”PRESS CLUB” CYCLE: CRIMINAL SITUATION IN ARMENIA, INNER POLITICAL PROCESSES IN GEORGIA
On September 26 the ninth talk show “Press Club” cycle went on the evening air of “Yerkir-Media” TV company.
The representatives of media and journalistic associations discussed the succession of violent attacks, occurring during the past months, also against the representatives of media; the inner political processes in Georgia and their possible influence on Armenia.
It is expected that at 21.00, October 3 (next Tuesday) the “Press Club+” show will give floor to the representatives of Republican Party of Armenia, sharing their opinions on the issues of the day.
On September 23-24 at “Yerevan” Hotel a seminar “Introduction of Self-Regulatory Mechanisms in Armenian Media” was held. The event was organized by OSCE Office in Yerevan, Yerevan Press Club, Public TV and Radio Company of Armenia with the assistance of UNESCO Moscow Office. The opening remarks at the seminar were made by the Democratization Officer of OSCE Office in Yerevan Blanka Hancilova, the Chairman of the Council of Public TV and Radio Company Alexan Harutiunian.
In his report the YPC President Boris Navasardian noted the role and the significance of media accountability systems and the prospects of their development in Armenian media.
The seminar experts Ian Mayes (UK) and Jeffrey Dvorkin (USA) spoke about whether this accountability pays for media as business. Being in journalism for 50 years, Ian Mayes has been the Readers’ Editor (ombudsman) of the British Guardian daily since 1997 and is the current President of international Organization of News Ombudsmen. Apart from the daily publication of corrections and clarifications for the pieces in the Guardian, Ian Mayes has a weekly column, titled “Open Door”, dealing with the issues of journalistic ethics. Collections of these columns were translated into many languages, including Russian, and currently Yerevan Press Club prepares a similar collection to be published in Armenian. The past President of the ONO, currently the Executive Director of Committee of Concerned Journalists Jeffrey Dvorkin in 2000 became the first Ombudsman of the US National Public Radio. According to Jeffrey Dvorkin, while in this position (held until recently) he aspired to be the advocate for NPR’s 30 million listeners. As both experts unanimously noted, the higher the degree of professional norm observance in media, the more successful they are: not only the audience is expanded, resulting in increased advertising, but also the number of litigations reduces. Thus, the mediation of Ian Mayes between the readers and the newspaper resulted in 30% decrease of litigations against the Guardian.
The Chief Editor of “Aravot” Aram Abrahamian shared his experience of introducing certain self-regulation forms in the daily, also stressing the direct proportionate relation between the journalistic ethics and the success in media business. As it has been reported, a year ago “Aravot” adopted and published its Code of Professional Ethics (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, September 2-8, 2005) and to this day it is the only national medium in Armenia, having publicized its norms of professional conduct.
The Public TV and Radio Company of Armenia is currently engaged in the development of its own code of ethics. The Deputy Executive Director of Public Television of Armenia Gnel Nalbandian made a detailed presentation of the principles to be covered by the code.
The issues of political culture and professional ethics on the Armenian air were described by the Political Observer of “Kentron” TV Company Petros Ghazarian.
DRAFT LAWS ON BROADCASTING SHOULD BE BROADLY DISCUSSED
On September 26 the extraordinary session of the RA National Assembly started, as summoned by the Government of Armenia. The extensive agenda of the session also included a package of draft laws on broadcasting: Draft RA Law “On Introducing Amendments and Additions to the RA Law ‘On Television and Radio’”; Draft RA Law “On Introducing Amendments to RA Law ‘Regulations of the National Commission on Television and Radio’”; Draft RA Law “On Introducing an Addition to the RA Law ‘On State Duty’”. At the parliamentary session the package was presented by the RA Minister of Justice David Harutiunian.
The drafts were received by the National Assembly on September 25 – on the eve of the extraordinary session opening. So, neither the deputies, nor the specialized Standing Committee had a chance to properly study the package. The documents did not go through an appropriate international expert review either. And finally, they became a complete surprise for journalistic associations that have repeatedly and publicly stated they develop their own proposals on the legislative changes in broadcasting and are ready to cooperate with the Government and the Parliament in this issue.
