JOURNALISTS WERE NOT ALLOWED TO ATTEND YEREVAN MAYOR’S DISSERTATION DEFENSE
On December 26, 2013, the Mayor of Yerevan Taron Margaryan was to defend his doctoral candidate dissertation at an open session of the Higher Attestation Commission in Armenian State University of Economics. A group of students and policemen hindered the professional activities of the journalists who intended to enter and cover this event. The journalists were not allowed into the conference hall; they were pushed away and insulted.
On December 27, Yerevan Press Club, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Media Initiatives Center (formerly, Internews Armenia), “Asparez” Journalists’ Club, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia and the “Journalists for the Future” NGO made a statement with regard to the incident.
“We strongly condemn that students of the same University were involved in the inappropriate actions of blocking the entrance for media representatives and in the squabbles with journalists, insulting the latter.
The argument put forth by the Economics University administration that the University is a controlled-access institution, and the journalists should have received the appropriate pass in advance, does not stand any criticism, for when organizing any public event the higher educational institution is obliged to ensure access to all willing to attend, including journalists.
It is obvious that a public event like a doctoral candidate dissertation defense was closed for journalists specifically because the aspirant of the scholarly degree was the Mayor of Yerevan Taron Margaryan. And even though the latter asserted that he was not aware of blocking the entrance for journalists, it is hard to imagine that anything of the kind could happen against his will.
This incident became an obvious proof of the fact that the larger part of the political elite and top officials in Armenia prefer to hide their activities and have not yet managed to internalize the universally accepted norm in the civilized world, according to which as public figures they are positioned in the center of public attention,” the statement of the six journalistic organizations highlighted in particular. The representatives of media NGOs demanded the following: explanations on the incident from the Mayor of Yerevan; evaluation of how appropriate to his position is the Rector of the Armenian State Economics University, “for involving students in immoral actions” – from the RA Ministry of Education and Science; and calling the initiators of the incident to account for hindering the legitimate activities of the journalists – from the law-enforcement bodies.
On January 13, at the New Year reception for media representative at the City Hall of Yerevan the Aravot.am correspondent asked Taron Margaryan whether he intended to apologize to journalists for the incident in the Economics University. Emphasizing that the meeting with the journalists was organized on another occasion, Taron Margaryan, however, admitted that the incident had taken place and that he naturally condemned it, but at the time of the incident he “was inside, was not present at the moment, did not see it and if he were there, none of that would have happened” (a quote from the Aravot.am piece, dated January 13, 2014, “Taron Margaryan Did not Apologize but He Condemned”).
ARMENIA TODAY’S COORDINATOR REFUSES AMNESTY AND DEMANDS TO CALL OFFENDERS TO ACCOUNT
The RA Special Investigative Service renewed the investigation on the criminal case against the ARMENIA Today agency coordinator Argishti Kivirian, the agency reported in its January 14, 2014 piece, titled “Argishti Kivirian Refuses Amnesty”.
As we have reported, Argishti Kivirian was detained on August 24, 2013, during the public protests against the construction of a residential building in the vicinity of 5 Komitas Avenue in Yerevan. According to the journalist, the law-enforcers beat him in the police car, he was summoned to the Yerevan Arabkir Police Department with injuries and bruises on his face, from where the ambulance transferred him to “Erebuni” medical center. On August 25, upon the report of one of the police officers, who transported the journalist to the police department, the police instituted criminal proceedings against him on charges of Article 316 of the RA Criminal Code (“Violence against a representative of the authorities”). In his turn, Argishti Kivirian addressed the police with a statement about the use of force during his detention. Further all materials related to the incident were submitted to the Special Investigative Service. On November 7, the Special Investigative Service indicted the ARMENIA Today coordinator by charges of both the RA Criminal Code Article 316 and Article 333 (“False Denunciation”). According to Argishti Kivirian’s lawyer Lusineh Sahakian, the Special Investigative Service considered it unproven that the police used force against the journalist and qualified Argishti Kivirian’s statement as false denunciation (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, November 8-14, 2013).
