President Boris Navasardian, were the Head of Monitoring Group of Public Television of Georgia Ketevan Mskhiladze and the Observer of the “Radiolur” newscast of the Public Radio of Armenia Tatul Hakobian.

The moderator of the panel session on media self-regulation in new democracies was the Chief Editor of “Aravot” daily Aram Abrahamian, and its participants were the Director of the Center for Independent Journalism Ioana Avadani (Romania) and Executive Director of Media Development Center Ognyan Zlatev (Bulgaria), who presented self-regulation systems in their countries.

Expert of Yerevan Press Club Armen Nikoghosian presented the findings of the cross study on the coverage of regional problems by Armenian, Azerbaijani and Georgian media.

The subject for the concluding panel session was the ethics of reporting on conflicts and tensions, moderated by the Executive Director of “Internews” Media Support NGO Nouneh Sargsian. The panelists, the Chief Editor of “Gun Sahar” weekly Arif Aliev (Azerbaijan) and the Ombudsman of “Sabah” daily Yavuz Baydar (Turkey) discussed the nature of covering complicated problems in the “triangle” of Armenia-Azerbaijan-Turkey.

THE LAST OF THE NINE SUITS OF “ASPAREZ” SECURED

On March 12 in Gyumri at the court of primary jurisdiction of Shirak region the hearing on the suit of “Asparez” Journalist’s Club of Gyumri versus the administration of Lusaghbyur regional community completed. As reported, on January 25, 2007 “Asparez” filed 9 identical suits versus the administrations of 9 regional communities (Azatan, Amasia, Ardenis, Voghji, Mets Sepasar, Pokr Sepasar, Shirak, Horom and Lusaghbyur) demanding to restore its right to information. The reason for the litigation were the refusals of the heads of these communities to provide “Asparez” with copies of its budgets for 2006 and the resolutions of the Councils of Senior Citizens, adopted from January 1, 2005 till September 30, 2006. On February 22 in Akhurian and on February 28 in Artik the courts of primary jurisdiction of Shirak region made decisions in favor of “Asparez” on 8 suits. Hearing on the case versus the administration of Lusaghbyur started on February 28, and the next day, on March 1, the respondent provided the information requested to “Asparez” (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 23 – March 1, 2007).

At the session of March 12 the court confirmed the reconciliation agreement signed between the parties, according to which the administration of Lusaghbyur community committed to compensating the state duty that “Asparez” had paid for filing the suit.

As YPC was told by the Chairman of the Board of “Asparez” Levon Barseghian, out of all 119 communities of Shirak region, to which in October 2006 the journalistic organization had addressed the written inquires above, as of today 73 communities have provided the information in full, 10 – in part. According to Levon Barseghian, “Asparez” intends to sue the remaining 36 regional administrations that have failed to answer the inquiries.

THE COURT OF CASSATION TURNED DOWN THE APPEAL OF ARMAN BABAJANIAN’S ATTORNEYS

On March 12 at press-conference in Yerevan Zaruhi Postanjian and Haik Halumian, the attorneys of the Chief Editor of “Zhamanak-Yerevan” newspaper Arman Babajanian, announced that the appeal they had filed on January 22 had been refused by the RA Court of Cassation. As reported, on September 8, 2006 the court of primary jurisdiction of Center and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan sentenced Arman Babajanian to 4 years’ imprisonment for document fraud to evade military service. On January 12, 2007 the RA Court of Appeals reduced the punishment to 3.5 years of imprisonment (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, January 12-18, 2007).

The attorneys demanded to abolish the sentence to Arman Babajanian, since the RA Law “On Citizens Who Have Not Taken Mandatory Military Service with Procedural Violations“ should be applied to him. According to the attorneys, in the notification of the court of supreme jurisdiction, received on March 11, the refusal of the appeal is justified by saying it did not conform with the requirements to cassation appeals. The attorneys of Arman Babajanian announced their intention to address the RA Constitution Court and the European Court of Human Rights.

RADIO “HAY” LAUNCHED SATELLITE BROADCASTING

Since March 12 Radio “HAY” started broadcasting its programs through ABS1 satellite. From now on the programs of the radio station can be heard not only all over Armenia, but also on a significant part of Europe and Asia, as well as North Africa. Radio “HAY is the first private radio company in Armenia to start satellite broadcasting.

USA DEPARTMENT OF STATE ON FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND PRESS IN ARMENIA IN 2006

On March 6 the USA Department of State released country report on human rights practices in Armenia in 2006, prepared by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

Addressing the freedom of speech and press situation in Armenia, the US Department of State noted in particular, that “the Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the government partially limited freedom of speech” and “there were incidents of violence, intimidation and self-censorship in the press”.

The private print media, the report says, expressing a wide variety of views without restriction, yet no newspaper was completely independent of patronage from economic or political interest groups or individuals.

Due to low circulations most of the Armenian population relies on broadcast media for information, which are mostly privately operated. The news coverage offered by private TV channels of the capital and regional cities of Armenia generally has good technical quality, however, in the opinion of the report authors, the substantive quality of news reporting on television and radio varied. Most broadcasting companies are owned by progovernment politicians or well-connected businessmen, and this leads journalists to engage in self-censorship. Major broadcast media “generally expressed progovernment views”, and the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia “generally avoided editorial commentary or reporting critical of the government”.

The report by the US Department of State describes the situation with the failure of the National Commission on Television and Radio to provide a frequency to “A1+” – “one of the country’s last politically independent TV stations”. Observers alleged the decision was politically motivated due to “A1+” previous criticism of President Kocharian’s administration. The report notes, that all the subsequent 12 attempts of “A1+” to get a broadcast license were unsuccessful. Further, the document quotes the recommendation of the report of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Miklos Haraszti on the state of media in Armenia, which stresses that the composition of the regulatory bodies, including NCTR, must represent the political diversity of the country and include NGOs and professional associations.

The rejection of the amendments to broadcasting legislation, proposed by the Government, in autumn 2006 was characterized in the report as “an action unusual in a National Assembly where the ruling coalition has a comfortable majority”.

According to the US Department of State, international media generally operated freely in the country.

Besides, the report lists incidents with media representatives that occurred in 2006, such as the imprisonment of the Chief Editor of “Zhamanak-Yerevan” daily Arman Babajanian for document fraud to evade military service. Although he admitted guilt, the punishment was harsher than customary for such offenses, and some observers regarded him as a victim of selective law enforcement. The report also mentions the e-mail threats in July received by the Chairman of “Investigative Journalists” NGO and the Chief Editor of “Hetq” online newspaper Edik Baghdasarian, that followed the publication of articles, “criticizing a new political party”; the situation in which the free-lance correspondent of “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” and “Aravot” newspapers Gagik Shamshian found himself in, harassed in July by the relatives and associates of the prefect of a Yerevan community, and further charged with several offenses; the attack on the Editor of “Iravunk” newspaper Hovhannes Galajian on September 6.

“There was no official censorship, although journalists and opposition parties complained that the government put pressure on television stations not to grant air time to several out-of-favor politicians”, the US Department of State report stresses.