Yerevan Press Club Annual Report
ON JANUARY 9, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan started hearing the lawsuit of former convict Razmik Abrahamian (sentenced for sexual assault against minors) versus the founders of “Aravot” (“Aravot Oratert” LLC) and “Haykakan Zhamanak” (“Dareskizb” LLC) dailies. The reason for bringing the legal action were the articles, published by “Aravot” on September 26, 2003 and “Haykakan Zhamanak” on September 5, 2003), which presented the court trial on the case of Razmik Abrahamian and described him negatively. The plaintiff demanded 2 mln AMD (about $ 5,000) as damage compensation for libel and insult from each of the respondents. On November 5, 2012, the Court took the lawsuit into consideration, even though the contested articles were published 9 years ago. The Court proceeded from the fact that in his suit Razmik Abrahamian had indicated that he was in prison for all these years and had no opportunity to challenge the materials at court.
On March 7, the Court of General Jurisdiction dismissed the suit. At the same time, it obliged Razmik Abrahamian to pay off the state duty of 80,000 – in proportion to the financial claims. The Court justified its decision to reject the suit by the fact that at the moment of the publication of contested articles the facts presented in them were accurate: the information was provided to the respondents by the agency, which conducted criminal investigation on the case of Razmik Abrahamian, hence it could not be assessed as discrediting the honor, dignity and reputation of the plaintiff.
Razmik Abrahamian brought a complaint to the Civil Court of Appeal, which revoked it as unjustified on June 6. Moreover, the Court of Appeal bound Razmik Abrahamian to pay off the state duty of 30,000 AMD for filing an appeal.
ON JANUARY 10, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan accepted the lawsuit of the owner of a major holding “X-Group” Khachik Khachatrian and his company “Yerevan Poultry” versus the founder of “Zhoghovurd” daily (“Editorial Office of ‘Zhoghovurd’ Daily” LLC) and the daily’s correspondent Sona Grigorian. The reason for the suit was the article, “Famous Oligarch Fined for Selling Expired Eggs”, published by “Zhoghovurd” on December 11, 2012. The plaintiffs demanded from the respondents a refutation and compensation of damage, caused by libel and insult, in the amount of 3 mln AMD (about $ 7,300). Moreover, the Court of General Jurisdiction partially secured the motion of the plaintiffs and put the property of “Zhoghovurd” founder and Sona Grigorian under arrest as a measure to secure the claim.
On January 29, the RA Judicial Department provided on its website “Explanation: Allegations about Impeding Operation of “Zhoghovurd” Daily Are Unfounded”. The explanation particularly stressed that the motion on the injunction made by Khachik Khachatrian and “Yerevan Poultry” was secured partially. The Court had only ruled to put an arrest on the respondents’ property in proportion to the financial claims. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs also petitioned to prohibit any publication by “Zhoghovurd” on the dispute, until a court ruling was made on the case. According to the Judicial Department, the current injunction did not restrict the activities of the daily, and the latter sought to mislead the public. On the same day, on January 29, “Zhoghovurd” expressed its disagreement with the arguments of the Department and the Court’s decision in its article, “Judicial Department Misleads the Public”.
On January 30, in the center of Yerevan, “Zhoghovurd” daily organized a protest against the court decision on putting under arrest the property of the newspaper’s founder and the correspondent Sona Grigorian. The participants of the protest action moved along the central streets of Yerevan to the Court, which had granted the injunction. Statements to support “Zhoghovurd” were made by a number of media, NGOs, political and public figures, including the RA Human Rights Defender.
On February 5, the Information Disputes Council (ICD) released an opinion on the lawsuit. Taking into account that the court hearing was still at a preparatory phase (Ed. Note: the preliminary hearings started on March 22), the IDC abstained from expressing opinion about the merits of the case and only touched upon the abovementioned motion. According to the IDC, in the way that the Court had secured the motion, it was not deemed as interference to the freedom of the media outlet. Consequently, the newspaper’s right to receive and impart information was not violated, even though under some circumstances the ban on the media’s property may restrict its right to freedom of expression. As far as the plaintiff’s request of monetary compensation was concerned, the IDC assessed it as excessively disproportionate. In general, the IDC found that when submitting claims versus media and journalists the political figures should abstain from demanding pecuniary compensation: “The highest compensation award amounts demanded from journalists and media between 2010-2012 were as a rule requested by political figures, which is a fallacious practice.” Whereas, the political figures, who serve the public interest, just like the journalists, should apply other methods of legal protection – as defined by law. Meanwhile, the above-mentioned statistics prompt that very often the demands for monetary compensation awards pursues the goal of punishing the media rather than restoring a violated right, the IDC stressed.
On February 11, the Court of General Jurisdiction revoked the motion of “Zhoghovurd” founder and the correspondent Sona Grigorian on lifting the ban put on their property.
On October 14, the lawsuit filed by Khachik Khachatrian was rejected on the ground that the facts of libel or insult were not proven in the course of the trial.
ON JANUARY 15, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan accepted the lawsuit of the Second President of Armenia Robert Kocharian and his son Sedrak Kocharian against the founder of www.1in.am (“Arajin Lratvakan” LLC) and the founder and publisher of “Zhamanak” daily (“Skizb Media Kentron” LLC). As it is reported on DataLex judiciary portal, the lawsuit was submitted on December 27, 2012, but was returned, since the lawyer only and not the plaintiffs had signed it. On January 15, 2013, the suit was re-submitted and this time taken into consideration. At the same time, the Court partially upheld the motion of the plaintiffs on banning the respondents’ property, as a measure to secure the suit. The plaintiffs demanded a refutation of information discrediting the honor and dignity, and compensation of damage of 5 mln AMD (about $ 12,200).
The reason for going into law were the articles, “What Connection Have Kocharian and Tsarukian with “Nairit’?” (published on November 27, 2012 in “Zhamanak” daily and on 1in.am), and “The Minute Tariff of the Kocharians” (published on November 29, 2012 on 1in.am and on November 30, 2012 in “Zhamanak”).
According to Arman Babajanian, head of 1in.am and “Zhamanak” newspaper, he learnt about the lawsuit pending against the media he runs only on February 7, when the representatives of the RA Service of Compulsory Execution of Judicial Acts arrived at the editorial office for putting a ban on the property. As Arman Babajanian noted, the two media use the property that he, as a private entity, has passed to them under non-repayable terms. Arman Babajanian said that he had presented the respective certifying documents to the compulsory executors. Moreover, Arman Babajanian mentioned that the plaintiffs had requested neither 1in.am, nor “Zhamanak” a refutation or a reply.
The hearings on the case started on March 7; the judgment was pronounced on October 21. The court rejected all the demands of the plaintiffs from 1in.am, since the respondent was found not liable: the founder of the online news portal was not “Arajin Lratvakan” LLC, but the very “Skizb Media Kentron” LLC. As for the part referring to “Skizb Media Kentron” LLC, the founder and publisher of the newspaper “Zhamanak”, the lawsuit was granted in part. The court obliged “Skizb Media Kentron” LLC to publish a refutation and to pay to the plaintiffs 500,000 AMD (about $ 1,200) as a compensation for damages, caused by libel and insult. Besides, the court obliged the plaintiffs to pay the lawyer’s expenses of “Skizb Media Kentron” in the amount of 100,000 AMD, and “Skizb Media Kentron” to pay in the same amount the lawyer’s expenses of the plaintiffs. The court also determined to exact from “Skizb Media Kentron” in favor of the plaintiffs 10,000 AMD as pre-paid state fee.
On November 25 the founder of “Zhamanak” filed an appeal which was taken into consideration on December 20. On February 13, 2014 the Administrative Court of Appeal rejected the complaint leaving the decision of the General Jurisdiction Court in force. Besides, the appeals instance obliged “Skizb Media Kentron” to pay the state fee in the amount of 25,000 AMD.
ON JANUARY 17, the Media Ethics Observatory (MEO) and the Information Disputes Council (IDC) released the joint expert conclusion on the complaint of Arpi Voskanian versus www.1in.am.
On December 10, 2012, Arpi Voskanian addressed a complaint to the MEO, in which she invoked that on December 6, 2012, 1in.am reprinted from “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily her poem “Political Riddle”, “without any prior notice, without her consent or any agreement on the size or form of payment”. Moreover, 1in.am reprinted the poem under its own headline, removing the original title and attaching the photo of one of the Armenian politicians. Besides, the news portal had announced a song competition on the poem’s lyrics, fixing an award of $ 1,500, the complainant stressed. Thus, Arpi Voskanian alleged that her copyrights were violated. According to the complainant, she had requested the Chief Editor of the news portal Arman Babajanian to remove the poem from the website, cancel the song competition and compensate her losses. However, her request was denied, moreover, “the Editor did not even deign to reply her in person”.
Since the complaint touched upon both professional ethics and legal matters, the MEO examined it jointly with the Information Disputes Council at the December 27, 2012 session.
The joint expert conclusion stressed that Point 2.4 of the Code of Conduct of Media Representatives requires “to respect copyright, to preclude plagiarism, and to mention the sources whenever quoting or making reprints”. However, this is a minimum requirement for the journalistic materials, since the protection of copyright presumes other obligations, as well. Particularly, a creative work falls under the protection of the RA Law “On Copyright and Related Rights”. For the lawful usage of the creative work, not only a reference to the source, but also the author’s consent is required. From this perspective, MEO believed that the reprinting of Arpi Voskanian’s poem by 1in.am, even though made with a reference to the source, but without securing the author’s consent, violates the norms of journalistic ethics.
As regards the legal aspect of the case, the joint expert conclusion stressed that the matter of the dispute was a creative work. Therefore, the author of the work is entitled to some material and non-material rights under the same Law “On Copyright and Related Rights”. Particularly, the author has the right of protecting his/her work from distortions and modifications by third party, and may prohibit the third party to reprint or disseminate the work in any other forms. Proceeding from the above, 1in.am has obviously violated the material and non-material rights of the author. Besides, the announcing of a song competition and monetary award may be considered in some cases as interference to the material interests of the author (Article 23 of the Law “On Copyright and Related Rights”), with all the deriving legal effects.
The MEO and IDC called upon the parties of the conflict, Arpi Voskanian and 1in.am, to settle the dispute out-off court. At the same time, they recommended 1in.am to show willingness to listen to Arpi Voskanian and satisfy her demands, as far as possible.
On January 21, the MEO organized the meeting of Arpi Voskanian with the 1in.am representative.
ON JANUARY 21, the Information Disputes Council released an opinion on the lawsuit of Vanadzor resident Mariam Yepremian versus “MIG” TV company of Vanadzor and founder of News.am (“News.am” LLC). The reason of the suit was the video materials about the death of Mariam Yepremian’s husband on 13 March, 2012 as he was run down in Vanadzor. The abovementioned media outlets also placed the videos on YouTube. Both of the videos showed the corpse of the death, which the plaintiff considered insulting. Mariam Yepremian demanded the court to bind the respondents with removing the videos from the Internet and impose 500,000 AMD (about $ 1,200) on each of them as loss compensation. The suit was taken into consideration by the Court of General Jurisdiction of Lori on October 8, 2012; the hearings started on November 15, 2012.
The IDC mentioned that the plaintiff had applied to the Court more than 6 months following the publication of the disputable materials. Therefore, the term for the limitation of court actions was expired. As far as the video materials are concerned, showing a corpse, especially immediately after the incident, is an added psychological trauma and deepens the pain of relatives. Referring to the June 14, 2007 ruling of the European Court on Human Rights on the case of Hachette Filipacchi Associes vs. France, the IDC noted that this is an intervention into private life, which is a ground for limiting the right to freely disseminate information. Thus, the question is whether the public interest to receive information can prevail over the right of respect to private and family life. The IDC stressed that the publication of a photo or video of a person, who died as a result of accident, crime or suicide, is a gross intervention to the right to family and private life of the relatives of the deceased, and is not necessary in a democratic society.
According to the IDC, to an extent that upholding of the demanded monetary means would not hamper the smooth operation of the media, the compensation claim is proportionate.
Further the plaintiff withdrew the lawsuit against “MIG” TV company and the proceedings in that part of the lawsuit were discontinued.
The judgment in the other part of the lawsuit against the founder of News.am was pronounced on March 21. Mariam Yepremyan’s demands were rejected since the latter was not able to provide proofs to the court that the challenged video had been posted on YouTube by the founder or a representative of News.am.
ON JANUARY 21, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Shirak Region endorsed an amicable agreement between the Head of Gyumri Center for Food Safety, Hambardzum Matevosian, and four employees of the Gyumri Center. The subject matter of the litigation was the letter by the abovementioned employees, entitled “Free Us From This Vicious ‘Head’” and published in “Azg” daily on October 2, 2012. The letter contained critics about the Head of the Gyumri Center. On November 7, 2012 the latter had filed a lawsuit with the Court of General Jurisdiction of Shirak Region against the authors of the letter. “Azg” daily was involved in the case as a third party. The court hearings started on December 6, 2012.
According to the amicable agreement, the respondents assumed the obligation to publish a refutation in “Azg” and in case the daily did not operate, to refute the information in another newspaper with the same print run. Moreover, the respondents assumed the obligation of publishing the refutation on Hetq.am, the online publication of “Investigative Journalists” NGO.
On March 4, 2013 the “Investigative Journalists” filed a complaint with the RA Civil Court of Appeal on the grounds that Hetq.am was imposed an obligation to publish a refutation, whereas the online publication was not a party to the litigation and, thus, was deprived of a possibility for legal protection. On March 21, the Court rejected the appeal, finding that the court had not imposed an obligation of a refutation on the online publication, but it was assumed by the respondents. On April 10, the “Investigative Journalists” filed a complaint with the RA Court of Cassation, which rejected it on May 15. Thus, the ruling of Court of General Jurisdiction was confirmed.
