ARMENIAN MEDIA: LEGISLATION AND LIABILITY
On August 27-28 in Yerevan a round table “Media Legislation and Liability” was held. The event was organized by Yerevan Press Club and “Article 19” Global Campaign for Free Expression under a program “Strengthening Democracy Through Free Expression in the South Caucasus”. The project is implemented with the financial assistance of the Open Society Institute and the Foreign Office of the United Kingdom.
The round table brought together the representatives of media, state structures and non-governmental sector of Armenia, international organizations. The participants discussed the provisions of the RA Criminal Code, stipulating liability for libel and insult in media, as well as the official draft law “On Mass Communication”.
One of the authors of the new RA Criminal Code, the Advisor to the RA Head of Police Michael Grigorian presented the rationale behind the criminalization of libel and insult for journalists. The counter-arguments on this urgent problem were introduced by the Legal Expert of Internews Armenia public organization Lusine Abovian. It is common knowledge that the discussion on the decriminalization of libel and insult, their transfer to the sphere of civil legislation started with an open letter (dated June 17) to the RA NA Speaker Arthur Baghdasarian, signed by the heads of six diplomatic missions operating in the country, eleven international organizations and local journalistic associations, including Yerevan Press Club (see details in the Special Issue of YPC Weekly Newsletter, July 18, 2003). The same question was raised by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Freimut Duve, in his Regular Report on the freedom of the media in the region, presented to the OSCE Permanent Council on July 31. Freimut Duve noted that on July 2 he addressed a letter to the Armenian authorities supporting the amendments to the RA Criminal Code, which has not been answered yet.
The second theme for discussions at the round table was the media legislation, in particular the draft RA Law “On Mass Communication”, submitted to the consideration of the Parliament and causing numerous protest of the journalistic community. The last version of this document was presented by its author, the RA Deputy Minister of Justice Ashot Abovian, whose viewpoint was opposed by the RA NA Deputy Shavarsh Kocharian. The Yerevan Press Club approaches to the draft were described by YPC Expert Mesrop Harutiunian. The presentation of “Article 19” Legal Officer Julia Apostle was devoted to the European view on media legislation.
DEPUTIES AND JOURNALISTS DISCUSSED THE DRAFT LAW “ON MASS COMMUNICATION”
On September 2 at the RA National Assembly the first working meeting of the Public Information Council, recently formed at the NA Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture and Youth Issues, was held. It should be noted that the Council was established on the initiative of the RA NA and is aimed at optimizing the legal framework that regulates the media and information sphere, jointly with journalistic associations and media (see the Special Issue of YPC Weekly Newsletter, July 18, 2003).
The main subject of the meeting of the members of the specialized Committee and the representatives of the professional associations and media was the RA Draft Law “On Mass Communication”, the consideration of which must be continued during the autumn session of the Parliament. Yerevan Press Club, the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression and the Journalists Union of Armenia presented their suggestions on the draft, the most important of which lies in the necessity to change the notion of “mass communication medium”, which is given an extremely broad definition in the document (e.g., it covers the publications printed in 100 copies, regardless of their issuance periodicity). In the opinion of three organizations, if the definition remains the same, all the other amendments become pointless: the draft must only regulate the activities of the subjects, professionally engaged in collection and dissemination of information.
The National Press Club reiterated its attitude that the draft law should be removed from circulation, at the same time expressing its readiness to cooperate with the Committee on the development of a new draft.
The Chairwoman of the Committee Hranush Hakobian noted that all the proposals will be discussed at the session of the Committee on September 5.
TRIAL ON THE MURDER OF TIRGAN NAGHDALIAN UNDER WAY
On July 29 the court of primary jurisdiction of Center and Nork-Marash Communities of Yerevan started the hearing of the murder of Tigran Naghdalian, the Chairman of the Council of the RA Public TV and Radio Company, committed on December 28, 2002 (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 1-7, 8-14 and 15-21, 2003). At this and the subsequent sessions of August 12 the sentence was read.
In total 13 people are introduced charges with regard to the murder. The prosecution considers the order of the crime to be Armen Sargsian – the brother of Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, killed during the terrorist attack in the Parliament on October 27, 1999, and of Aram Sargsian, the member of the Political Council of the opposition “Respublika” party. Armen Sargsian is introduced charges on Items 1 and 3 of Article 17-99 of the RA Criminal Code (commitment of premeditated murder with aggravating circumstances for profit and in relation with the professional and public duty performance by the deceased). John Harutiunian, considered to be the direct implementer of the crime, is charged with the same Article as well as with Part I of Art. 232 (illegal acquisition, wearing and strange of arms and ammunition). Four other defendants are charged with accomplicity and illegal storage of arms – Hovhannes Harutiunian, Gegham Shakhbazian, Felix Arustamian and Grigor Petrosian. Two others – Samvel Abrahamian and Samvel Harutiunian – are charged with concealing a crime (Art. 205, Part I) and illegal storage of arms. Leva Harutiunian, Khachik Ahaghinian, Nshan Muradian and Rafik Melkonian are charged with concealment of the crime, and Armen Manasian – with illegal storage of arms. All the defendants are arrested, but for the latter three who were obliged to stay in town – as a preventive punishment.
The session of August 19 started with the testimony of John Harutiunian. At the hearings of September 2 in the court room the video recording of the examination of Harutiunian by the preliminary investigation bodies was shown, after which the defendant continued his testimony. Afterwards defendant Felix Harutiunian was summoned, who pleaded not guilty and refused the testimony given by him during the investigation.
The next session of the court on the murder of Tigran Naghdalian is scheduled for September 5.
