“NO TO CENSORSHIP” JOINT ACTION
On March 2 the joint action of leading Armenian media and journalistic associations continued. The action is targeted against the draft law “On Mass Communication” developed by the RA Ministry of Justice and approved by the Government (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, January 26 – February 1, 2002, and February 2-8, 2002).
The appeal “No to Censorship! Remove from Circulation the Draft Law ‘On Mass Communication’!” remained on the pages of newspapers, the web sites of media and a number of professional associations (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 23 – March 1, 2002), and also appeared in the newspapers “Golos Armenii” and “Hayastani Hanrapetutyun”.
THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE MADE ITS JUDGMENT. WHAT IS NEXT?
On March 4 at the Journalist Union of Armenia the press conference of the experts of the Council of Europe was held. The experts had arrived in Yerevan to discuss the draft law “On Mass Communication”, developed by the RA Ministry of Justice and approved by the Government. The CE representatives – Ramon Prieto Suarez, Thomas Gibbons and Carlos Landim – presented to the journalists their evaluation of the draft law, previously submitted for the review of this international organization.
In the opinion of the CE experts, the draft law has more negative than positive features, and it significantly restricts the freedom of expression. The experts mentioned, in particular, that the most serious deficiencies are the provisions of the draft law “On mass Communication” that establish excessive state control over the media activities, limit the freedom of receipt and dissemination of information, narrate the rights and the responsibilities of a journalist in an unduly detailed manner.
Thus, the attitudes of CE experts and the Armenian journalistic community coincide on all principal issues. Yet, unlike the CE representatives, who, having concluded that the document is in need of serious improvement, did not completely discard it, the journalistic profession still believes that any further work on the draft is useless. Useless, at least because if all the provisions that cause the utter discontent of media and were negatively evaluated by the CE experts are excluded, nothing will actually remain in the draft, and there will be nothing to work on.
As the Head of OSCE Office in Yerevan Roy Reeve, present at the press conference, noted that it is better to have no law at all than to have a bad one. Meanwhile, having become a member of the Council of Europe in January, 2001, Armenia, among other CE requirements, assumed also the commitment “to adopt, within a year of its accession, a new media law”. The time is practically out, but the consensus has not been reached.
It is not only the majority of media, journalistic associations, but also a number of parties, members of the Parliament of the country that speak against the draft. Now it remains to be seen what the Government, who approved the draft, and President Robert Kocharian -who in his conversation with journalists noted that the fate of the draft law would not be considered until the CE expert evaluation was received (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 16-22, 2002) – will say to this. It looks like by giving a low score to the draft law the Council of Europe settled the dispute between the journalists and the authorities.
Yet, on March 6, after the departure of the CE experts, the Prime Minister Andranik Margarian told the journalists he sees no sense in discarding the draft, if it is possible to bring it into a condition that would satisfy all.
THE POLITICAL PARTIES OF ARMENIA JOINED THE JOURNALISTS OBJECTING TO THE DRAFT LAW “ON MASS COMMUNICATION”
The Political Union “Socialist Armenia”, the parties “Ramkavar Azatakan”, “Orinats Yerkir” and “Hanrapetutyun” denounced the draft law “On Mass Communication”, developed by the RA Ministry of Justice and approved by the Government. The representatives of these political forces shared the opinion that the draft law is a serious menace to the freedom of speech and democracy in the country.
The demand to remove the draft law from circulation was also supported by three deputies to the RA National Assembly from Shirak region. At the discussion held on March 2 at “Asparez” Journalists’ Club the deputies Artsruni Aghajanian, Gagik Manukian and Sukias Avetisian declared they intend to vote against the draft law “On Mass Communication”, if it happens to be introduced to the Parliament’s consideration.
UNPRECEDENTED DECISION: THE COURT OBLIGED THE NEWSPAPERS TO PUBLISH A REFUTATION OF THE INFORMATION OF A NEWS AGENCY
On March 4 the RA Commercial Court satisfied the suit of HSBC-Armenia bank versus “Golos Armenii“ and “Yerkir” newspapers. This major Armenian bank had demanded the editions to refute the information disseminated on October 29, 2001 by “Noyan Tapan” news agency and published by them the next day. According to this information, HSBC-Armenia had violated the copyright of Ruben Hakobian (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 9-15, 2002).
The previously introduced proofs that the production of “Noyan Tapan” is a mass communications medium, and therefore the agency bears a responsibility for the information disseminated, did not produce the appropriate impact on the judge. According to the court decision, “Golos Armenii” and “Yerkir” have to publish a refutation and pay 8,000 drams ($14) as a state fee each.
As to the demand of charging 2,480,000 drams (over $4,000) to “Yerkir” for the damage to the business reputation of the bank made by the publication “B. Gregory Demands a Refutation”, the plaintiff had revoked it (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 23 – March 1, 2002).
As Yerevan Press Club was told by the Chief Editor of “Golos Armenii” Flora Nakhshkarian, the respondents mean to challenge the decision at the Chamber on Civil and Commercial Cases of the RA Court of Cassation.