In its July 31 opinion the Information Disputes Council highlighted that by confirming the amicable agreement, the court in fact imposed an obligation on Hetq.am to publish a refutation. Meanwhile, the court had not ensured the online publication’s right to legal protection, provided by Article 18 of RA Constitution and Article 6 of European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The IDC also noted that the court violated Article 33 of the RA Civil Code, which prohibits endorsement of an amicable agreement if it violates other persons’ rights and legal interests.
ON JANUARY 23, media and human rights organizations released a statement regarding the incident with Agnessa Khamoyan, correspondent of www.yerkir.am.
“On January 21, right on the first day of the official campaign of the elections to RA President, a case of violation of a journalist’s rights was registered during the meetings of the presidential candidate, incumbent RA President Serzh Sargsian. Even though Agnessa Khamoyan held an accreditation, the correspondent of www.yerkir.am was deprived of the possibility to cover two events with participation of the abovementioned candidate. The first event took place at the RA Government’s Meeting Hall, the second – at the Center of Culture of Avan Administrative District of Yerevan.
This is not the first case of favoritism practices towards different media representatives at meetings with the participation of the RA President. On September 4, 2012, during the RA President’s visit to Gyumri, the local journalists were restricted from participating in the briefing of the Head of the State. Both in Yerevan and in Gyumri, the event organizers brought the lack of space as an argument for their behavior, which, in our opinion, does not sound convincing.
We, the undersigned, believe that favoritism was practiced towards the media representatives: yet again, the media outlets were sorted out between “favorites” and “unwanted”. This is an extremely vicious phenomenon, specifically during the elections.
It takes note that the campaign headquarters’ representative of the presidency candidate Serzh Sargsian apologized to the journalists. However, the practice by which accredited journalists will have to participate in the events on a rotation principle is inadmissible.
In this regard, we call upon the campaign headquarters of Serzh Sargsian, as well as of the other candidates to select facilities and fix procedures, when organizing meetings and events, in such a manner, which will ensure equal and non-discriminatory conditions for all journalists, covering the pre-election promotion,” said the statement of the 19 media and human rights organizations.
The statement was signed by Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Yerevan Press Club, Internews Media Support NGO, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club, “Investigative Journalists”, Journalists for the Future, Goris Press Club, Journalists for Human Rights, Lragir.am, Public Journalism Club, Helsinki Committee of Armenia, Vanadzor Office of Helsinki Citizens Assembly, “Rule of Law”, Europe in Law Association, Women’s Support Center, Helsinki Group of Spitak, Sakharov Armenian Human Rights Centre, Public Information and Need of Knowledge and “EcoLur”.
ON JANUARY 25, Yerevan Press Club released a statement to emphasize the need of holding TV debates during the presidential campaign.
“There is a widespread opinion in our society that the ongoing presidential campaign is not competitive and meaningful, and the discussions about platforms and positions of the potential presidential candidates are significantly belated. The reason for all this was the ambiguity around the nomination or endorsement of a presidential candidate by the three parliamentary parties, which have the biggest share of seats at the RA National Assembly after the Republican Party of Armenia. Moreover, the presidential campaign does not cover the positions of these political forces on various issues, which the newly elected Head of State may face.
Under these circumstances, the holding of TV debates is of particular importance. This would allow – at least before the voting day – for diverse and competitive discussion on the candidates’ visions and ideas about the development of the country. The candidates should be ready to confront the challenges Armenia faces, while the media should help the voters to understand how well each candidate for the highest office is prepared.
Taking into account that
– in the case of Armenia, it is not possible to follow the well-known international practice, when the TV debates include the two “main” candidates,
– the candidates have already voiced their refusal to face certain opponents at the debates,
– it is not possible to hold debates using “each versus each” principle, given the large number of participants in the campaign.
Nevertheless, considering the crucial importance of the debates,
We call the TV companies and the candidates to launch live TV programs with the participation of the electoral teams of the 8 presidential candidates.
The most realistic format for the TV debates is the following: campaign headquarters choose who and how will take part in the discussion (e.g., the candidate, the chief of the headquarters, its press secretary, proxy or representative of a party supporting the candidate, etc.). It would be preferable that the refusal of one candidate to participate in the debates is not a cause for other candidates to decline the debates: in these cases the considerations about the “worthiness” of participation or the principle of “having equal statuses” should not be a priority. Candidates should primarily seek to present their electoral platforms to the voters as adequately as possible.
The refusal of a candidate or his headquarters to take part in the debates does not mean violation of the principle of equal opportunities. This principle is considered secured when all parties receive appropriate invitations. The media outlet that organizes the debates is obliged to inform the viewers which candidate (headquarters) and for what reason does not take part in the discussion.
It would be reasonable, if the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia is the first to come up with such an initiative, given its special mission. However, similar initiatives on the part of private broadcasters are equally welcomed.
We suggest holding debates in several (3-4) stages (programs). Each of the programs
should deal with a specific theme, e.g.: economy, social welfare, foreign policy, development of democratic institutions in Armenia, etc. Obviously, necessary technical facilities, providing equal time for all the participants, should be ensured”, the statement of Yerevan Press Club noted.
In conclusion, YPC stressed that the statement is open for signature to other NGOs and media.
Further the statement was also signed by Internews Media Support NGO, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, “Analyticon” magazine, Analytical Center for Globalization and Regional Cooperation, “Trtu” NGO, Rights Information Center, Freedom of Information Center, Eurasia Partnership Foundation, Association for Sustainable Human Development.
However, no TV debate was organized either during the presidential elections, or the Council of Elders elections.
Analyzing the electoral cycle of 2012-2013, Yerevan Press Club stressed that the lack of willingness of Armenian politicians to participate in debates and open discussions on air remains a major obstacle. Perhaps the absence of political debates is the main problem in coverage of the elections by the broadcasting media of Armenia. This is equally true for the lack of an effective post-election discourse in the broadcast media, which impedes drawing lessons for the future.
ON JANUARY 25, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan accepted another lawsuit filed by businessman and owner of the holding “X-Group” Khachik Khachatrian versus the founder of “Zhoghovurd” daily (“Editorial Office of ‘Zhoghovurd’ Daily” LLC) and the daily’s correspondent Sona Grigorian. This time the matter of the suit was the article “‘Zhoghovurd’ Daily Demands Public Apologies from Khachik Khachatrian”, published in “Zhoghovurd” on December 22, 2012. The piece reported on the businessman’s obscene comment addressed at Sona Grigorian: in a telephone conversation Khachik Khachatrian called the young journalist a “prostitute” in response to “her question not quite desirable for him”, and advised her to publish that word, too.
Under the lawsuit the businessman demanded from the respondents a refutation, discrediting his honor, dignity and business reputation, and pecuniary remedies of 3,200,000 AMD (about $ 7,600): 3 mln for damage, caused by libel and insult, and 200,000 – attorney’s fees.
On December 13, the Court of General Jurisdiction revoked the suit qualified as groundless.
“Zhoghovurd” daily’s founder and Sona Grigorian, in their turn, filed the lawsuit versus Khachik Khachatrian in connection with the insulting statement made by the businessman about the journalist. The plaintiffs demanded public apologies from Khachik Khachatrian. On April 29, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Ajapnyak and Davitashen Administrative Districts of Yerevan rejected the suit on the grounds that a statement cannot be qualified as insult, unless it is made in public. The Court also bound the plaintiffs to pay the court fees of the businessman in the amount of 100,000 AMD (about $240).
It should be noted that the Armenian legislation does not protect citizens, including journalists, from defamatory statements made in private: the law establishes liability only for public defamatory statements. Experts believe that the responsibility for non-public insult should be legally regulated.
Thus, lawyer Ara Ghazarian, commenting upon the court decision, stressed that in that legal procedure the court could not pronounce any other judgment. According to the lawyer, Article 1087.1 of the RA Civil Code (“Procedure and Conditions of Compensation of Damage to the Honor, Dignity or Business Reputation”) and the April 27, 2012 precedent-setting ruling of the RA Court of Cassation regulate only public statements. According to the Court of Cassation’s ruling, a telephone conversation is not considered as a public statement, unless there was a third party present, or if, in similar cases, one of the parties has taken measures to exclude the possibility of a statement to be public. “People are not protected from such kind of statements, and this is unconstitutional. ‘Zhoghovurd’ has a chance to carry the case through the Constitutional Court, which would be very useful,” mentioned Ara Ghazarian in his April 29 interview to Panorama.am (“‘Zhoghovurd’ May Set a Precedent, If It Goes to Constitutional Court”).
On April 30, RA Human Rights Defender Karen Andreasian also highlighted that it is indispensable to have legal regulation for prescribing responsibility for non-public defamatory statements. The ombudsman particularly noted that he intended to address the RA Council of Courts’ Chairmen for getting elucidation on how to interpret statements made during journalistic interviews.
On May 2, “Zhoghovurd” daily published an article “Journalists Collect Signatures”, which told about the initiative of the “GALA” TV company’s correspondent Paylak Fahradian. The journalist called upon the parliament to make necessary legislative amendments so that “telephone conversations, which are essential for the journalistic work, including for verifying information, are not considered by courts as ‘private conversation’”. More than 40 journalists from over 30 media supported the initiative.
On May 21, the Information Disputes Council noted that despite the November 15, 2011 RA Constitutional Court’s decision, which called the RA National Assembly to consider the issue, the legal regulation of non-public insult is still pending. The IDC stressed that this court dispute was already the second, where a journalist, having sufficient evidence that an insulting statement had been made about him/her, was deprived of any possibility for legal protection of his/her dignity. Let us note that on the same grounds the court rejected the lawsuit of Hetq.am correspondent Grisha Balasanian versus Ruben Hayrapetian, RA National Assembly MP and Chairman of the Football Federation of Armenia (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2011). Such a situation is not acceptable in democratic society, the IDC noted. The IDC found it expedient to apply to the Constitutional Court, questioning the constitutionality of the Paragraph 2.1 of the Article 1087.1 of the RA Civil Code, since this provision does not envisage any means for protecting individuals from non-public defamatory statements.
On May 29, “Zhoghovurd” contested the ruling of General Jurisdiction Court at the RA Civil Court of Appeal, which rejected the appeal on July 17. On August 7, the daily went to the RA Court of Cassation, which ruled to return the complaint as unfounded.
In the September 6 article, entitled “‘Zhoghovurd’ Goes to the RA Constitutional Court Trailing Eggs”, the daily declared about its intention to appeal to the Constitutional Court so that “henceforth, it won’t cross the mind of any businessman, oligarch or official to insult a journalist and remain unpunished”.
As of end-2013, “Zhoghovurd”, did not apply to the Constitutional Court
ON JANUARY 30, “Reporters without Borders“(RSF) international organization released its eleventh annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index. The study was conducted in 179 countries and was based on events between December 1, 2011 and November 30, 2012.
As compared with 2011, there was a slight change in Moldova (55th place in 2012 versus 53rd in 2011), Armenia (74 versus 77), Georgia (100 versus 104) and Kyrgyzstan (106 versus 108). The RSF report pointed out that despite their wide dispersal in the Index, these countries have a number of things in common. “These countries enjoy broad media pluralism and a low level of state censorship, but they still face important challenges concerning media independence and the working environment of journalists. The latter are often in the firing line in highly polarized societies and treated as easy prey by a variety of pressure groups”, the RSF believed.
IN THE EVENING OF JANUARY 30, at the auto pound of Yerevan Traffic Police an incident occurred with photojournalist Gagik Shamshian. In the journalist’s account, he arrived at the pound to shoot the cars, delivered by the police officers from the site of the accident. According to Shamshian, he was insulted and threatened by the owner of one of the cars, a certain R.S., when he was noticed taking photos. The police officers present at the site detained R.S. Thus, criminal proceedings were instituted on charges of Articles 164 (“Impeding the Legitimate Professional Activities of a Journalist”) and 258 (“Public Disorder”) of RA Criminal Code. Gagik Shamshian also reported that he was recognized victim in the case, and that a preventive measure of arrest for two months was applied towards R.S., taking into account his other actions.
ON JANUARY 31, the international Human Rights Watch organization released its report on human rights practices in over 90 countries of the world in 2012.
In the section on Armenia, the report also presented the situation on the freedom of expression. “Politically motivated defamation lawsuits no longer appear to be a serious problem,” the report of Human Rights Watch emphasized, in particular. At the same time, the authors of the report reminded about the June 2012 Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe report on media freedom in Europe, which found that Armenian journalists’ capacity to report was “hampered by pressures of self-censorship” and expressed concern about Armenian TV companies’ use of political advertisements in news coverage. The Human Rights Watch also indicated some cases of journalists’ rights violation: on May 6, 2012, on the day of elections to RA National Assembly, incidents occurred with Elina Chillingarian, correspondent of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Armenian Service, in Yerevan, and with Karen Alekian, correspondent of “Maks-Info” news agency, in Gyumri (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2012).
ON JANUARY 31, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Shirak Region accepted the lawsuit of Harutyun Sargsian versus “Tsayg” TV company of Gyumri.