On September 26 Yerevan Press Club, Journalists Union of Armenia, Internews Media Support NGO, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression and “Asparez” Journalist’s Club of Gyumri made a joint statement, expressing their serious concern over the situation and called on the National Assembly to hold public debates before the package of draft laws on broadcasting is considered and passed.
“On September 25, 2006 a package of draft laws was submitted to the RA National Assembly. The package contains draft laws dealing with broadcasting, including the Draft Law “On Introducing Amendments and Additions to the RA Law ‘On Television and Radio’”.
We, the representatives of journalistic associations, are concerned with the following:
1. The Draft has been introduced into circulation in a rush, without consultations with parties concerned – representatives of TV and radio companies and non-governmental organizations.
2. The adoption of the Draft is motivated by the Resolution of the RA Government, dated December 9, 2005. No other grounds are quoted for the content of the amendments, and in essence, only Article 21 of the Draft can be justified by the demand of Article 83.2 of the RA Constitution.
3. The Draft Law contains a number of disputable provisions that give rise to serious concerns in terms of freedom of expression, and fair and objective regulation of the broadcasting market.
a) The mechanism, proposed for the regulation of the National Commission on Television and Radio, in our opinion, does not solve the repeatedly raised problem – that of the NCTR independence. We are positive that the mechanism proposed cannot be considered the best possible option for the enactment of constitutional amendments. The content of Article 21 of the Draft does not correspond to the provision of Article 83.2 of the Constitution: until there is no specification of the timeframes for the NCTR member replacement as well as the enactment deadline of this constitutional provision, the members of the NCTR, appointed by the RA President, retain the dominant position. Hence an attempt is made to delay the enactment of the constitutional demand. Taking into account that the current NCTR members were appointed by the RA President, we propose that NCTR be expanded to 16 members, with 8 of them elected by the National Assembly. This would ultimately ensure the provision for “50/50” appointment/election scheme, without violating Clause 11 of Article 117 of the RA Constitution, saying: “The incumbent members shall continue to remain in office until the expiry of their term of office determined by the ‘Law on TV and Radio’.” This will at the same time set conditions for the balanced operation of the NCTR.
b) Clause (c) of Article 16 of the Draft that abolishes Article 28 of the Broadcast Law, in particular, the 5% limit of the commercial advertising in the total broadcast volume as well as the ban on commercial advertising interruption of the programs aired by Public TV and Radio Company, in our opinion, increasingly commercializes the PTRC.
c) Part 2 of Article 25 of the Draft, according to which the National Commission on Television and Radio, in case of a necessity, announces a broadcast licensing competition for vacant (unoccupied) frequencies, as we believe, expands the functions of the National Commission, which can result in unpredictable consequences. How will the necessity be decided, and will it not become means for restricting the market?
d) Part 1 of Article 28 of the Draft Law, in our opinion, runs contrary to the demands of the Law in force (Article 50) and the Draft itself (Article 27). The latter one records the obligation of the NCTR to “duly justify the resolutions on the selection of the license holder, the refusal of a license and the invalidation of the license”. In other words, the mere acknowledgement of a defeat cannot be considered due justification. It is for this very reason that we think the due justification must contain specific reasons (licensing criteria) and/or the deficiencies of the bid.
4. The Draft Law does not take into account the demands of Recommendation (96)10/11 September 1996 on the guarantee of the independence of public service broadcasting and Recommendation (2000)23/20 December 2000 on the independence and functions of regulatory authorities for the broadcasting sector, made by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, in particular the demand for independence of regulatory bodies and their isolation from political influences. We also think it characteristic that Article 31 of the Draft that refers to the application of administrative penalties runs contrary to Clause 23 of the Recommendation (2000)23 above, according to which “a range of sanctions which have to be prescribed by law should be available, starting with a warning”. The Draft does not specify the “warning” as an obligatory initial penalty.
