YPC Weekly Newsletter

2008


“Media Diversity in Armenia”

REFORMATION OF BROADCAST MEDIA URGENTLY NEEDED WAS THE MAIN CONCLUSION OF MEDIA DIVERSITY IN ARMENIA CONFERENCE

On July 8 at Congress Hotel in Yerevan “Media Diversity in Armenia” conference was held. The event was organized by the Council of Europe, OSCE and Yerevan Press Club. At the opening of the conference representative of Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal Affairs of the Council of Europe Franziska Klopfer, Advisor to the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Ana Karlsreiter, Vice Chairwoman of the RA National Assembly Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Issues Naira Zohrabian.

The presentation of the Chairperson of the Sub-Committee on the Media of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Andrew McIntosh was dealing with the CE standards and PACE resolutions on media diversity. Andrew McIntosh, in particular, stressed the need of bringing the broadcast legislation of Armenia and practice in line with CE standards as soon as possible – without delaying it till the PACE session of January, 2009. Armenia’s implementation of recent PACE resolutions with regard to media freedom and diversity became the subject of the panel discussion. In the discussion the President of Yerevan Press Club Boris Navasardian (moderator) and representatives of political parties took part, namely, RA NA deputy of Republican Party of Armenia Gagik Minasian, Director of News and Current Affairs Programs of “Yerkir-Media” TV channel Gegham Manukian (“Dashnaktsutiun” party), spokesman of “Heritage” party Hovsep Khurshudian. The text of the address by the representative of National Movement Levon Zurabian was also read.

YPC Expert Mesrop Harutiunian presented the priorities in reforming the legislative framework on media. In the panel discussion regarding the role of broadcasting regulation in measuring plurality of opinion the speakers were the Chairwoman of the Journalists Union of Armenia Astghik Gevorgian (moderator), RA Human Rights Defender Armen Harutiunian, Head of Licensing and Methodology Department of the National Commission on Television and Radio Ishkhan Vardanian, the Chairman of the Council of Public TV and Radio Company Alexan Harutiunian, Member of the Board of Trustees of the Public TV and Radio Company of Georgia Marina Vekua.

The Chairman of the Board of “Asparez” Journalists Club of Gyumri Levon Barseghian in his presentation addressed the issues faced by media owners, professional community and journalists, in terms of attaining real diversity in media domain. The relations of media owners, journalists and authorities were considered at the panel discussion that brought together the Chief Editor of “Aravot” daily Aram Abrahamian (moderator), the Broadcast Media Consultant, former Head of South Caucasus, Russian and Ukrainian Services of BBC Elisabeth Robson, the President of “Meltex” LLC (the founder of “A1+” TV company) Mesrop Movsesian, the President of “Noyan Tapan” Media Association Tigran Harutiunian, Producer of “Internews” Media Support NGO Armen Sargsian.

Upon the completion of the conference its organizers released conference conclusions, presented below.

CONCLUSIONS OF MEDIA DIVERSITY IN ARMENIA CONFERENCE

July 8, 2008, Yerevan

On July 8, 2008 in Yerevan a conference was held on “Media Diversity in Armenia”, organized by the Council of Europe, OSCE and Yerevan Press Club. The conference participants, representatives of media, professional associations, official structures and political parties of Armenia, international organizations and diplomatic missions discussed the urgent issues of the media of the country: the priorities of media legislation reformation; the role of broadcasting regulation in ensuring diversity of opinion; the tasks of media owners, professional communities and journalists to attain real pluralism in the news sphere.

The problems that were manifest recently in the work of the media, primarily the broadcasters, were reflected in many documents on national and international levels. In the ruling of the RA Constitutional Court of March 8, 2008 it was noted that in the course of presidential elections, held on February 19, 2008, “effective control of pre-election promotion was left out of the RA CEC attention”. As regards the body that regulates the broadcast media activities, the ruling of the Constitutional Court said that “National Commission on Television and Radio was formalistic in terms of complying with the law. As a result of this the media coverage displayed not only bias, but also, in some cases, violations of legal and ethical norms”.