The lawsuit on protection of honor, dignity and business reputation disputed a piece broadcasted by “Tsayg” TV channel in its news program “Azdarar” on December 27, 2012. The piece was devoted to the trial of Harutyun Sargsian, which started on the same day. Harutyun Sargsian was detained with charges of murder of K.Y. (the fiancé of the daughter of Vardan Ghukasian, former Mayor of Gyumri). The piece particularly informed that Harutyun Sargsian committed a murder with “exceptional brutality”. On December 31, 2012, the TV channel’s website Tsayg.am published a “Correction”, in which “Tsayg” stressed that the wording “committed a murder with exceptional brutality” did not reflect the opinion and views of the TV company, and was a citation from the letter of K.Y. parents to the RA President Serzh Sargsian.
The plaintiff demanded that “Tsayg” be obliged to issue public apologies and compensate the loss for libel and insult in the amount of 300,000 AMD (about $700). The court hearings started on February 28.
In its July 9 opinion the Information Disputes Council reminded that presumption of innocence is a fundamental right enshrined in the RA Constitution. Thus the Armenian media, as well as all others, shall respect this right, irrespective of any circumstance. Therefore, the TV company’s argument that the contested wording was a reproduction of third party’s statement, cannot justify the violation of presumption of innocence, concluded the IDC. At the same time, the IDC stressed that provided the current legislation and traditions, the presumption of innocence is deemed only as a criminal-judicial category in Armenia, and although this right is often violated in civil law, the RA Civil Code lacks any mechanism for its protection. As a result, Armenian citizens apply to courts seeking protection for violation of their right to presumption of innocence in the context of Article 1087.1 of the Civil Code, which has a completely different intent and sets norms for libel and insult.
Considering the above-mentioned, the IDC found that “Tsayg” TV company had violated Harutyun Sargsian’s right to presumption of innocence by making a public statement about him committing a crime, before his guilt was proven by a court verdict. And despite the fact that the Armenian legislation fails to provide legal protection for violation of the right to presumption of innocence, the media shall respect this right and show due discretion when reporting on criminal investigation and court trials.
As of end-2013, the hearings on the case continued.
SINCE FEBRUARY 1, Radio “Hay” stopped the rebroadcast of the Voice of Russia, Russian state-owned radio broadcasting company. The press release, disseminated by Radio “Hay” on January 31 noted that the Voice of Russia had unilaterally broken the agreement on cooperation. According to the press release, the reason for this decision was the hunger strike of the Head of Radio “Hay”, Andrias Ghukasian, at that time running in RA presidential elections. The presidency candidate Andrias Ghukasian started his strike from January 21, on the first day of pre-election promotion, to protest against the participation in the elections of the incumbent RA President Serzh Sargsian.
ON FEBRUARY 7, the RA President Serzh Sargsian signed a decree on holding a competition to fill in a vacancy in the Council of Public Television and Radio Company. The competition was announced due to the term expiration of the PTRC Council Chairman Alexan Harutiunian, who was in duty within 2003-2013.
Ruben Jaghinian and Astghik Avetisian, the Head of Armenian PR Association, applied for the vacant position. On February 26, the competition commission announced both of them as winners, leaving, in fact, the final decision to the RA President.
On March 1, Serzh Sargsian signed a decree to appoint Ruben Jaghinian a member of the Council of Public TV and Radio Company – for a six-year term.
On March 5, the PTRC Council members elected Ruben Jaghinian as Chairman.
Before his appointment as PTRC Council member, Ruben Jaghinian ran “Sharm Holding” LLC (one of the most prominent PR and entertainment companies of Armenia), was engaged in teaching and production activities. In 1992 and 1994 with his team of the Yerevan Medical University Ruben Jaghinian became the winner of the major league of the KVN (Club of Cheerful and Quick-Witted, Russian TV game show, popular since Soviet times).
ON FEBRUARY 11, journalistic and human rights NGOs, including Yerevan Press Club, released a statement regarding the new lawsuits, filed against media.
“In the beginning of this year, the Armenian journalistic organizations marked a notable decline of court cases against the media in 2012. This was also evidenced by the Human Rights Watch international organization, which noted in its latest report that politically motivated defamation lawsuits no longer appear to be a serious problem in Armenia (see above).
Nevertheless, recently, the political elites and the business tycoons show activeness in exerting pressure on the media, through filing lawsuits against media and claiming the highest amounts of pecuniary compensation. At the same time, motions on putting a ban on the property and assets of the media are being submitted along with the lawsuits. A vivid example of this is the lawsuit of the Armenian Second President Robert Kocharian and his son versus www.1in.am, as well as the two lawsuits of businessman Khachik Khachatrian versus “Zhoghovurd” daily (see above).
As regards the courts, it has become a common trend to partially uphold the motions on securing the suits, which bans the property of the media. Formally, these decisions seem to be intact, however, they lay ground for a fallacious practice, which can benefit the plaintiffs of exerting pressure on the media before a decision on the merits is made.
We, the undersigned, consider such a campaign by the political and business elites against the media unacceptable, and urge them to be more tolerant and seek for off-court solutions.
We also call upon the courts to show a more balanced approach and uphold the motions on banning the property of the media in highly exceptional cases, taking into account that this causes psychological pressure on the journalists, which may lead to self-censorship.
We once again draw the attention of the RA National Assembly on the fact that the lack of necessary criteria for awarding pecuniary compensation, as defined in Article 1087.1 of RA Civil Code, is a temptation for the plaintiffs willing to settle accounts with the media. In this regard, we call to take respective steps for clarifying these legal provisions”, the statement of 12 journalistic and human rights NGOs noted.
The statement was signed by Yerevan Press Club, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Internews Media Support NGO, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, “Journalists for The Future” NGO, Goris Press Club, “Journalists for Human Rights” NGO, “Protection of Rights without Borders” NGO, Martuni Women’s Community Council, “Yerashkhik” Civil Society Center, “Nor Serund” humanitarian NGO.
ON FEBRUARY 14, “Investigative Journalists” NGO received a notification from the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan about the lawsuit filed by the “ShinForum” LLC construction company. The company, represented by its Director Tigran Gasparian, contested two pieces published in Hetq.am, the online publication of “Investigative Journalists”: “Fatal Fraud: Tsitsernakaberd Highway Constructed with Kickbacks” (January 26, 2013) and “Clarifications on the Article about the Tsitsernakaberd Highway” (February 1, 2013). The Director of “ShinForum” demanded from the “Investigative Journalists” refutation of the statements, discrediting his business reputation, as contained in the pieces, compensation of loss, caused by libel in the amount of 2 mln AMD (about $ 4,800) and court fees of 44,000 AMD. According to “Investigative Journalists”, after the pieces were published, the construction company did not request any refutation or reply, “preferring to seek protection of business reputation at court”.
At the April 5 court session the construction company recalled its suit, and the litigation was closed.
ON FEBRUARY 18, presidential elections were held in Armenia. On February 19, Yerevan Press Club presented the results of the monitoring on Armenian broadcast media coverage of presidential elections.
The monitoring was conducted by YPC in three stages: the first stage covered the period of October 1 – December 15, 2012 (ahead of pre-election promotion); the second stage covered the period of January 14-20, 2013 (in-between the official registration of the presidential candidates and the start of the pre-election promotion); the third stage covered the period of January 21 – February 16, 2013 (period of the pre-election promotion). The interim reports on monitoring were published on all the three stages. The research was carried out within the framework of a project on strengthening electoral processes in Armenia in line with international standards, implemented by the OSCE Office in Yerevan and financed by the European Union.
Monitoring included 9 broadcast media: 6 national channels – First Channel of Public Television of Armenia (H1), “Armenia”, “Yerkir Media”, “Kentron”, Second Armenian TV Channel (H2), “Shant”; 1 TV channel of Yerevan – “ArmNews”; 2 radio channels – Public Radio of Armenia and “ArmRadio FM 107”.
On the first and the third stages of the monitoring on the abovementioned TV and radio channels, all programmes of the evening airtime were studied (from 18:00 to 01:00), excluding political, commercial and social advertising. On the second stage of the monitoring (the last week ahead of pre-election promotion) only the main issues of news/news and comment programmes and the current affairs/discussion programmes were studied.
As the YPC monitoring showed, in general, the broadcast media studied did not exhibit discrimination or openly biased attitude towards the presidential candidates. On the whole, equal conditions were provided for introducing the electorate to the programmes and views of the candidates. In that respect, Armenian broadcasters demonstrated indisputable progress compared to previous national elections. If at the 2012 parliamentary elections balanced coverage was provided only during the official pre-election promotion, at the presidential elections the period preceding the official campaign can also be assessed in the same way.
The results of YPC monitoring of 2012-2013 electoral cycle were issued as a book “Armenian Broadcast Media Coverage of Parliamentary Elections in 2012, Presidential Elections in 2013 and Elections to the Yerevan Council of Elders in 2013”.
ON FEBRUARY 18, on the voting day of RA presidential elections, attempts to harass and impede the activities of journalists were observed.
At about 16.00 at the 17/5 precinct of Artashat, Ararat region, an incident occurred with Artak Hambardzumian, representative of “Journalists for Human Rights” NGO. Some unknown men pinioned the journalist’s arms and took him aside so that he has no possibility to record the ballot stuffing.
Over 19.00, at Khorenatsi street of Yerevan, a group of people, standing at the electoral headquarters of the presidential candidate, incumbent President Serzh Sargsian, prohibited the entry of Marineh Kharatian, correspondent of 1in.am, and Gayaneh Saribekian, correspondent of “Hraparak” daily. Afterwards, they took away the video and photo cameras from the journalists and forced them to leave (later the devices were returned to the journalists).
“These facts come to prove once again that whenever there are political tensions in Armenia, the pressure and violence against media, as a rule, exacerbate”, emphasized the statement of fifteen journalistic and human rights NGOs, released on February 20.
“The state authorities, especially the law enforcement bodies, usually overlook such kinds of incidents and instead of revealing and punishing the insulters, they come up with strange “arguments” for withdrawing the cases. Meanwhile, impunity leads to new transgressions.”
“We, the undersigned, express our concern regarding the cases of violence against the journalists, who covered the elections, and demand the authorities to take immediate measures for conducting a thorough and objective investigation and bring the insulters to account”, said the statement, which was signed by the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Yerevan Press Club, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club, Internews Media Support NGO, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, “Journalists for Human Rights” NGO, Goris Press Club, “Journalists for the Future” NGO, “EcoLur”, Helsinki Committee of Armenia, Vanadzor Office of Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly, “Rule of Law” NGO, “Yerashkhik” Civil Society Center, “Public Information and Need of Knowledge” NGO and “Agat” NGO.
On February 22, RA Prosecutor’s Office informed about the results of verifying the facts on cases of impeding professional activities of journalists on the ballot day of February 18, 2013.
RA Special Investigation Service instituted criminal proceedings on the abovementioned cases at the electoral precinct 17/5 of Artashat and at the electoral headquarters of Serzh Sargsian: on the first incident – upon Articles 149 (“Hindrance to implementation of the right to elect, to the work of election commissions or to the implementation of the authority of the person participating in elections”) and 153 (“Voting more than once or instead of another person”) of the RA Criminal Code; on the second incident – upon Article 149. Further, two persons were indicted in connection with the incident at the precinct 17/5 of Artashat, but later were acquitted. On July 26 the investigation on this case was discontinued due to the fact that the perpetrators had not been identified. In the course of the investigation of the incident at the electoral headquarters of Serzh Sargsian, it turned out that the journalists’ work had been obstructed by Hakob Beglaryan, the brother of the Minister of Transport and Communication, Gagik Beglaryan. Anyway, on March 15 the Special Investigative Service discontinued the case due to the absence of corpus delicti.
The RA Prosecutor’s Office reported that it had verified the information provided in a piece by Hripsimeh Jebejian “‘Aravot’ Journalist Assaulted” (“Aravot” daily, February 18, 2013). The piece stated that the policemen, the chairman and the secretary of the electoral commission of 9/27 precinct of Yerevan hindered the correspondent of “Aravot” Hripsimeh Jebejian to shoot and to interview a group of women, conveyed to the electoral station on a mini-bus. According to the RA Prosecutor’s Office, the representatives of the electoral commission explained this prohibition by the fact that Hripsimeh Jebejian was not registered as a journalist with the electoral commission (as required by the CEC decision of February 24, 2012). Thus, they suggested the journalist register, first, and then make shootings. However, by that time, the women had already left the station. The Prosecutor’s Office noted that measures were being taken for identifying the women and finding the mini-bus, which had conveyed them.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the Artashat Department of RA Police continued the preparation of materials upon an alert, received on the hotline of iDitord. The alert notified that three proxies impeded the work of correspondent of “Iravunk” newspaper Elmira Martirosian at the precinct 17/1 of Artashat.
The Prosecutor’s Office also reported about the results of verifying the evidence, published on February 18, 2013 in the piece by Marineh Petrosian, “They Threatened the Journalist: ‘I’ll Come and Put Your Eyes Out!” (www.asparez.am) and in the piece by “Aravot” daily correspondent in Shirak region, Nuneh Arevshatian, “They Not Only Buy Votes in Gyumri, but Also Threaten the Journalists: ‘If You Shoot, I’ll Break Your Neck!’”. The Investigative Department of RA Police of Shirak Region decided not to institute criminal proceedings on any of the cases “due to absence of criminal action”.
On February 25, RA Prosecutor’s Office also informed about other criminal proceedings regarding violations on the ballot day.
Particularly, some cases were instituted not upon the facts of obstructing the journalistic activities but upon the verification of the media reports on alleged crimes.
Thus, criminal proceedings were instituted on Articles 34 and 153 of RA Criminal Code (attempt of voting instead of another person) upon the confirmed evidence, provided in Hetq.am on February 18, 2013 (“Case of Falsification at 17/31 Electoral Station of Artashat”).