The Draft does not cover the comments, made by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Miklos Haraszti in his report on the state of media freedom in Armenia of July 26, 2006, either. This refers in particular, to the following comment: “As a first step to improve the state of broadcasting it is recommended that legislative changes provided for by the Constitutional amendment should be prepared by the Government, discussed in a public forum with members of civil society, and passed in Parliament as soon as possible, certainly before the Parliamentary elections in 2007. However, legislative changes should not be limited to a ‘half Presidential – half Parliamentary’ board. The composition of all boards should represent the political and social diversity of the country, and should include NGOs and professional associations.”
We, the representatives of journalistic associations, appeal that the RA National Assembly, prior to discussing and adopting the package of draft laws on broadcasting as submitted by the Government, hold public forums, during which we are ready to present our observations and proposals regarding the content of the amendments”, the statement of five journalistic NGOs said.
On the same day this statement was read by MP Stepan Zakarian during the discussed of the package above in the Parliament. At the discussion that continued on September 27 other MPs spoke about the serious shortcomings of the amendments proposed. Gegham Manukian, on behalf of “Dashnaktsutiun” faction, suggested that the Government withdraw the draft and re-submit it after public consultations and improvements.
It is also important to note that the deficiencies of the draft law package are not confined to the provisions, listed in the statement by the journalistic associations. There are many more disputable clauses in the document, and the journalistic community is ready to present its proposals. It should also be noted that the opinion of the journalistic community was neglected by the Government, despite the repeated statements by the Ministry of Justice, that all the media-related legislative initiatives will initially be discussed with the representatives of professional organizations.
On September 27 at a meeting with the Armenia Co-Rapporteurs of the PACE Monitoring Committee the RA Human Rights Defender Armen Harutiunian expressed his concern with the fact that the public and state institutes were not made duly aware of the draft amendments to the Law “On Television and Radio”, whereas this “has fundamental significance for the democracy strengthening in the country”, the web site of the ombudsman informs (www.ombuds.am).
On September 27, having exhausted the agenda, the extraordinary session finished its work. The voting on the draft laws was postponed.
SENTENCE TO ARMAN BABAJANIAN CHALLENGED
On September 25 Robert Grigorian, the attorney of the Chief Editor of “Zhamanak-Yerevan” daily Arman Babajanian, challenged the sentence of his defendant with the RA Court of Appeals. As it has been reported, the court of primary jurisdiction of Center and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan on September 8 sentenced Arman Babajanian to 4 years’ imprisonment for document fraud with the purpose of military service avoidance (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, September 8-14, 2006).
THE MOST OPEN AND THE MOST CLOSED ONES
On September 28 at “Yerevan” Hotel the Center of Freedom of Information held a conference and announced the results of its annual competition. The event was to mark the International Right to Know Day (established in 2002) and organized with the assistance of OSCE Office in Yerevan and USAID.
The most open institution of 2006 was recognized to be the administration of Kotayk region.
The Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor Office was named to be the most active public organization using the right to information the best.
Hripsime Jebejian (“Aravot” daily) was recognized to be the most consistent reporter on freedom of information issues and actively using the RA Law “On Freedom of Information”.
Artak Zeynalian was seen as the most actively advocating his civil right to information.
The web-site of the RA General Prosecutor’s Office was recognized the best official internet source in terms of freedom of information.
All the people and organizations above received prizes of gold key – as an openness symbol.
RA Ministry of Transportation and Communication received the title of “state institution providing inaccurate information”.
“ArmenTel” telecommunications company was recognized to be the most closed institution.
The Ministry and “ArmenTel” received the prizes of locks – as a secrecy symbol.
“INTERNEWS” PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS ON JOURNALISM
On September 27 at “Yerevan” Hotel the public service announcements on journalism were presented by Internews Media Support NGO. Internews produced the PSAs with the support of Counterpart International/Civic Advocacy Support Program with the funding of USAID. The main characters of the six PSAs told about the different aspects of journalistic activities, the role and functions of media, the rights and duties of journalists. The PSAs will be given to Armenian TV companies for their demonstration on air.