In the above-mentioned piece, ARMENIA Today emphasized that currently the Special Investigative Service withdrew the false denunciation charge against the journalist without any explanation. According to Argishti Kivirian, “it was absurd to both bring charges against me by that Article, and to withdraw them in this manner.” Besides that, as stated further in the piece, the investigative body offered to give an amnesty to the journalist, taking into consideration the fact that he has a young child. However, Argishti Kivirian refused the amnesty and demanded that all the offenders involved in illegal actions against him should be called to account.
It should be mentioned that currently the RA Administrative Court is carrying out the proceedings on the claim of Yerevan Arabkir Police Department against this very Argishti Kivirian. The journalist is accused of the violation of Article 182 (“Disobedience to Police Orders”) by the RA Code of Administrative Violations. The hearings of the case started on December 16, 2013. The police turned to court on the occasion of an incident at the City Hall of Yerevan on August 1, 2013: this is when several civic activists, including Argishti Kivirian, disobeying the demands of the law-enforcement bodies, were trying to install a tent on the venue of a rally against the rise in public transport fares. The activists were summoned to the Police Department, where administrative actions were brought against them.
GOVERNMENT PROPOSES TO ABOLISH COMMERCIALS ON PUBLIC TV
On January 20, 2014, draft laws on amending the RA Law “On Television and Radio” and the RA Law “On Advertising” were put in circulation at the Armenian National Assembly. These bills envisage cutting the duration of commercials on Public Television of Armenia (see http://parliament.am/drafts.php?sel=showdraft&DraftID=32556 and http://parliament.am/drafts.php?sel=showdraft&DraftID=32566#). This legislative initiative was put forth and approved by the Government of Armenia at its December 26, 2013 session.
In particular, it is proposed to introduce a ban on commercial advertising on Public Television of Armenia, however retaining social ads, as well as acknowledgements of the sponsors in cultural, educational, scientific, and sports programs only once throughout the program. At that, the total duration of the above-mentioned advertising should not exceed 90 seconds within an air hour. The Government substantiated its legislative initiative by the fact that the cancellation of commercials in public broadcasting will free time for higher value programs.
It should also be noted that at the December 26 Government session, it was decided to allocate 850 million AMD (over $2 million) from State Budget to the Public TV and Radio Company for technical upgrade and capital repairs.
NEWSPAPERS PRICES ALSO RAISED
Since the beginning of 2014 a number of print media have raised their prices. Thus, a copy of the “Aravot” daily now costs 200 AMD (a bit less than $0.5) instead of the prior price of 150 AMD, and the “Hayots Ashkhar” daily has now raised its price from 100 to 150 AMD. According to the www.a1plus.am piece of January 13, 2014, “Increased Gas Prices Affected Newspapers Too”, the rise of the retail prices of newspapers was caused by higher publishing and printing costs which, in their turn, can be accounted for by increased prices for gas and electricity.
It is not excluded that in the near future other print media will also have to raise prices.
In the meantime, since the beginning of 2014 “Azg” daily suspended publication because of debts owed to the printing house. As the “Azg” Chief Editor Hakob Avetikian told YPC, the daily had not given up hope to pay off its debts and to resume printing.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH REGISTERS LACK OF PLURALISM IN ARMENIAN BROADCAST MEDIA
On January 21, the international advocacy organization Human Rights Watch released its report on human rights practices in over 90 countries of the world in 2013.
In the section of the report on Armenia, a separate paragraph was devoted to freedom of expression. Emphasizing the diversity of print and online media in Armenia, Human Rights Watch underlined the lack of pluralism in the broadcasting sphere: “For example, only one of Armenia’s 13 television stations carries live political talk shows.” The authors of the report also quoted the opinion of international election observers, who noted the media’s “selective approach” in covering post-election developments, notably by limiting critical views on the elections. The Human Rights Watch report also mentioned violations of the rights of journalists and media in 2013.