Criminal proceedings were instituted upon Article 154 (“Breaching the confidentiality of ballot”) of RA Criminal Code upon some other confirmed evidence, appeared in the February 20, 2013 piece, “Khurshudian Informed the Ministry of Defense about the Electoral Station, where a Military Serviceman Exercised Premeditated Voting” (www.panorama.am).
ON FEBRUARY 19, the International Election Observation Mission (OSCE/ODIHR, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament) released the Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions about the Armenian presidential elections, held on the eve. According to the observers, “the election was generally well-administered and was characterized by a respect for fundamental freedoms”: contestants were able to campaign freely, media fulfilled their legal obligation to provide balanced coverage, and all contestants made use of their free airtime. At the same time, the observers expressed their concern with the lack of impartiality of the public administration, misuse of administrative resources, and cases of pressure on voters; during the election day some serious violations were observed, too.
Referring to the opinions of local experts, the IEOM welcomed the existence of a freer media environment and the variety of information available, especially on the Internet; however, the Mission also pointed out persisting problems, including self-censorship and media ownership affecting editorial independence.
Based on the monitoring results, conducted by the OSCE/ODIHR, the observers specifically stressed that the studied media paid significant attention to the elections, covered all candidates, predominately focusing on their campaign events. (The research includes 6 national TV channels – the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia, Second Armenian TV Channel, “Armenia”, “Shant”, “Kentron” and “Yerkir Media”; 2 radio stations – Public Radio of Armenia and Radio “Free Europe”/Radio “Liberty” Armenian Service; 3 national dailies – state-funded “Hayastani Hanrapetutiun”, “Aravot” and “Haykakan Zhamanak” and 2 online media – www.news.am and www.1in.am.)
The IEOM highlighted the statement of Yerevan Press Club of January 25, 2013, which called upon broadcasters and presidential candidates to organize TV debates (see above). Some private stations offered to do so, but the candidates, including the incumbent President, decided not to avail themselves of this option. As a result, voters were not given the opportunity to see meaningful exchange about the contestants’ platforms, the observers noted.
The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Election Observation Mission, in its turn, also considered the lack of debates as a shortcoming of the electoral campaign. When making their Post-Election Statement on the Presidential Elections in Armenia on February 19, the observers stressed: “The total lack of direct debates between candidates and a limited amount of critical journalism limited voters’ ability to compare and contrast political platforms”. At the same time, the observers noted that the media coverage enabled voters to inform themselves regarding the campaign, the broadcast media generally provided balanced coverage of presidential candidates, and an array of private media also enabled candidates to present their views and qualifications.
On March 2, the International Election Observation Mission released the Post-Election Interim Report of Presidential Elections in Armenia. The interim report covered the period of February 19-26, 2013 and reflected upon the post-voting day situation, including the announcement of the official elections results, investigation by the law enforcement bodies upon complaints and appeals on electoral frauds, made on the ballot day. As regards the Armenian media during the post-election period, the IEOM highlighted that “some broadcast media (…) showed a selective approach in their coverage of political events, with a noticeable tendency to limit views critical of the conduct of the election”. The report also stressed that online media offered diverse views.
On May 8, the Final Report on February 18, 2013 Presidential Elections in Armenia was published. The document presented different aspects of the electoral process and offered recommendations on its further improvement.
The Media Section of the Final Report, particularly, mentioned the monitoring by the National Commission on Television and Radio, which oversaw the Armenian broadcasters’ activities during the pre-election promotion (see below). The EOM noted that the regulatory body did not conduct a monitoring before the official election campaign. However, as the monitoring of Yerevan Press Club showed, during the period preceding the pre-election promotion, the media pretty intensively covered activities of the incumbent RA President Serzh Sargsian not as a candidate but as an official. As a result, Serzh Sargsian received significant information advantage against his competitors. However, coverage of the incumbent President in his official capacity changed dramatically with the start of the pre-election promotion, and as the day of the voting was getting closer, this coverage was becoming less active. “The contrast between the period directly before the pre-election promotion and the rapid pre-election promotion itself another time proves the necessity of regulation and monitoring of a lengthier period than the 4 weeks of pre-election promotion. Otherwise, it would be difficult to talk about equal information opportunities for candidates”, emphasized Yerevan Press Club in its Report on Monitoring of Armenian Broadcast Media Coverage of RA Presidential Elections in 2013.
Given the abovementioned, the EOM recommended the Armenian authorities to give consideration “to enhancing the capacities and resources needed by the NCTR for conducting its media monitoring fully and independently, instead of tasking broadcasters to provide broadcasting data themselves”. “Moreover, consideration could be given to enhancing the methodology so as to allow the NCTR to monitor and assess the tone of coverage. Additionally, it could be considered that the NCTR implements its oversight role by conducting random media monitoring outside the campaign period”, stressed the EOM.
Further the Observation Mission’s Final Report reminded that the RA “Electoral Code requires presenting impartial and unbiased information about contestants. The NCTR did provide unofficial and somewhat unclear guidance on how to interpret the law. Media also interpreted these provisions cautiously and appeared to be concerned that analytical information could be perceived as bias”.
In this regard, the EOM recommended that the “Electoral Code could be amended to provide for generally applicable guidelines for election-related coverage by the broadcast media. Such provisions could be based on the existing requirement of impartiality and balance, while at the same allowing for independent editorial coverage of campaign events”.
ON FEBRUARY 22, the National Commission on Television and Radio released the report of the monitoring on ensuring of equal conditions for candidates to RA President by the Armenian TV and radio companies during the official electoral campaign. The NCTR conducted the monitoring in compliance with the RA Electoral Code. The results of the NCTR monitoring were published and presented to the Central Electoral Commission on the 10th and 20th days of the official campaign (e.g., on January 30 and February 9, 2013), as well as two days before the announcement of the official ballot results (February 23, 2013).
The methodology on NCTR monitoring was published on December 27, 2012. The methodology presumed scanning of the TV and radio programs, studying the information, provided by the broadcasters or received from the presidential candidates, state bodies, public and international organizations, as well as analyzing the media materials reporting on violations of the electoral legislation by the broadcasters. It was noted that during the monitoring of paid and free airtime, allocated to presidential candidates for pre-election promotion, NCTR will asses: the invariability of tariffs, announced by broadcasters for political advertising throughout the whole official campaign; the broadcasters’ compliance with the non-discrimination principle, when allocating air and time for broadcasting promotional materials; the lawfulness of arguments, provided for the denial of airtime for broadcasting promotional materials.
NCTR, as was further noted , will also track the broadcasters’ compliance with other legislative provisions: the ban imposed on employees of TV and radio companies, registered as presidential candidates, to cover the electoral campaign or host any program; the obligation of unbiased and factual reporting on promotional events, as well as the requirement to respect the principles of equality and non-discrimination towards all the candidates on all news and current affair programs; respect the provisions of Article 22 of RA Electoral Code, while reporting on the activities of candidates, who hold political, discretionary, civil offices. The Article obliges these candidates not to use the office to their advantage; the providing of equal conditions for airtime allotment to all presidential candidates; the ensuring of journalistic impartiality on programs hosting any presidential candidate, or his/her representative; the ban on any presence of promotional elements (reference to candidates, their activities, pre-election platforms, calls on voting “for” or “against”, etc.), as well as demonstration of the candidates’ slogans on programs not covering the elections (films, video clips, audio tapes, commercial advertising, etc.); the compliance with legislative requirements while publishing/releasing survey results on the candidates’ ratings, including compliance with the ban on releasing the survey results before the closure of electoral precincts; the compliance with the ban on broadcasting any promotional material on the ballot day and the day preceding it.
The February 22 report of the regulatory body presented the quantitative data for the whole pre-election promotion (January 21 – February 16, 2013), as well as for the day preceding the voting (February 17), when promotion is prohibited by law: airtime volume, allocated to the candidates on TV and radio programs, and the paid/free airtime, provided to the candidates for pre-election promotion.
The NCTR report noted that within the period studied the TV or radio companies had not violated the procedure of pre-election promotion, as defined in the Electoral Code.
ON MARCH 5, the Information Disputes Council released an opinion on the court ruling regarding the lawsuit of Susanna Baghdasarian, resident of Areni village, Vayots Dzor region, versus “Hayk” newspaper, the newspaper’s correspondent Arman Galoyan and resident of Areni village Svetlana Arakelian.
The reason for the suit was the piece “In the Wake of a Murder”, published in “Hayk” on August 8, 2008. It told about the murder of Karen Manukian, committed by Susanna Baghdasarian’s spouse, Hamlet Baghdasarian. The article cited the opinion of the widow of the killed, Svetlana Arakelian, who spoke about the Baghdasarians family rather unflatteringly, in particular about their deceased son. The plaintiff demanded to refute the information, defacing the memory of her son. The Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan took the suit into consideration on August 23, 2010, the hearings started on October 26, 2010. On September 27, 2011, the Court secured the suit partially. It ruled out that the information subject to refutation was not stated in the words of the journalist, but in the quoted opinion of Svetlana Arakelian, consequently the information was to be refuted by Svetlana Arakelian in “Hayk” newspaper. Meanwhile, “Hayk” has closed down since mid-summer 2010 (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2011).
In other words, a precedent was established: the Court bound the respondent to do the impossible, i.e., make a refutation in a closed media. Highlighting this fact, the IDC stated that the Court had a possibility to reveal that “Hayk” newspaper stopped its issue. Thus, it should have rendered an additional decision, which would mention the media, where the respondent would publish the refutation, the IDC found.
The IDC also stressed that the Court examined the lawsuit before the amendments to the RA Civil Code were introduced. Hence, deriving from the legal provisions then-in-effect, the terms for filling a lawsuit had not expired.
Referring to the ECHR ruling of December 1, 2009 on the case of Khachatrian et al. versus Armenia, IDC mentioned that the plaintiff’s right to due process, as defined in Article 19 of the RA Constitution, had been violated, since the non-possibility of implementing a favorable legal act is the same as depriving a person from the right to apply to court.
ON MARCH 19, Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan released the ruling on the lawsuit of Gurgen Aghajanian versus the founder of “Zhoghovurd” daily (“Editorial Office of ‘Zhoghovurd’ Newspaper” LLC).
The hearings on the suit started on February 9, 2012. Gurgen Aghajanian contested the article “Galust’s Son Is Required To”, published by “Zhoghovurd” on August 9, 2011. The piece started with the words: “‘Zhoghovurd’ received a letter from Gurgen Aghajanian (…)”. It further noted that on August 6 the daily received a letter in an envelope indicating the sender’s name, Gurgen Aghajanian. The letter was sent as a receipt notification, where the return address was that of the Department of the State Property Management of the RA Government. At the same time, the letter was not signed. It told about the abuse of office by Karineh Kirakosian, ex-Head of the State Property Management Department, member of Council of Republican Party of Armenia, and by Ashot Markosian, the former Deputy Head of Department. In the article “Zhoghovurd” also brought the comments of Karineh Kirakosian, who assumed that the information provided in the letter was untrue and Gurgen Aghajanian had written it as a revenge for his dismissal of years ago. On August 10, the next day after the publication of the article, Gurgen Aghajanian announced that he had not written any letters and demanded to publish his refutation. “Zhoghovurd” denied publishing it since the text was not but a self-praise of Gurgen Aghajanian and could not be considered as a proper refutation. On August 29, 2011, the court took into consideration Gurgen Aghajanian’s lawsuit (Karine Kirakosian and Ashot Markosian were involved as third parties in the case). The plaintiff demanded from “Zhoghovurd” a refutation and financial compensation in the amount of 804,000 AMD ($ 2,000). In its February 8, 2012 opinion the Information Disputes Council stressed that from a legal perspective the daily had the right to publish the content of the controversial letter. However, from a professional ethics perspective it would have been preferable to publish the letter without mentioning the name of the author or make a reserve that the daily was not sure who the real author was, because it was not possible to verify the sender’s identity. Because this was not done, after publishing the article the daily should have granted Gurgen Aghajanian with a chance for a refutation or a response, as much as it regards the author of the letter, the IDC noted (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2012).
At the session of March 19, the court revoked the suit of Gurgen Aghajanian as ungrounded.
On August 2, the RA Civil Court of Appeal satisfied the appeal of Gurgen Aghajanian, who contested the ruling of court of general jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal returned the case to reconsideration by the same court jurisdiction.
The reconsideration at the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan started on September 21 and continued as of end-2013.
ON MARCH 20, the European Commission and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy published the European Neighbourhood Policy Country Progress Report 2012-Armenia. The report was an assessment of the EU-Armenia ENP Action Plan implementation within January 1 – December 31, 2012.
A part of the report reflected on the situation with freedom of expression in Armenia. Particularly, the report stressed that the media independence remained insufficient. The RA Law “On Television and Radio”, amended several times, “continued to raise concerns about media pluralism”. According to the progress report, the legal basis for possible withdrawal of broadcasting licenses is currently too broad, which may lead to arbitrariness. The Armenian authorities have not taken any further steps to reform legislation in order to adequately protect media outlets against politically biased abuses in civil defamation cases, the report emphasized. At the same time, the report mentioned relative diversity in print media and some progress in broadcast media, particularly with “ArmNews” TV channel devoting air to the newscast of the opposition-related “A1+” TV channel, whose license had been revoked in 2002. The OSCE/ODIHR media monitoring, implemented during the parliamentary elections, found that “all major political parties generally had access to the media”.
Among the recommendations made for the ENP 2013 Action Plan, the authors of the report suggested amending the Law “On Television and Radio” in line with the OSCE and CoE recommendations, as well as ensuring media pluralism.