The extraordinary report of the RA Human Rights Defender Armen Harutyunyan, published on April 25, 2008 and titled “On Presidential Elections of February 19, 2008 and Post-Election Situation” described, among other issues, the situation of free expression and media in Armenia. Addressing the pre-election processes, the ombudsman stressed the “strongly critical nature” of the coverage the TV companies gave to one of the presidential candidates. While after the official launch of the pre-election campaign the consequent political bias was mitigated, yet “this did not influence the situation qualitatively”. While presenting the post-election situation, the RA Human Rights Defender characterized the coverage of the opposition rallies by the TV companies as “openly negative”. The TV companies continued presenting the viewpoint of only the pro-governmental politicians. During the emergency rule (March 1-20, 2008) “factual censorship was implemented”, the report by Armen Harutyunyan said, although it is prohibited by Article 4 of the RA Law “On Mass Communication” and was not stipulated by the restrictions provided for by the Decree of the RA President on Imposing Emergency Rule. As a result, “the publication of several national newspapers was prohibited for their content”, web sites were also blocked. In the opinion of Armen Harutyunyan, the restrictions imposed by the Decree did not contribute to relieving the tension in the society, either: “A most vivid example of such unacceptable coverage was demonstrated by the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia, which not only neglected this provision of the Decree, but also once again made a grave infringement of the requirement of Article 28 of the RA Law “On Television and Radio”: “The prevalence of a political stance in the programs broadcast (…) on public television (…) is prohibited”. The RA Human Rights Defender proposed a number of measures to overcome the situation in place, including: “To ensure freedom of expression; create conditions to ensure diversity of opinion and impartiality in electronic media. In this regard, the reformation of the broadcasting legislation will have much significance. It is also necessary to guarantee the equal participation of the representatives of power and opposition in the formation of the bodies, regulating and controlling the activities of TV and radio companies.”

The documents above stress the need for practical steps to strengthen media freedom and diversity in Armenia. This issue was also raised in the two recent PACE resolutions.

On April 17, 2008 the PACE approved Resolution 1609 (2008) “The Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Armenia”. In Paragraph 8 of its Resolution PACE recalled the commitments of Armenia to the Council of Europe and once again urged the Armenian authorities to make a number of reforms. In particular, Paragraph 8.3 of the Resolution says: “The independence from any political interest of both National Commission on Television and Radio and the Council of Public Television and Radio must be guaranteed. In addition, the composition of these bodies should be revised in order to ensure that they are truly representative of Armenian society. The recommendations made by the Venice Commission and Council of Europe experts in this respect must finally be taken into account. The Assembly reiterates that apart from reforming the legislation, the authorities must take steps to ensure freedom and pluralism of the public television and radio on a day-to-day basis. Also, the harassment by the tax authorities of opposition electronic and printed media outlets must be stopped.”

On June 25, 2008 Resolution 1620 (2008) “The Implementation by Armenia of Assembly Resolution 1609 (2008)” was adopted, quoting the four main requirements of the Resolution 1609 (2008) of April 17, 2008, also that “to initiate an open and serious dialogue between all political forces in Armenia” with regard to a number of issues, including freedom and pluralism of the media (Paragraph 1.4 of Resolution 1620). Paragraph 6 of Resolution 1620 (2008) says: “The Assembly recalls that there is a need for a pluralistic electronic media environment in Armenia and, referring to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights concerning the denial of broadcasting license to ‘A1+’, calls on the licensing authority to now ensure an open, fair and transparent licensing procedure, in line with the guidelines, adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on March 26, 2008 and with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.”

As it was mentioned by the experts in the conference “Media Diversity in Armenia”,
those problems were hardly a surprise. They were a consequence of inconsistent reforms and insufficient attention to the recommendations of local and foreign experts, representatives of reputable international organizations.

On July 26, 2006 the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Miklos Haraszti released a report on the state of media freedom in Armenia, also presenting recommendations on the improvement of media freedom situation in the country. Noting that limited pluralism in the broadcasting sector was a major problem, as a first step to improve the state of broadcasting Miklos Haraszti 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”.

As to public service broadcasting, in the opinion of the OSCE Representative, the members of its regulatory body – the Council of Public TV and Radio Company – “should not be selected by one political force or by political forces alone”. The selection criteria, the report stresses, should reflect transparency and ensure both a high level of professionalism and pluralism of reflected views. In order to fulfill the tasks of a genuine public service broadcaster, the Council should carry out continuous monitoring of access of different parties to air time and coverage of their activities, the results of which should be made public.

Among the recommendations on private broadcasting the report noted the need for such amendments of the Law “On Television and Radio” that would be clear about broadcast licensing competition procedures: “The selection criteria must include the interests of pluralism; the licensing process must become more transparent, using more quantifiable, thus publicly controllable benchmarks.” Despite the anti-monopoly provision in the broadcast Law stipulating that “each physical or legal entity can be licensed only for one Television and Radio Company”, in Armenia there are people who own several broadcasting companies, which, in their turn, share the same buildings and staff members. “This means that there aren’t any guarantees for pluralism in ownership, which, in any society, is the foundation for a pluralistic access to information”, Miklos Haraszti stressed in his report.

The conference discussions showed that there is an urgent need for reforms to improve media plurality. In particular there was a unanimous opinion that the law and practice of broadcast media regulation needs to be brought in line with Council of Europe standards. The agenda of this and other necessary reforms has already been defined over the past years in the above mentioned documents and commonly accepted assessment of media situation in Armenia. The fulfillment of this agenda will enable Armenia to comply with the requirements of PACE Resolutions 1609 (2008) and 1620 (2008) in time for the January 2009 session. To ensure success of this process there is a need for an open and serious dialogue which involves the country’s authorities, international and local experts, civil society and all political forces.

