On May 26, eight journalistic associations, including Yerevan Press Club, issued a statement condemning the offensive behavior of four deputies of the National Assembly of Armenia towards parliamentary journalists.
The parliamentary four-day sittings of May 19-22 were marked by explicitly aggressive and indecent behaviors on behalf of MPs towards journalists, the statement reads.
As we have reported, on May 19, Shushan Petrosian, MP from the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), got infuriated by a question from the correspondent of Armenian Service of Radio Liberty about the May 17 shooting in downtown Yerevan. “All of you are immoral”, the MP told the journalists.
On May 21, Melik Manukian, MP from the “Prosperous Armenia” party, behaved vulgarly with the correspondent of “Hraparak” daily who had inquired about the opinion of the deputy on the program of the new Government, presented at the four-day parliamentary sittings.
On May 22, another MP from RPA, Mher Sedrakian, used foul language addressing the correspondent of Tert.am who asked him a question.
On the same day, May 22, MP Araik Grigorian, in drunken condition, behaved indecently with Fnews.am correspondent.
The journalist NGOs’ statement notes that Shushan Petrosian was the only one among the four MPs who tried to come up with explanations in the media, but the latter turned out to be unconvincing and inadequate to her offensive expression. The other three did not bother to apologize, the authors of the statement wrote, recalling a similar incident involving indecent behavior of Mher Sedrakian in December 2012 in relation to the correspondent of “A1+” TV company.
The media organizations demand:
– The parliamentary factions of RPA and “Prosperous Armenia” to bring the above-mentioned incidents for discussion and publicly give appropriate assessments;
– The Prosecutor’s Office to consider this statement, as far as Mher Sedrakian’ incident is concerned, as a report on crime, in case Sedrakian does not publicly apologize to Tert.am correspondent.
Media NGOs urged the journalists who had been insulted to file complaints to National Assembly Committee on Ethics. They also called upon the journalistic community of the country to show professional solidarity and to provide moral support to their colleagues, as well as to express their disapproval of indecent behavior of MPs.
The statement was signed by Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Yerevan Press Club, Media Initiatives Center (formerly Internews Armenia), “Asparez” Jornalists’ Club, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, Public Journalism Club, “Journalists for the Future” NGO, Goris Press Club.
Armenia’s General Prosecutor’s Office warned the media of potential criminal liability for unauthorized publication of data on preliminary investigation. This statement was posted on the General Prosecutor’s website on May 22.
The press release from the Office reads that the confidentiality of preliminary proceedings in criminal cases is an important condition for ensuring the rights of the parties involved, while the publication of investigation data “could harm legitimate interests and the rights of parties, obstruct the investigation and the solving of the case”. The General Prosecutor’s Office highlighted that according to Article 342 of Armenia’s Criminal Code, publication of data on preliminary investigation without permission of the prosecutor, investigator or someone conducting the investigation, is a criminal offense.
The statement also emphasizes that in case this happens, supervising prosecutors will take legal measures to determine the source of information and the circumstances, as well as carry out the necessary investigation and pursue action on behalf of the General Prosecutor.
YPC asked lawyer Ara Ghazarian to comment on this statement.
“Article 342 (Publication of data on preliminary investigation or further investigation) has been in the Criminal Code of Armenia for a long time, but there is no judicial practice on this Article”, Ara Ghazarian said. He drew attention to recent incidents wherein both the media and the parties involved published details of the preliminary investigation, including records of surveillance cameras, and there was no response or retaliation from the investigative and supervisory bodies.
“Application of Article 342 of the Criminal Code, especially against the media, is problematic due to fact that it contains very general formulations”, Ara Ghazarian stressed. In his opinion, this Article addresses specifically “ the cases when there is an extreme necessity to disclose the information sources for solving serious or very serious crimes, and not all criminal cases”.
Furthermore, any attempt of the prosecution to influence the media will be perceived as a restriction of freedom of speech and cause a public outcry, the lawyer added.
On May 26, the Freedom of Information Center expressed its view towards the General Prosecutor’s statement, describing it as “very troublesome”, “jeopardizing proper performance of journalists’ professional duties, and as a consequence, compromising the public’s right to information”.
The FOI Center noted that Article 342 of the Criminal Code contradicts RA Law “On Mass Communication”.
First, Article 5 of the Media Law contains two mandatory provisions: the media or journalists can be required to disclose sources of information only by court ruling in a criminal case, when it involves a serious or especially serious crime, as well as in case “of necessity of protecting the best interests of society when this is of greater importance than the public interest of non-disclosure, and all other means of serving the public interest are exhausted”. Meanwhile, the General Prosecutor’s Office claims that the supervising prosecutors can act without taking into account these provisions, the FOI Center stressed.
Secondly, Article 9 of the Media Law stipulates that media and journalists are not responsible for the dissemination of information, if this information has not been acquired in a way prohibited by the law, or it was not made obvious that it was confidential. In addition, the media and journalists are exempted from liability for dissemination of information even if its confidentiality was obvious, in case its publishing was necessary to protect the public interest.
The General Prosecutor’s Office statement does not mention these legislative provisions and, as a result, it is not seen as a way to strengthen the rule of law, but as a direct threat to journalists doing their jobs, the FOI Center also mentioned.
FOI Center urged the General Prosecutor’s Office to review its statement.
On May 27, RA Civil Court of Appeal upheld RA Administrative Court ruling on the lawsuit of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression against the Ministry of Transport and Communications of Armenia.
On June 4, 2013, the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression (CPFE) sent to the Ministry of Transport and Communications an inquiry, concerning the government program on switchover from analog to digital broadcasting. Having received no response within the statutory period of five days, the journalistic organization appealed to the Administrative Court on June 28, 2013. The lawsuit contained two demands: to oblige the Ministry to provide the requested information, and recognize the case of the Ministry’s illegal inaction.
On July 1, 2013, after filing the suit, the Ministry responded to the request, and the CPFE gave up one of its demands – regarding provision of information. On November 22, 2013 the Administrative Court granted the claim and found the inaction of the Ministry of Transport and Communications to be illegal.
The Ministry challenged this decision, but the appeal was dismissed on May 27, 2014.
On May 23-24, in Tsaghkadzor, Kotayk region of Armenia, round table was held addressing the relations of RA Police and media community.
The event, organized with the support of the OSCE Office in Yerevan, dealt with the current problems arising between the law enforcement bodies and media: impeding the professional activities of journalists; violent actions against journalists and the investigation of such incidents, which in most cases remain unpunished; the access of media to police information, and other issues.
Once again, as it used to be at the previous meetings (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 18-24, 2014), law enforcers complained that they had problems of recognizing journalists during public events: the editorial badges can be expired or counterfeit. Therefore, the police continue to insist that journalists should wear in such cases some distinctive symbols, for example, special “Press” vests. This proposal once again met almost unanimous opposition by media representatives. While speaking against such insignia, the journalists recalled the cases when the presence of a “Press” vest made them targets for attacks.
According to some participants of the round table, one of the possible steps to establish cooperation can be the introduction of accreditation of journalists with the RA Police, which by the way is stipulated by the law.
Many representatives of the media community noted selective attitude of the police towards journalists, first of all, when it comes down to access to information. One of the suggestions is to jointly draft a document which would set out common principles for all media for receiving information.