ON MARCH 22, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Tavush Region reconsidered the lawsuit filed by “Ijevan Road Construction and Exploitation” CJSC versus the founder of “Ijevan” TV channel (“Ijevan Studio” LLC) and the TV’s correspondent (now – Director) Naira Khachikian.
In December 2011 the road construction company contested a critical TV story about the company. The piece was aired on “Ijevan” TV on June 21, 2011 (it was also broadcast by Second Armenian TV Channel and “Yerkir Media” TV channel). The plaintiff demanded to bring apologies, pay off 3 mln 264 thousand AMD (about $ 8,600), from which 3 mln for compensating the damage, 200,000 – attorney fee and 64,000 – state duty. On April 27, 2012, the Court of General Jurisdiction secured the suit, obliging the respondent to compensate the damage, caused by libel, in the amount of 50,000 AMD, pay off the plaintiff’s expenses for attorney services of 20,000 and the state duty of 1,500 AMD. On May 23, 2012, the road construction company appealed this ruling. On July 4, 2012, the RA Civil Court of Appeal abolished the ruling of the Court of General Jurisdiction and resolved to return the case to reconsideration by the same court jurisdiction (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2012).
The Court of General Jurisdiction of Tavush Region reconsidered the case and fully dismissed the suit of the road construction company. At the same time, the Court bound the respondents to pay the plaintiff’s cost for attorney fee of 100,000 AMD and the state duty of 40,000 AMD. The Court justified its decision reasoning that during examination of the case the circumstance of having caused damage to the business reputation of the company had not been substantiated, however the fact of libel had been proved. Nevertheless, taking into account the “financial situation of the respondents” the Court rejected the claim on remedy for libel.
In its June 17 opinion the Information Disputes Council stressed that the Court’s position was problematic. It virtually stated that the financial situation of the respondents does not allow holding the fact of libel, since this would hamper the smooth operation of the media outlet. If the financial situation of the respondents was the only reason for which the suit was rejected, then what constrained the Court to partially secure the suit, i.e., uphold the violation of the plaintiff’s rights and apply a non-pecuniary remedy, such as publishing a refutation, the IDC noted.
ON MARCH 25, the Information Disputes Council released an opinion on the lawsuit of RA National Assembly deputy Tigran Urikhanian versus blogger Edgar Barseghian.
On October 26, 2012, Tigran Urikhanian was announced the “Most Stylish Political Figure of the Year” at the annual Style Screen award, organized by the Armenian-Italian holding “Amore”. Blogger Edgar Barseghian reflected upon this event with Tigran Urikhanian’s photo collage, placed on Demotivator.am. Tigran Urikhanian’s portrait is photoshopped on the half-naked body of a model. Commenting on this caricature, Edgar Barseghian mentioned that in a country, which has many unresolved problems, a member of parliament, who has to be in the front lines to fight those problems, spends time to appear stylish and to send press releases about it: “And since we are talking about style and fashion, which for me in the first place is associated with women, I created the image with a woman’s body, and I don’t think that being compared to a woman is an insult” (as cited in “NA Deputy Filed a Lawsuit versus the Blogger”, Media.am, December 25, 2012). In response to this, Tigran Urikhanian stated that he would like to hear the blogger’s opinion as to whether it is an insult, when he sees in various places his photo and photos of those close to him, edited on the half-naked bodies of models (ibid). On November 21, 2012, Tigran Urikhanian filed a lawsuit at the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan versus Edgar Barseghian. The plaintiff demands to bind the respondent with removing the collage from Demotivator.am, Blognews.am and social networks. The suit on the protection of honor, dignity and business reputation also claimed for pecuniary remedies in the amount of 1,5 million AMD (about $ 3,700): 1 mln for damage, caused by insult, and 500,000 – court costs. The Court hearings started on December 24, 2012. On December 27, 2012, Tigran Urikhanian made a motion to arrest the property and assets of the respondent in proportion to the financial claims – as a measure to secure the suit, as well as to put an injunction for non-publication of online materials by Edgar Barseghian, which would discredit the honor, dignity and business reputation of the plaintiff. The Court secured the demand on injunction, rejecting the motion on arrest.
The IDC opinion noted that the disputed photo collage belonged to the genre of political satire, which falls under the protection of free expression. The author of the photomontage expressed criticism with regard to the respective action of the political figure and not his personal life. According to the IDC, the personality of the respondent, who is a civic activist and carries out a public watchdog remit, is also a factor, which needs to be taken into consideration. Meanwhile, the plaintiff is a political figure who is distinguished by his wide public activity, therefore the scopes of criticism towards him are wider than towards ordinary citizens. At the same time, the IDC noted that the blogger had depicted the plaintiff’s photo in a form of a half-naked body of a model, which, according to the norms and values established in our society, is an indecent way of presenting a person publicly. With regard to the above-mentioned, the IDC found that it is necessary to demonstrate tolerance towards the means of expression chosen by the blogger.
Once again, the IDC reminded that it is desirable that the political figures refrain from monetary demands when submitting complaints on cases involving matters of public importance and debate.
The IDC also agreed with the measure of securing the suit, selected by the Court.
In the context of the abovementioned dispute the program of “Press Club” cycle was devoted to the ethics of political satire. On March 25 the program was aired on “Yerkir Media” TV channel with the participation of Tigran Urikhanian.
At the May 7 court session Tigran Urikhanian filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Tigran Urikhanian explained on his Facebook page why he dropped the claims. He mainly wrote that his “work takes much time and efforts” and as a RA NA deputy he prefers spending time and efforts “for solving vital issues of the country and improving citizens’ lives” (as cited in Blognews.am, May 7, 2013).
In his turn, Edgar Barseghian wrote on his Facebook page that Tigran Urikhanian “showed political wisdom” with the dismissal of the suit: “I welcome this truly reasonable step that will save us both a meaningless fuss and will allow to use our time with more profit” (ibid ).
IN THE EARLY MORNING OF APRIL 4, the privately owned vehicle of Levon Barseghian, Board Chairman of “Asparez” Journalists’ Club of Gyumri, member of Gyumri Council of Elders, was robbed. In the morning, when Levon Barseghian stepped out of the house, he noticed that the car’s quarter glass was broken, the front-door, control panel and the cabin were damaged, besides two USB drives with music were missing.
In a press release, disseminated on April 4, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club alleged that the incident might be an ordinary robbery. “Asparez”, however, reminded that for the last eight years that was already the eight encroachment on the property of the Journalists’ Club’s employees. Particularly, in 2008, at a time two incidents occurred: in the early morning of January 19, an attempt to set the office of “Asparez” on fire was made; and two months later, in the early morning of March 21, the personal car of the President of “Asparez” Nadezhda Hakobian, which was being used by Levon Barseghian, was arsoned. None of the seven crimes have been disclosed.
The Shirak Department of General Investigative Service of RA Police has instituted criminal proceedings upon the case of robbery of April 4, however, the culprits had not been detected.
ON APRIL 4, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan pronounced the judgment on the lawsuit filed by Armen Darbinian, Rector of Russian-Armenian (Slavonic) University, versus the founder of “National Idea” online, “Center for Political Studies” LLC. The Rector of the Slavonic University contested some statements as contained in the piece, “Armenchik Darbinian Does Not Like to Pay and Why Does He Have To, If He Enjoys Government Protection?”, placed on www.n-idea.am on August 16, 2012. Armen Darbinian demanded compensation of loss caused by libel and insult in the amount of 4 mln AMD (about $ 9,700). The Court started hearing the lawsuit on November 8, 2012.
On April 4, 2013 the Court partially satisfied the lawsuit, obliging the respondent to apologize publically and granting the plaintiff an award of 550,000 AMD, from which 400,000 AMD – compensation for libel and insult, equally, and 150,000 – attorney fees. On May 15, the founder of “National Idea” appealed the ruling with the RA Civil Court of Appeal, which rejected the appeal and confirmed the ruling of the Court of General Jurisdiction on July 10.
In its August 21 opinion the Information Disputes Council noted that during the hearings of the case both of the court instances had considered all the contested expressions of the above-mentioned piece as statement of facts. The IDC disagreed that all disputed expressions were statement of facts, since some of them were value judgments. Like in many other cases, in this one also the court interpreted differently the terms “statement of facts” and “value judgment”. In this regard, the IDC concluded that there should be a legal definition of the term “value judgment”, which is now missing in the Article 1087.1 of RA Civil Code, “Procedure and Conditions of Compensation of Damage to the Honor, Dignity or Business Reputation”. The IDC also stressed that if a statement is a subjective assessment not based on facts, it should be considered as a value judgment and not a statement of facts.
ON APRIL 8, the Freedom of Information Center had applied to the RA Administrative Court with a lawsuit versus RA National Assembly.
On November 22, 2012, the FOI Center sent an inquiry to the RA NA, asking to inform whether the NA Chairman’s orders were placed on the parliament’s website, www.parliament.am, and to provide the copies of the orders, made in the first half-year of 2012. Since the NGO did not receive a reply, it re-sent its inquiry on December 5, 2012. On the same day, the NA responded by email that it needed additional time for answering the request, thus the information would be provided in 30 days. Meanwhile, the NA accorded the information only on March 4, 2013, i.e., three months later. Moreover, the information was not full: according to the FOI Center, copies of the NA Chairman twelve orders were missing. On March 7, the NGO made another request to the parliament demanding the copies of the missing documents. The March 18 reply of the National Assembly stated that the documents cannot be provided since they contain personal data about the employees. At the same time, the parliament did not give sufficient justification and reasons for the refusal.
On April 22, the Administrative Court submitted into consideration the suit of FOI Center versus the National Assembly. The FOI Center demanded the Court to hold that its right to receive information was violated and to oblige the parliament to provide the requested 12 copies of the NA Chairman’s orders.
At the hearings that started on July 3, the Court demanded from the respondent the copies of the twelve decrees (without the confidential personal data) for consideration.
On December 28 the Administrative Court granted the lawsuit of the Freedom of Information Center in part. Recognizing that its right to receive information was violated, the Court obliged the parliament to provide to the organization 4 out of 12 request copies of the NA Chairman’s orders. The Court also obliged the respondent to pay the plaintiff’s court expenses in the amount of 50,000 AMD.
ON APRIL 9, on the inauguration day of Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsian, at about 15.00 in front of the President’s residence the representatives of the opposition, who protested against the voting results, and the police, got into a skirmish. Hripsimeh Jebejian, correspondent of “Aravot” daily, was injured during the happening. As Hripsimeh Jebejian reported, the police not only pushed away the protestants from the President’s office but also the journalists covering the action. According to Hripsimeh Jebejian, she presented herself as a journalist and stressed that she was on duty, however, “the policemen shouted that it doesn’t matter, we say go, just go”. The journalist fell and peeled her arms till it bled in the skirmish.
ON APRIL 11, www.a1plus.am published a piece about the regular session of the Armenian parliament. In the conclusion, the piece noted that the representatives of the RA National Assembly’s security service “today informed the parliamentary journalists that, upon the order of the NA Speaker, they should not stand at the window”, fencing the spots for the press from the session room. Upon the security service’s demand, “the journalists may stand only at the last row”. “This order restricts the work of the journalists, specifically, from now on, it will be impossible to shoot how the RPA (Ed. Note: Republican Party of Armenia) deputies, sitting in the end rows, vote in each other’s place,” www.a1plus.am stressed.
ON APRIL 16, upon the RA President Serzh Sargsian’s order a competition to fill in the vacant position at the National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR) was announced. The competition was held due to the expiration, in April 2013, of the term of office of the NCTR Chairman Grigor Amalian, who ran the regulatory body since its establishment, March 19, 2001.
It should be noted that in compliance with the February 26, 2007 amendments to the Broadcast Law, the half of the 8 NCTR members is elected by the RA National Assembly for a 6-years term, while the other half – by the President of Armenia for the same term. On December 9, 2009 the parliament elected the four NCTR members, and on May 12, 2011 Serzh Sargsian appointed the three other members. Hence, the vacancy formed in 2013 should be filled in by the RA President.
On May 6, RA President Serzh Sargsyan signed a decree to appoint Gagik Buniatian as a member of the RA National Commission on Television and Radio for a six-year term. On May 7, NCTR members elected Gagik Buniatian as Chairman.
Since September 2010, Gagik Buniatian was the Executive Director of Public Television of Armenia, before that – from 2002 – he headed “Hay TV”. In the beginning of the 90s, he was the leader of the KVN team of the Yerevan Medical University, which won twice the major league of the KVN (Club of Cheerful and Quick-Witted, Russian TV game show, popular since Soviet times). During these years, Gagik Buniatian also ran “Sharm” LLC.
It is to be noted that on March 1, RA President appointed Ruben Jaghinian a member of the Council of the Public Television and Radio Company (PTRC). Four days later, Ruben Jaghinian got the chairmanship over the regulatory body of the public broadcaster (see above). The PTRC Council new Chairman also played in the KVN team of the Yerevan Medical University and became known after his team, under the leadership of Gagik Buniatian, twice won the abovementioned major league. Afterwards, up until this appointment, Ruben Jaghinian ran “Sharm Holding” LLC.
Thus, the landmark biography of the newly-appointed NCTR and PTRC Council Chairmen were surprisingly cross-cutting: former team-mates and business partners in the leading advertising and entertainment Armenian company chaired the main bodies, responsible for broadcast policy of the country.
ON APRIL 19, the US State Department released the country reports on human rights practices for 2012, prepared by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
One of the sections of the Armenian country report touched upon the rights to freedom of speech and press, which “the government did not always uphold”: “There were several incidents of violence toward journalists, largely in connection with the May 6 National Assembly elections. The number of lawsuits for libel and defamation decreased.”