STEPANAKERT PRESS CLUB 10 YEARS OLD

On July 4 Stepanakert Press Club celebrated the 10th anniversary since its foundation.

Yerevan Press Club is happy to congratulate its colleagues and to wish them success and prosperity.

COURT RULED TO CONSIDER THE PLIGHT OF EARLY RELEASE OF THE CHIEF EDITOR OF “ZHAMANAK-YEREVAN”

On July 4 the court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan nullified the decision of the administration of “Hospital for Convicts” on April 3, 2008 on the case of the Chief Editor of “Zhamanak-Yerevan” daily Arman Babajanian. As it has been reported, at the meeting of April 3 the administration of “Hospital for Convicts” criminal executive institution refused the application of Arman Babajanian with a request to administration to file a petition with the Commission on Early Release and Release on Parole. Sentenced to 3.5 years’ imprisonment for document fraud to avoid military service, the head of “Zhamanak-Yerevan” in July and December 2007 twice petitioned the Commission on Early Release and Release on Parole, and was refused both times. At the session of July 1, 2008 the administration of “Hospital for Convicts” did not discuss the petition of the early release of Arman Babajanian, as after the refusal, received on April 3, the journalist could only address the administration with a application only three months after (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, June 27 – July 3, 2008).

Thus, in accordance with the court ruling of July 4, 2008, the administration of “Hospital for Convicts” is to consider the application of Arman Babajanian.

On July 3 the Executive Director of Europe and Central Asia Division of “Human Rights Watch” international organization Holly Cartner addressed a letter to the RA Prime Minister Tigran Sargsian and the RA Minister of Justice Gevorg Danielian to support Arman Babajanian. The letter stressed that the Chief Editor of “Zhamanak-Yerevan” has already spent two years in prison and the 1.5 years that he has yet to serve are disproportionate to the offense: normally the punishments for such offences does not exceed 2-3 years of imprisonment. Holly Cartner urged the authorities to take into account the good conduct of Arman Babajanian and support the request of his early release. “Babajanian’s release would send a positive signal to both Armenia’s international partners and to Armenian public that you and other senior officials are concerned about the present critical state of human rights in Armenia and taking concrete steps to address particular concerns”, the letter of Executive Director of Europe and Central Asia Division of “Human Rights Watch” Holly Cartner concluded.

An appeal for an early release of the Chief Editor of “Zhamanak-Yerevan” to the country authorities was also made by the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists. In the statement issued on July 8 the CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognyanova stressed: “Arman Babajanian’s real ‘crime’ was his critical journalism. Though he pleaded guilty to draft evasion, he was slammed with an excessively harsh sentence. We strongly urge Armenia’s new leadership to do the right thing and mend the country’s tarnished press freedom record by granting early release to Babajanian and allowing him to work as a journalist without fear of reprisal.”

On July 8 to execute the ruling of the court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan the administration of “Hospital for Convicts” addressed a plight for the early release of Arman Babajanian to the Commission on Early Release and Release on Parole.

IJEVAN MUNICIPALITY VERSUS “INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS”

On July 8 “Hetq” online publication reported about the suit of Ijevan municipality (Tavush region) versus “Investigative Journalists” NGO, the founder of “Hetq”. According to “Hetq”, in the suit application, filed on June 18 with the Civil Court of Yerevan, the plaintiff demands to refute the information discrediting to honor, dignity and business reputation of Ijevan Mayor Varuzhan Nersisian – as seen by the city administration to be present in the article of “Hetq” correspondent in Tavush region Voskan Sargsian “Whose Pocket Receives Money from Sand Mine”. The article was published in “Hetq” on May 5, 2008, and also printed on May 20, 2008, in a supplement to “Azg” daily, “Transparent Local Self-Government”, produced by “Investigative Journalists”. As “Investigative Journalists” told YPC, the suit of Ijevan Municipality is accepted for consideration.

LEVON BAGHDASARIAN PASSED AWAY

On July 9 after a long disease, at the age of 68, member of Journalists Union of Armenia, the President of Center of Social Technologies Levon Baghdasarian passed away. Many years of partnership linked us to Levon. We found it so easy and pleasant to work with him – the Professional with capital P. A kind and warm-hearted person, always ready to share a funny joke or to make an elegant compliment. We shall miss him so…

Yerevan Press Club expresses its sincere condolences to the family and friends of Levon Baghdasarian.

P.S. Dear readers, the next issue of YPC Weekly Newsletter will be published on July 18, 2008.