ARMENIAN NGOS SUGGEST TO POSTPONE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF OMBUDSMAN INSTITUTE
On September 2 at the expert seminar/discussion of a draft law on human rights defender (ombudsman), organized on September 2-3 by the RA National Assembly, OSCE/ODIHR, the Council of Europe and the OSCE Office in Yerevan, the statement of 18 NGOs of Armenia, including Yerevan Press Club, was disseminated. The statement says in particular that the adoption of the law on ombudsman before the amendments to the RA Constitution that would guarantee the maximum independence of this body are passed is ineffective and can discredit this idea, crucial for the protection of human rights.
BROADCAST LICENSING COMPETITIONS CONTINUE
On September 1 the National Commission on Television and Radio again announced broadcast licensing competitions for three frequencies – the 3rd VHF in Yerevan, now taken by “AR” TV company, 63rd UHF in Yerevan, taken by “Cinemax” LLC (mostly rebroadcasting Euronews programs) and the vacant 37th UHF in Alaverdi (Lori region). The application deadline is September 28, 2003. The applications will be considered by the National Commission on October 9.
Previously, on August 19 competitions were announced for the 12th VHF in Yerevan and a package of VHFs (totaling 61) in different cities of Armenia, where “Prometheus” TV company broadcasts today, as well as for a number vacant UHFs in the cities of Syunik region (35th in Kapan, 22nd in Kajaran, 27th in Sisian, 38th in Goris) and Tavush region (22nd in Noyemberian). The application deadline for these competitions is September 14, 2003. The applications will be considered by the National Commission on September 25.
And finally, on July 31 the competition was announced for another frequency – 104.9 MHz, where currently “Radio-Alfa” LLC broadcasts “Russkoe Radio” programs. The application deadline was September 1, 2003. The applications will be considered by the National Commission on September 12.
“MIR” ON THE AIR
On September 1 on the 60th UHF in Yerevan the broadcasts of “Mir” set off. Simultaneously with the Armenian capital, the air of this Interstate TV and Radio company, having branches in nine CIS countries, started in Moscow, Tbilisi and Bishkek. The schedule of the daily 6-hour broadcasts of the Armenian Branch of “Mir”, apart from joint newscasts, includes self-produced programs.
NEW MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON TELEVISION AND RADIO APPOINTED
On August 29 the RA President Robert Kocharian signed a decree about the pre-term authority discontinuation of the National Commission on Television and Radio member, director Harutiun Khachatrian, who had filed a resignation earlier. On the same day at the vacant position Aharon Mkrtchian was appointed. Aharon Mkrtchian, born in 1972, graduated from the Law Department of Yerevan State University in 1994, for the past years has been a professor at the Yerevan Economic University. Since 2002 till early 2003 was a member of the Civil Service Council of Armenia.
The last changes in the composition of the National Commission on Television and Radio took place on June 17, 2002 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, June 15-21, 2002).
“A1+” AND “ARMENIA” TV COMPANIES RECONCILED
On July 21 at the RA Commercial Court the consideration of the suit filed by the founder of “A1+” TV company “Meltex” versus “Armenia” TV with a demand for a refutation started. As it has been reported, the suit was filed on June 26 and referred to the appearance of the President of “Armenia” TV Bagrat Sargsian on the air of “Zham” newscast on June 9. The head of “Armenia” hinted in particular on “the secret political funding” that “A1+” gets and informed that the representatives of the benevolent Kafesjian fund with a group of financial and technical experts were unpleasantly surprised at the scarcity of the material and technical resources of the TV company. The plaintiff qualified this information as untrue and damaging the business reputation of “A1+” (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, June 20-27, 2003).
At the session of August 21, one month after the hearings a reconciliation agreement was signed. Thus, the suit was revoked and the parties refrained from all the possible claims to each other and the third parties.
“ALM” TV OBLIGED TO STOP THE ADVERTISING OF STRONG ALCOHOLIC DRINKS
On July 31 at the session of the National Commission on Television and Radio a written warning was made to “ALM” TV channel with regard to the violations of the RA Law “On Advertising”. The National Commission obliged “ALM” to stop the advertising of strong alcoholic beverages on air. As it has been reported, a similar sanction for cigarette advertising was previously applied to “AR” and “Paradise” TV companies (see the Special Issue of YPC Weekly Newsletter, July 18, 2003).
ARMENIAN PUBLIC AND INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION INDIGNANT AT THE NON GRANTING OF LICENSES TO “A1+” AND “NOYAN TAPAN”
The refusal of the National Commission on Television and Radio to grant broadcast licenses to “A1+” and “Noyan Tapan” TV companies (see the Special Issue of YPC Weekly Newsletter, July 18, 2003) caused a wave of indignation among the Armenian and international public.
Criticism to the address of the National Commission was voiced by both the representatives of ruling coalition, and the opposition political forces of Armenia.
On July 21 the address of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve was released where the absence of “A1+” and “Noyan Tapan” was qualified as a proof of restricted freedom of expression in Armenia. On July 23 the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Walter Schwimmer called the decision of the National Commission “another example of insufficient respect for pluralism in Armenia which has been troubling us for several months – in particular during the recent election campaigns”. Reminding the Armenian authorities of their promises to give the independent broadcasters an opportunity “to become a part of the audiovisual landscaper in Armenia”, Walter Schwimmer stressed that the time had come to accept the expression of a broader range of opinions if Armenia wanted to become further integrated into Europe. On July 25 Ambassador Daan Everts, the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Netherlands Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, addressed a letter to the Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian on behalf of the Netherlands Chairmanship of OSCE, according to which the absence of “A1+” and “Noyan Tapan” from the air “raises concern about the pluralistic nature of the broadcast media in Armenia”. The situation of “A1+” and “Noyan Tapan” was also presented on July 31 in the Regular Report of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve to the OSCE Permanent Council.