It is still early to quit this story. But one “accomplishment” is already inscribed into the annals of Armenian jurisprudence: a precedent is created that, as we dare to suppose, has no analog in the civilized judicial practice. Following the rationale of the unprecedented decision, the following conclusion jumps: from now on the print and electronic media of Armenia will have to verify any information received from any news agency. This may come off with the local news disseminators, but what about “France Presse”, “Reuters”, “Associated Press” and others that inform about the events all over the world? This is when the necessity for the existence of news agencies per se becomes questionable. Apparently, the operations of the information sphere are for some reason unclear to judge Vardan Avanesian. It is also important to note here that the interests of HSBC-Armenia were defended in court by attorney Haik Haroutiunian, the brother of the RA Minister of Justice, who has the second decisive (after the President) vote in appointing judges.
We offer the Armenian media editors to undertake an action – to start (with one editor calling at a time) verifying with judge Avanesian the validity of information, disseminated by the local news agencies on the decision made on the suit of HSBC-Armenia versus “Golos Armenii” and “Yerkir” newspapers. The geography and the list of subjects to be inquired about at the court and other authorities may be expanded, depending on the content of the newswires. Then, perhaps, the officials will realize the absurdity of the decision taken.
THE CASE OF IMBECILES: NIKOL PASHINIAN ACCUSED OF INSULT
On March 1 the Prosecutor’s Office of Center and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan accused the Chief Editor of “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily Nikol Pashinian on article 132, s.2 (insult) of the RA Criminal Code. The preventive punishment – a written guarantee of not leaving the place of permanent residence – inflicted on the Chief Editor remains the same.
As it has already been reported, the criminal proceedings against Nikol Pashinian were instituted through the appeal of the Head of RA Main Civil Aviation Department (RA MCAD) Hovhannes Eritsian who found one of the publications of “Haikakan Zhamanak” (November 6, 2001) to be personally insulting for himself. The publication told that as a response to the order of Hovhannes Eritsian to his deputy calling “to study and report to the MCAD Head how, despite the regime zones, airplanes happen to carry aboard such periodicals that present authorities in a distorted manner”, the Chief Editor of “Haikakan Zhamanak” commissioned the journalists “to find out and report how imbeciles find their way to the state administration system” (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 23 – March 1, 2002).
The institution of the criminal proceedings and the accusation of the Chief Editor of the opposition daily did not go unnoticed. On March 5, “Aravot” daily published an open address of journalist Tigran Hakobian to the Senior Assistant Prosecutor of Center and Nork-Marash communities Sergey Abrahamian. The letter said, in particular, that having instituted criminal proceedings, the Prosecutor’s Office “impedes the journalistic investigation aimed at answering the question of great concern to the public – how imbeciles, incapable personalities and bribe takers, who found their way into the state administration system by unknown means, have managed to wreck the Armenian aviation”. “Since all the citizens of the Republic enjoy the inseparable right to information (see the RA Constitution), I appeal to include myself as a defendant on the case, as I also want to know how imbeciles find their way into the state administration system”, are the concluding words of Tigran Hakobian’s address.
The Chief Editor and two journalists of “Aravot” daily joined this demand, and the edition itself announced its willingness to publish this address everyday with the names of those Armenian citizens, who agree with its content. The response came fast: on the subsequent days the letter kept reappearing in the newspaper accompanied by 22 more signatures.
On March 5, the leaders of eight political parties voiced their support to the Chief Editor of “Haikakan Zhamanak”. The statement of the party activists stresses the necessity to protect the freedom of speech in Armenia, and it mentions that along with the introduction of the notorious draft law “On Mass Communication”, the criminal prosecution is still “used to suppress the free press and the free journalists”.
On our behalf we think the following noteworthy: the appearance of the draft law “On Mass Communication”, the absurd decision of the court benefiting HSBC-Armenia bank and the tragicomic case on insulting the official cause certain misgivings. The desire of the authorities to tighten the collars of the freedom-lovers will increase as the elections draw nearer.
FRIEDRICH NAUMANN FOUNDATION STARTS TO WORK IN ARMENIA
On March 4 in Yerevan a seminar titled “Independent Media and Conflict Resolution in the South Caucasus” was held. The seminar was organized by the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation in cooperation with Yerevan Press Club. At the seminar presentations were made by: Dr. Wolfgang John, the Project Advisor of Friedrich Naumann Foundation for the South Caucasus, Bulgaria and Romania, who introduced the participants to the projects of the Foundation in South Caucasus; Mesrop Harutyunyan, YPC expert, who spoke about the situation with the Armenian media and their role in the domestic politics; Michael Link, the Assistant of Dr. Klaus Kinkel, currently the head of the faction of Free Democratic Party of Germany in Bundestag, who remarked on the media legal regulation; Boris Navasardian, YPC President, who described the activities of Yerevan Press Club, also the projects aimed at regional cooperation.
The seminar participants also discussed the urgent issues of great concern to journalistic community: the situation around the draft law “On Mass Communication”, the proceedings on the suit of HSBC-Armenia versus “Golos Armenii” and “Yerkir” newspapers, the criminal proceedings against the Chief Editor of “Haikakan Zhamanak” Nikol Pashinian.
The representative of Friedrich Naumann Foundation Dr. Wolfgang John informed that starting from March this year his organization begins to operate in Armenia directly.