The State Department stressed that “print media continued to lack diversity of political opinion and objective reporting”. At the same time, referring to the reports of international and national observers, the State Department noted that, in contrast to previous elections, broadcast media provided diverse and objective coverage of campaign of the May 2012 parliamentary elections. The report highlighted that “the government did not release a promised audit of the country’s television and radio frequencies that provided the technical basis for limiting the number of digital broadcasting licenses it permitted after the switchover from analogue to digital transmission planned for 2015”. The country report also mentioned about the “A1+” TV company, which, since September 2012, broadcasts 20-minute daily news programs on the air of “ArmNews” TV channel.
According to the country report authors, media, particularly broadcasters, feared reprisals for reporting critical of the government: “Such reprisals could include lawsuits, the threat of losing a broadcast license, selective tax investigation, or loss of revenue when advertisers learned the media was in disfavor with the government. Fear of retribution led to a high degree of media self-censorship.”
“Online media were the primary alternative source of information, and, unlike broadcast media, provided diverse political opinions. Their content was largely unrestricted,” the State Department emphasized.
There were some incidents of violence against journalists in connection with the May 6, 2012 National Assembly elections. Thus, unknown persons attacked Elina Chilingarian, correspondent of Armenian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty outside a polling station in Yerevan. Police opened a criminal case upon the incident but closed it on July 13, 2012.
On March 21, 2012, the National Assembly passed a new Law “On the State of Emergency”, which allows the restriction of freedom of expression and media during a declared state of emergency.
The report also stressed the November 15, 2011 ruling by the RA Constitutional Court, which “resulted in fewer libel and defamation suits during the year and the imposition of smaller damages against media”.
ON APRIL 23, at about 17.30 in Yerevan, at the campaign event of the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), running in the Yerevan Council of Elders elections (incumbent Mayor Taron Margarian headed the electoral list of the party) an incident occurred with Hakob Karapetian, correspondent of iLur.am. On the same day, iLur.am published an editorial (“Member of the Council of Elders from the RPA Ashot Papayan Beats iLur.am Correspondent”), where the incident was described in the account of Hakob Karapetian. According to iLur.am, the journalist was shooting on a videocamera the event organizers distributing balloons to the children, when some people approached him and tried to find out who he was and what he was doing there. The journalist answered that he “was carrying out his lawful professional duties”, and to which one of the men told him: “Now do you want us to threat you by our laws?” The skirmish drew the attention of one of the organizers of the event – Ashot Papayan, member of Yerevan Council of Elders from the RPA, who was again running in these elections by the RPA electoral list. The man approached Hakob Karapetian and hit the journalist swearing at him. The other participants of the skirmish joined the man and started to pull and give blows to the journalist. Then they took away the videocamera from Hakob Karapetian, and not long after returned it, but with deleted files. According to iLur.am, a police major, who was present at the site, did not intervene in the incident. However, he told the journalist that he had called the police station. When the event started and Hakob Karapetian resumed the shooting, somebody from the police called him, recommending to address the police officers present at the site, and report about the incident. In reply, Hakob Karapetian told them that he was assaulted in front of hundreds of people, including the police major, and nobody interfered. Now that he was standing at a place, where there were a dozen of police officers, somebody told him that he should be the one to come up to the police officer. Thus, Hakob Karapetian dropped the call.
In the April 24 article, “The 34-Years Member of the Council of Elders, Who Beat the Journalist, Is a University Student Since 2006”, iLur.am provided the details of Ashot Papayan’s biography.
On April 25, RA Police informed that in connection with the incident, the RA Head of Police Vladimir Gasparian had reprimanded the police officer, “who failed to carry out his duties at a public event”, as well as severely reprimanded the immediate head of the police officer, and had dismissed the Deputy Head of Nor Nork Police Department of Yerevan. At the same time, the Police did not provide the names of the policemen, who were subject to disciplinary action.
On April 26, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club of Gyumri, “Investigative Journalists” NGO, Yerevan Press Club, Internews Media Support NGO, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression and “Journalists for the Future” NGO made a statement, condemning the attack against iLur.am correspondent and urged the authorities to punish the persons who were guilty. The media NGOs highlighted the fact that no excuses would be admitted, if the assaulters remained unpunished, since the disclosure of the crime did not present any difficulties. “If this crime does not entail any consequences, we will consider the numerous statements of police administration about its political impartiality as a mere flow of words,” the statement stressed (later, it was signed by some other 15 NGOs).
On April 27, RA Police reported that in connection with the attack against iLur.am correspondent, criminal proceedings were instituted upon Part 1 of Article 164 of RA Criminal Code (“Obstruction of legitimate professional activities of journalist “). Investigation of the case was assigned to the Yerevan Nor Nork Department of RA Police .
On June 20, the website of “Henaran” Press Club, Henaran.am, posted the statement of Yerevan Council of Elders member, Ashot Papayan. In his statement, Ashot Papayan, re-elected on May 6, 2013 to the Yerevan Council of Elders by the list of Republic Party of Armenia, expressed regret about the “unpleasant incident” and apologized to the journalist.
In his turn, in an interview to A1plus.am Hakob Karapetian appreciated the apologies of Ashot Papayan and the punishment imposed on the police officers for their inaction, at the same time stressing that he will be completely satisfied only when there are no such attacks against journalists at all.
ON APRIL 27, in the center of Yerevan an incident occurred between Ani Hovhannisian, correspondent of Hetq.am (online publication of “Investigative Journalists”), and police officer Vardan Ghukasian. In the article, published on the same day, “V. Ghukasian (Nickname Dog) Pushed and Insulted ‘Hetq’ Reporter”, Ani Hovhannisian wrote that she was walking around the Northern Avenue, when she saw how two policemen were demanding from a street musician to pack up and go to the police station with them. When the journalist asked the police officers why they want to take the musician to the police station, a civilian approached her. The man insulted the journalist and then rudely pushed her (the article also contained a video). The civilian turned out to be police officer Vardan Ghukasian.
On April 28, the “Hetq” article, “Policeman Who Insulted and Pushed ‘Hetq’ Reporter Gets Fired”, reported that the RA Head of Police Vladimir Gasparian convened a meeting to discuss the Northern Avenue incident. Referring to Ashot Aharonian, the Head of the RA Police PR and Information Department, “Hetq” informed that Vardan Ghukasian was dismissed from duties upon the results of an official investigation.
On May 5, Hetq.am published a “Report on Crime”. The reason for this was the video material “Is ‘Hetq’ Correspondent Ani Hovhannisian a Journalist or an Instigator?”, stored on May 3 on Nrnak.com. Nrnak.com also stressed that the video material is composed of episodes from various rallies, and this “dispels all doubts about the unethical conduct of the journalist (Ed. Note: Ani Hovhannisian)”.
“The true author of the video material is the RA Police, since police employees in uniforms with “02” filmed the journalist during the rallies. It is quite obvious how Nrnak.com got the episodes from the operative footage”, “Hetq” wrote in the “Report on Crime”.
Further, “Hetq” informed that it had requested the RA Special Investigation Service “to reveal how the footage of the police appeared on Nrnak.com, and who is the real author of the threats made to “Hetq” reporter Ani Hovhannisian”. “It should be noted that Nrnak.com put a notice for its users that it will not store comments with names, while the comments threatening our journalist are not being taken down, but are being filled with new ones. The authors of some comments publicly threaten Ani Hovhannisian to cause serious physical injury, which is a deed proscribed in Article 137 of RA Criminal Code. Thus, we request to take urgent steps in this regard”, “Hetq” emphasized.
In the P.S. to the “Report on Crime”, “Hetq” informed that as of May 5 Nrnak.com had taken down all the comments to the video material, however, “Hetq” has “a print screen with the threatening comments, which can be provided to the Special Investigation Service upon necessity”.
On May 8, “Hetq” stored one more article “Reporter and Members of her Family are Being Threatened”, which informed that on the same day, at 15.42, Ani Hovhannisian “received a threatening telephone call from a cell number registered in Russia”: “The caller told her to keep her nose out of business that doesn’t concern her, otherwise it would wind up bad for her and her family members. When the reporter asked what he was talking about, the caller answered ‘you know what’. The caller added that he knows where Hovhannisian’s family lives and that all it would take was a phone call. ‘Otherwise, dear Ani, you or one of your relatives will wind up in a ditch’ he said”.
The article also contained the recording of the phone call. “Hetq” noted that it made a report on crime to RA Police with a mention of the phone number and provided a copy of the recording.
On May 9, the Armenian Service of Radio “Free Europe”/Radio “Liberty” with reference to Ashot Aharonian, the Head of the RA Police PR and Information Department, reported that the law enforcement bodies were trying to identify the person who called “Hetq” correspondent.
In the May 16 interview to Radio “Liberty”, Ani Hovhannisian found it difficult to mention the real reasons for the ongoing. In the same interview, Edik Baghdasarian, the Head of “Investigative Journalists”, expressed doubts about the version that the telephone threats may be linked to the April 27 incident at the Northern Avenue. Edik Baghdasarian assumed that the real reason of the threats could be the journalistic investigation on offshore zones. Specifically, he and Ani Hovhannisian are currently examining the issue of investments by Armenian officials and deputies in Georgia.
ON MAY 1, the international human rights organization Freedom House released its annual report on freedom of the press in 2012. “Freedom House” assessed the media situation by assigning a numerical score from 1 to 100 on the following categories: free (1-30 points), partly free (31-60 points), not free (61-100 points) – the lower the score, the higher the freedom. The latter was defined by three dimensions: legal, political and economic environments in which broadcast, print and online media operate. The sum of all three dimensions yielded the cumulative rating of the media situation in each country.
According to Freedom House, the freedom of the press index experienced a global decline in 2012 amid Middle East volatility. Out of 197 countries and territories in 63 (or 32%) media were recognized free, in 70 (or 36%) – partly free and in 64 (or 32%) were rated not free. Only 14% of inhabitants in the world live in countries that enjoy free press, 43%, each, have a partly free or not free press.
The Freedom House study showed that the score of Armenian media improved by 4 points – from 65 (in the years of 2010 and 2011) to 61 points. However, they are still in the same category – “not free”. Freedom House pointed out several causes for this improvement: media coverage of the parliamentary elections was generally more balanced than in previous election periods; opposition parties made greater use of online media; harassment and violence against journalists declined compared with the last election year; and there was a dramatic reduction in defamation or slander complaints against journalists.
Commenting on the indices of Armenia, Yerevan Press Club stressed: “If the Armenian authorities express readiness to pursue a reform agenda in media field, then in 2013 our media will have all chances to be classified under the “partly free” category, from which they are only one step behind.”
ON MAY 3, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan released the ruling on the lawsuit of blogger Tigran Kocharian versus the founder of “Chorrord Inknishkhanutiun” daily, “Trespassers W.” LLC. The basis for the litigation was the piece “Fascist and Elephant: Save the Elephants”, published in “Chorrord Inknishkhanutiun” on July 13, 2012. The piece contained critics about Tigran Kocharian, whose Internet nickname is “Elephant”. The plaintiff demanded refutation and damage in the amount of 3,500,000 AMD (about $ 8,600): 3 mln for damage caused by libel and insult, and 500,000 AMD for attorney services (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2012).
The Court partially upheld Tigran Kocharian’s demands, committing the founder of “Chorrord Inknishkhanutiun” to publish a refutation, and reducing the monetary award to 700,000 AMD (500,000 for damage and 200,000 for attorney services).
ON MAY 5, elections to the Yerevan Council of Elders were held. It is the only Armenian self-government body elected exclusively upon a proportional system (the first Yerevan elections were held in on May 31, 2009). On May 7, Yerevan Press Club presented the results of the monitoring on Armenian broadcast media coverage of the Yerevan Council of Elders elections.
The YPC monitoring was conducted in three stages: the first stage covered the period from April 7 to May 3, 2013 (pre-election promotion); the second stage covered the period from May 4 to May 5, 2013 till 20.00 (the days, when pre-election promotion is prohibited by the electoral legislation); the third stage covered the period of May 5 from 20.00 to May 19, 2013 (coverage of the post-election situation).
The research was carried out within the framework of a project on strengthening electoral processes in Armenia in line with international standards, implemented by the OSCE Office in Yerevan and financed by the European Union.
Monitoring included 7 broadcast media: 4 national TV channels – First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia (h1), “Yerkir Media”, “Kentron”, Second Armenian TV Channel (h2); 1 TV channel of Yerevan – “ArmNews”; 2 radio channels – Public Radio of Armenia and “ArmRadio FM 107”.
On the first stage of the monitoring, during the period of pre-election promotion, on the abovementioned TV and radio channels, all programmes of the evening airtime were studied (from 18:00 to 01:00), excluding political, commercial and social advertising. On the second stage, during the “days of silence” and the days following the voting (May 4-7), the complete airtime of the abovementioned channels was studied. On the third stage, during the two post-election weeks, the main issue of news/news and comment programme and one current affairs/discussion programme (per day) of the evening airtime were studied.
Like in the period of presidential elections (see above), in general, the broadcast media studied did not exhibit discrimination towards any of the 7 political forces, taking part in the struggle for places in Yerevan Council of Elders. On the whole, equal conditions were provided for introducing the electorate to the programmes and views of the participants of Yerevan municipal elections. At the same time, as the YPC monitoring showed, the ruling party received the most unfavourable coverage for the first time in Armenian elections’ history. Moreover, the balance of Republican Party of Armenia was negative in all media studied. And if during the national elections 2012-2013 a positive tendency was observed in terms of the tone of media coverage, during the Yerevan Council of Elders elections the share of connotational references to political forces taking part in the elections, was almost two times higher than during the parliamentary and presidential campaigns. This indicated an uncompromising struggle and confirmed the statements that Yerevan elections were decisive within the electoral cycle 2012-2013. The study of the post-election situation showed that the assessment of elections to Yerevan Council of Elders, expressed on the air of the studied broadcasters by various categories of Armenian society, was mostly negative. The largest share of negative statements about the elections was made by journalists, who noted numerous deficiencies and violations. Political opposition intensively criticized the elections (more than half of the statements by its representatives contained negative attitude to the campaign), and roughly less than half were negative assessments by local observers. On a whole, assessments referred to bribing the voters, use of administrative resource, various forms of pressure on citizens.
The results of YPC monitoring of 2012-2013 electoral cycle were issued as a book “Armenian Broadcast Media Coverage of Parliamentary Elections in 2012, Presidential Elections in 2013 and Elections to the Yerevan Council of Elders in 2013”.
ON MAY 5, on the voting day for the Yerevan Council of Elders cases of impeding professional activities of journalists occurred. On May 8, RA Police communicated about seven incidents with journalists. The Police also informed that some of the alarms on the incidents had not been confirmed.
With reference to www.1in.am, the Police reported that from the early morning people were being conveyed to the 4/02 electoral station of Arabkir district by public mini buses number 71 and 40. As the residents of this district told “Aravot” daily, at all the elections they were conveyed to the polling station by the Republican Party of Armenia. The RPA representative and chairman of the precinct electoral commission refused to talk with the journalists and screamed at them. L.A., the proxy of “Barev, Yerevan” party bloc, informed that the commission chairman impeded the work of journalists.
With reference to iDitord, the Police informed that at the 6/23 electoral station of Ajapnyak district the reporter of “Aravot” daily was prohibited to film (“Aravot”, “They Were Caught with Lists, Which They Claim to Be Poem”).
With reference to www.1in.am, the Police communicated that at the 7/05 polling station of Malatia-Sebastia district a media representative was impeded to follow the voting process. The explanations provided by observer Sh.A. and A.M., cameraman of “Kentron” TV, were used for the case materials.
With reference to iLur.am, Police informed that at the same 7/05 station a representative of “Kentron” TV was barred from entry to the polling station without an accreditation at the Central Electoral Commission (iLur.am, “Summary of Congress: Violations Are Recorded As of 19.00”).
With reference to Hetq.am, the Police informed that at the 7/14 polling station of Malatia-Sebastia district people from the house of seniors were conveyed by microbuses. When the reporter and cameraman of “Hetq” came up to the people, gathered at the precinct, S.Z., the chairman of the electoral commission, pushed out the reporter from the station, since he did not have a journalistic ID (“Hetq”, “They Pushed the Reporter”).
With reference to Counterpart International, the Police informed that the organization had received an alarm on its hotline that at the 7/34 electoral precinct of Malatia-Sebastia district a reporter of “168 Hours” newspaper was banned to enter the station during the vote-counting.
With reference to iDitord, the Police reported that at the 8/08 electoral precinct of Malatia-Sebastia district Gevorg Manukian, running for a seat in the Yerevan Council of Elders from Republican Party of Armenia, had a proxy ID and obstructed the work of journalists and observers (newsfeed of “Asparez”).
ON MAY 6, the Delegation of the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities held a press conference in Yerevan. The delegation conducted an observation mission of the May 5 elections to Yerevan Council of Elders. Stewart Dickson, Head of the delegation, presented the preliminary conclusions of the mission. According to the observers, “with the exception of a few incidents, in those polling stations visited by the observation team of the Congress, the vote was carried out in a calm and orderly manner and the elections were technically well prepared”.
The CoE observation mission particularly pointed out: “The cameras present in each polling station and the practice of extensive filming by different stakeholders: on the one hand this adds to the transparency of the process. However, members of the Congress believe that this could be counter-productive and instead of increasing transparency – as it was meant to be – create mistrust among voters about overly-controlled electoral processes.”
Stewart Dickson also mentioned “the extensive number of domestic observers present in polling stations”. “In the majority of the cases, we were unsure about a number of local NGOs and media outlets; their intentions remain ambiguous to the members of our delegation and it could be suggested that these observers were also acting on behalf of political parties or alliances”, stressed the Head of delegation.
Stewart Dickson reminded that Armenia was taking over the Chairmanship of the Council of Europe soon. On behalf of the Congress, he encouraged the Armenian authorities “to seize the opportunity of this Chairmanship and go ahead with further improvements of the legal framework, the electoral practice and the environment in which elections take place”.
ON MAY 8, the National Commission on Television and Radio released the data on the report of the monitoring on ensuring of equal conditions for parties/party bloc by Armenian TV and radio companies during the official campaign of the May 5, 2013 Yerevan Council of Elders elections. The monitoring was implemented by NCTR in line with the RA Electoral Code. The results of the NCTR monitoring were published and presented to the Central Electoral Commission on the 10th and 20th days of the pre-election promotion (e.g., on April 16 and 26, 2013), as well as not later than two days before the announcement of the official ballot results (May 10, 2013).
The methodology on NCTR monitoring was published on March 11, 2013 and was similar to the one used for the presidential elections of February 2013 (see above). Thus, the methodology presumed: scanning of the TV and radio programs; studying the information, provided by the broadcasters or received from the parties/blocs running in the elections, state bodies, public and international organizations, as well as analyzing the media materials reporting on violations of the electoral legislation by the broadcasters. It was noted that during the monitoring the paid and free airtime, allocated to parties/blocs for pre-election promotion, NCTR would asses: the invariability of tariffs, announced by broadcasters for political advertising throughout the whole official campaign; the broadcasters’ compliance with the non-discrimination principle, when allocating air and time for broadcasting promotional materials; the lawfulness of arguments, provided for the denial of airtime for broadcasting promotional materials. Moreover, NCTR assured that they would track the broadcasters’ compliance with other legislative provisions.
The May 8 NCTR report pointed out that in the period of pre-election promotion (April 7 – May 3, 2013), as well as on May 4 and 5 (days, when the pre-election promotion is forbidden), the broadcasters did not violate the Electoral Code and the RA Law “On Television and Radio”.
ON MAY 18, another incident of rude impediment of the work of journalists occurred on the Yerevan-Sevan highway, near a Road Police station. The police blocked the road heading to Yerevan in order to suppress the grievance of relatives and co-villagers of the soldier, who was killed on May 15 in one of the military units. The protestors attempted to carry the grave with the dead body to the Government house. Representatives of law enforcement bodies stopped the cars of the journalists and banned their passage to the blocked place. Further, they attacked the journalists and took away the recording devices, stating that they had received an order from “above” to prohibit any shooting. Later on, the RA Minister of Defense Seyran Ohanian and the Head of RA Police Vladimir Gasparian, who arrived at the site of event, told the journalists that they had not made any such order.
The law enforcement bodies took away the camera of the Sevan special correspondent of the Second Armenian TV Channel, and returned the damaged device later. In a report about the protest action, which the Second Channel broadcast on the same day, it announced that the video materials, used in the report, were provided by their colleagues from “Yerkir Media” TV channel.
The police also took away the camera of representatives of “Yerkir Media”, but returned it safely only after the intermediation of the RA Police Head.
“ArmNews” TV channel informed that it had made a report to the police in connection with obstruction of the work of its film crew.
The video camera of Siranuysh Papian, correspondent of Lragir.am, was also seized and later returned with deleted files.
Gor Martirosian, Director of “Kentron” TV channel, announced about the details of the incident, which happened with the film crew of “Epikentron” news program. In his announcement he mainly stressed that a civilian, who was swearing at the TV channel’s cameraman, pushed him, snatched out his camera and gave the broken device to a man in uniform. After an hour, representatives of the military police brought back the camera, without the recording chip. At first, they told that “the camera was in a car, and then added, with undisguised cynicism, that they found it under a tree”. Director of “Kentron” also stated that for a while the video camera remained in the car belonging to the Ministry of Defense. Assessing the incident as “an obvious obstruction of journalistic activities, manifest violation and restriction of freedom of speech”, the Director of “Kentron” requested the law enforcement bodies to accept his announcement as a report on crime.
On May 20, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Yerevan Press Club, “Internews” Media Support NGO, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club of Gyumri, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia and “Journalists for the Future” made a statement to demand from “the representatives of defense and law enforcement agencies to carry out official investigation and to punish harshly the persons, who exercised wrongful acts towards the journalists”. “With regard to the fact that cases of impeding journalistic activities namely by security bodies have increased, we urge to take measures for avoiding such illegal acts in the future”, the six media NGOs highlighted.
On May 21, in an interview with the Public Radio of Armenia, the Armenian President’s spokesperson criticized the incidents, expressing confidence that all necessary means would be undertaken to “disclose the circumstances of the case”. On the occasion of the incident with “Kentron” TV channel cameraman a criminal case was instituted, which was further discontinued since the perpetrator was unknown.
ON MAY 21, chief editors of more than ten print media delivered a statement to express their concern on the increasing cases of copyright violations in the Internet. The authors of the statement stressed that the print media information instantly appear on the Web often without any due reference and note about the initial source. At the same time, the chief editors mentioned that this practice is not only misleading the readers, but also infringes upon the copyright of journalists and media, as well as entails financial losses for the press. To solve this issue, the newspapers’ heads suggested the online media, which make use of their product, conclude respective agreements with them (“Azg” daily, May 22, 2013).
A month later, on June 21, editors of fifteen online media made a similar joint statement to express concern regarding the widespread practice of the gross violations of copyrights in the Internet. “The hard work of a journalist becomes the “property” of almost all the media in a matter of minutes, which often do not make any due references”, the authors of the statement stressed (Aravot.am, one of the statement signatories, June 21, 2013, “Statement of Websites’ Editors”). The editors called their colleagues to adhere to the developed rules of interaction between online media. Particularly, they proposed: to provide a hyperlink to the original source in the title or the first sentence of the reprinted piece (including video); not to reproduce the whole content of the piece so that the reader will need to refer to the original source; not to repost more than three photos and provide a hyperlink for them, preserving its logo, unless the photo is used for making demotivators.
The situation was resolved with the adoption of the amendments to the Law on Copyright by the RA National Assembly (see below).
ON MAY 29, Hetq.am, the online publication of “Investigative Journalists” NGO, published the article, “Cyprus Troika: Who ‘Stripped’ Businessman Paylak Hayrapetyan of His Assets?”. The article particularly reported that the Prime Minister of Armenia Tigran Sargsyan, Primate of the Ararat Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church Archbishop Navasard Kjoyan and Ashot Sukiasyan, who is engaged in diamond manufacturing, are the shareholders of Wlispera Holdings Limited (WHL), an offshore company registered in Cyprus. Further, the article stated that “WHL is directly connected to a case involving the seizure of assets belonging to businessman Paylak Hayrapetyan” and presented some details of the story. The piece also provided a screenshot of the registration certificate of Wlispera Holding Limited.
On May 29, the same day of publication of the article, “Hetq” stored the answer of Harutyun Berberian, Press Secretary of Prime Minister, “Prime Minister Sargsyan Ready to Go to Prosecutor General over Hetq Exposé”. The answer stressed that Tigran Sargsyan has no connection to Wlispera Holding Limited. “Moreover, neither has the prime minister personally, or through any other authorized entity, registered any organization in Cyprus or any other off-shore location”, the letter emphasized. Harutyun Berberian noted that the screenshot of the registration certificate provided in the “Hetq” article is false, and Tigran Sargsyan will address the RA Prosecutor’s Office.
Meanwhile, “Hetq” mentioned in its editorial note that it has never used false information and advised the Prime Minister “to first take a look at the website of the Cyprus Department of Registrar of Companies, to inspect the veracity of the information presented therein”, as well as examine “the bank transfers from Armenia to the company in question, and vice-versa, and then contact the proper authorities of Cyprus to expose any ‘conspiracy’, if one indeed exists”. Only having done so should the Prime Minister address to the Prosecutor’s Office, the editorial note stated. “Hetq” also expressed hope that the Prosecutor’s Office will regard its article as a report on crime.
On June 3, RA Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan requested the RA Prosecutor’s Office to assess the evidence as contained in the article. As the Adviser to RA General Prosecutor Sona Truzian informed, the Prime Minister’s request was redirected to the RA Police and would be examined in frames of the criminal proceedings instituted upon the complaint of businessman Paylak Hayrapetyan.
ON JUNE 11, “Shant” TV company posted a clarification on its Facebook page regarding the dismissal of Armen Dulyan, the TV channel observer. One of the leading journalists of “Shant” got fired for his June 8 Facebook post, in which he criticized the Russian TV stations and made parallels with Armenian media, characterizing the representatives of both sides as “primitive”.
The journalist’s opinion was perceived by “Shant” management as insulting. In its statement “Shant” stressed that future collaboration with Armen Dulyan could not be considered acceptable, since he displayed disrespectful attitude towards the TV company.
The dismissal drew a wide response in Armenian media. The employers’ (media chiefs) attitude towards journalists and their activities in social network, in particular, became the discussion topic of an YPC “Press Club” TV program, broadcasted on “Yerkir Media” TV channel on June 17, 2013. Armen Dulyan appeared in the “Press Club” as one of the discussants. “Shant” refused to take part in the talk show, but it provided a TV story, which was aired on the channel and reflected its position on the issue. “Press Club” also broadcasted the story.
ON JUNE 11, the RA Administrative Court started hearings on the lawsuit of Freedom of Information Center filed against the RA National Security Service (NSS). On February 11, the FOI Center requested the NSS to provide a copy of the Agreement on Procedure of the Revision of the Level of Privacy of Information Classified during the Existence of the USSR (signed by the CIS member-states on October 18, 2011), and to notify what information has been unclassified under the Agreement and what body can provide this information. The NSS sent the FOI Center an incomplete answer, thus on March 7, the NGO resent its request, but the answer was still incomplete. On April 5, the FOI Center filed a lawsuit demanding to oblige the NSS to provide the requested information in full. On April 12, the suit was taken into consideration.
On September 19, the court rejected the lawsuit. Freedom of Information Center appealed against the judgment to the RA Administrative Court of Appeal and then to the RA Cassation Court. Both instances in their turn rejected the complaint.
ON JUNE 18, international human rights organization Freedom House released the annual study Nations in Transit. The comparative research on democratic development in 29 countries from Central Europe to Eurasia covered the period from January 1 through December 31, 2012. Freedom House measured progress according to the following indicators: electoral process, civil society, independent media, national democratic governance, local democratic governance, judicial framework and independence, and corruption.
According to the study, Armenia was among the six countries, which received a score improvement in their democratic progress. The amelioration in 2012 “was due to an improved media environment in the run-up to the parliamentary vote and a significant decline in the number of defamation suits”, Freedom House emphasized.
ON JUNE 19, at the extraordinary session of the RA National Assembly the draft law on amending the RA Law “On Television and Radio” was adopted in second hearings and finally. The document passed the first hearings on the same day of its adoption.
The amendments to the Broadcast Law were elaborated by the RA Government and provided for a 6-months delay of the termination of analogue broadcasting in the country, i.e. until July 1, 2015 (earlier it was on January 1, 2015). In this respect, the broadcast licenses of regional TV companies, the validity of which expires on January 1, 2015, were also prolonged for six months (until July 1, 2015). The broadcast licenses of the radio companies, expiring on July 20, 2013, became valid for another three years, till July 20, 2016.
The Government justified the need for such amendments by “essential technical, material and financial difficulties”, which occurred during the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting.
ON JUNE 21, News.am, referring to the RA Police Press Service, reported that as a result of official investigation, Karen Movsisian, Head of the Service Department of Yerevan Police, received a reprimand for his insulting statement about journalists. “Journalism is prostitution”, Karen Movsisian wrote in Facebook, commenting the skirmish that happened on June 18 in the parliament between the MP Vardan Ayvazian and Gohar Vezirian, correspondent of “Chorrord Inknishkhanutiun” daily.
STARTING FROM JULY 2, “Chorrord Inknishkhanutiun” (“Fourth Self-Power”) was being published under its old name, “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” (“Fourth Power”). The newspaper had also changed its founder – “West Pole” LLC, and had increased in price – 200 AMD against the former 100 AMD.
On October 19, 2009, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan banned the publication of “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” due to the lawsuit of “Gind” printing house filed versus the newspaper’s founder, “Ogostos” LLC. The Court ruled to uphold the ban before the paper’s founder’s liabilities for printing costs were covered. Some journalistic and human rights organizations, including Yerevan Press Club, assessed this ban as a violation of the right to free dissemination of information and called to fix the problems, which were purely financial. Meanwhile, since November 10, 2009, the newspaper was being issued under the title of “Chorrord Inknishkhanutiun” and with a new founder – “Trespassers W.” LLC (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2009).
ON JULY 4, RA Court of Cassation ruled on the dispute between Margarita Khachatrian, Chairwoman of “Zinvor” (“Soldier”) Association of NGOs, and “Hraparak” daily founder (“Hraparak Oratert” LLC).
Margarita Khachatrian had contested at court the piece about her visit to one of the military units. The piece was published in “Hraparak” on April 21, 2011. The Head of “Zinvor” demanded refutation, damage for libel and insult in the amount of 2 million AMD (about $ 5,400) and the court costs. Later, Margarita Khachatrian dropped the financial claims towards “Hraparak” founder, demanding only refutation. On July 30, 2012, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan dismissed the lawsuit. Margarita Khachatrian appealed this ruling. On November 23, 2012, RA Civil Court of Appeal stroke down the ruling of Court of General Jurisdiction, obliged “Hraparak” to publish a refutation, and bound its founder to compensate the court costs of Margarita Khachatrian in the amount of 14,000 AMD (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2012).
On December 21, 2012, the founder of “Hraparak” contested the ruling of the second instance court at the Court of Cassation, which submitted the complaint into consideration on February 21, 2013, and examined it on July 4. The Court of Cassation abolished the ruling of the Civil Court of Appeal, thus sustaining the July 30, 2012 decision of the Court of General Jurisdiction, which had dismissed the suit of Margarita Khachatrian.
ON JULY 10, at a public meeting with students, media and civil society, Stefan Fule, European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, stated that Armenian legislation on broadcasting needs to be modernized in compliance with the recommendations of the OSCE and the Council of Europe.
“Human rights, democracy and fundamental freedoms will be so-called ‘essential elements’ of our new Agreement (Ed. Note: the EU-Armenia Association Agreement), in other words the absolute core that both sides must respect and promote”, Stefan Fule stressed. The EU Commissioner noted that he has discussed with government, parliamentarians and civil society the main priorities of the EU-Armenia relations, particularly: democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms, equality, intensifying the fight against corruption, reforming governance and strengthening institutions. As an example to solve one of the issues of fundamental freedoms, Stefan Fule highlighted the need of modernizing the broadcast legislation.
ON JULY 15, the RA Administrative Court pronounced the judgment on the lawsuit, filed by Levon Barseghian, Board Chairman of “Asparez” Journalists’ Club of Gyumri, versus the Kentron Police Department of Yerevan.
The litigation between Levon Barseghian and law enforcement agencies lasted for about two years in connection with the incident that occurred in the morning of September 21, 2011 in downtown Yerevan. The twelve citizens, who had gathered at the statue of Martiros Sarian, were preparing for the protest action against the participation of foreign units in the military parade on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of Armenia’s Independence. A lieutenant colonel of police who introduced himself as one of the heads of the Kentron Police Department, questioned the activists about their intentions, then went away, and after a while ordered the representatives of law enforcement bodies to arrest the rally’s organizers – Levon Barseghian and sculptor Arno Kur (Sasha Galechian). The latter ones were conveyed to the Kentron Police Department, where they stayed more than 3 hours and were released when the parade was over. In the evening of the same day, Levon Barseghian and Arno Kur delivered a statement, claiming that their detention was unlawful, the police had made use of force, an attorney was not allowed to visit them, and they were not presented the protocol of reconduction. The statement authors emphasized that the police violated their constitutional rights to freedom of movement, assembly and expression; thereby they intended to address the court. On December 9, 2011, the RA Administrative Court submitted the lawsuit of Levon Barseghian versus the Kentron Police Department. The court hearings started on May 3, 2012 (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2012).
On July 15, 2013, the Administrative Court ruled to satisfy the lawsuit of Levon Barseghian, holding that “his rights to freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of association (freedom of assembly), freedom of movement, personal freedom and inviolability have been violated”. The Court also found that the actions of the police officers of Kentron Department were unauthorized and obliged the respondent to reimburse the plaintiff’s court costs in the amount of 8,000 AMD (about $ 20).
At the September 4 meeting with journalists, Levon Barseghian and lawyer Artak Zeynalian, legal representative of “Asparez” head, assessed the Administrative Court’s ruling as unprecedented, while noting that the police have not appealed the ruling and it is effective since August 15, 2013. According to Levon Barseghian, a key role in the outcome of the case had the video footages about the incident that were made by the Armenian Service of Radio “Liberty” and Epress.am, and were submitted as evidence during the proceedings.
ON JULY 31, during the public gathering at the Mashtots square in Yerevan, the activists of the “Pay 100 Drams” movement, protesting against the bus fare increase, obstructed the works of the shooting teams of the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia, “ArmNews” and “Shant” TV companies.
On August 2, the activists announced that this was a spontaneous boycott against the TV companies, rather than the journalists. The activists claimed that the TV companies’ reporters had come to the gathering only because of the presence of Vazgen Manukian, Chairman of the Public Council by the RA President. In the activists’ opinion, the broadcasters were not concerned with covering the movement; moreover they had been ignoring their struggle over the previous ten days (since it started).
On the same day, August 2, the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Media Initiatives Center (formerly, Internews Armenia), Yerevan Press Club, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club and “Journalists for the Future” delivered a statement regarding the July 31 incident.
“Acknowledging the problems of Armenian journalism and the challenges that the Armenian media field is facing, as well as understanding the discontent of the young activists with the often biased reporting of most broadcasters, we, nevertheless, find it unacceptable to prevent the staff of any television company from carrying out their duties. We are convinced that such an act is a violation of not only legal norms, but also of the ethics of public order.
We therefore appeal to the movement’s activists to avoid such actions in the future and to express their claims against the media in a lawful and civilized manner. While we highly appreciate the importance of the “Pay 100 Drams” movement, we find that obstructing the work of any media during public events contradicts the democratic nature of these.
At the same time, we also call upon the Armenian media and particularly the TV companies to ensure adequate and unbiased coverage of events of public interest and importance, respecting the right of citizens to receive information”, said specifically the statement of six journalistic NGOs.
ON AUGUST 19, Freedom of Information Center filed a lawsuit with the RA Administrative Court against the Information Technologies Center of the Committee of the Real Property Cadastre of the RA Government.
On May 7, the FOI Center had applied to the agency requesting to provide information on the time, the bases, the ownership and the term of disposal of the Closed Market on Mashtots Avenue in the center of Yerevan, as well as the copies of relevant lease/ownership contracts of the Market (it should be noted that the situation with the Closed Market drew a wide public response).
On May 18, the agency responded that the information could only be provided upon payment. Considering this response groundless Freedom of Information Center applied to the court demanding to oblige the agency to provide the requested information free of charge or under the terms set by the RA Law “On Freedom of Information” which provides that information up to 10 pages shall be imparted free of charge.
The hearings on the lawsuit started on December 20 and continued as of end-2013.
ON AUGUST 24, during the public protests against the construction of a residential building in the vicinity of 5 Komitas Avenue in Yerevan, Argishti Kivirian, Coordinator of the ARMENIA Today news agency, was detained. According to the journalist, he was beaten by the law enforcers in the police car. Argishti Kivirian was summoned to the Arabkir Police Department of Yerevan with injuries and bruises on his face, from where the ambulance transferred him to “Erebuni” medical center. Argishti Kivirian’s story about the incident, as well as the interview with the doctor was placed on the same day on Lragir.am.
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 versus him on charges of RA Criminal Code Article 316 (“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.
On August 27, upon the order of the RA General Prosecutor Aghvan Hovsepian all the files of the case were submitted to the RA Special Investigation Service (SIS).
The Special Investigative Service, having investigated the incident, despite photo and video materials published in the media demonstrating signs of beating on Argishti Kivirian, concluded the use of violence by the police against the journalist was not confirmed. Moreover, SIS qualified Argishti Kivirian’s statement as false denunciation. Thus, on November 7, SIS brought a charge against the journalist not only under Article 316 (“Violence against a representative of the authorities”), but also under Article 333 (“False denunciation”) of the RA Criminal Code. The measure of restriction applied against the journalist was recognizance not to leave. On November 28, SIS closed the investigation.
As of end-2013 the case was not referred to the court.
ON SEPTEMBER 2, Yerevan Press Club presented the first results of the Media Freedom Index in the six Eastern Partnership countries (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine). The research had been carried out in the framework of the “ENP East Media Freedom Watch” project, which was supported by the European Union and implemented by YPC in cooperation with Internews Ukraine and other partner NGOs from EaP countries. To inform about the situation with media in the six countries a special website had been launched. The website also posted the results of the Media Freedom Index, as well as the quarterly reports that were based on the study and described the situation with media, providing recommendations for improvement.
The level of media freedom in each of the EaP countries was determined by a joint methodology through expert interviews. Ten experts (journalists, human rights advocates, lawyers, sociologists, public figures) from each country answered a set of 55 questions-criteria. For each question each expert rated the situation in the country by giving scores from 0 to 3 points (0 – the lowest level of media freedom, 3 – the highest). The criteria for assessment were the same for each country. They reflected the experts’ perception about the level of media freedom at the moment of the survey, and described only the state of freedom of expression and media, regardless of the quality of journalism. The questions were broken into 4 blocks: policy, pursued in the media field (legislation, regulatory mechanisms, etc.); practice (cases of harassment, persecution, access to information, etc.); TV and radio broadcasting (level of independence of TV and radio companies, access to air, etc.); Internet and new media (advance, level of freedom, access, etc.). The expert assessments were summed up and thus the cumulative Media Freedom Index was calculated by a 1-7 numerical score (the higher the score the better the media situation).
At the Yerevan meeting with journalists, the YPC presented results of the pilot Index for the period of April 1 – June 30, 2013.
The cumulative rating list was headed by Georgia – index 6 (1,222 points) and Moldova -index 5 (1,111 points), which were followed by Armenia and Ukraine – index 4 (912 and 797 points, respectively). The least benign situation with the media freedom was in Azerbaijan – index 3 (523 points) and Belarus – index 2 (414 points).
As the results for the four components showed, in the block “Policy” Georgia’s, Moldova’s and Armenia’s index was 6, the index of Ukraine was 5, Azerbaijan’s index was 4 and the index of Belarus was 2. The leader of the block “Practice” was Georgia (index 6), followed by Moldova (index 5), Armenia and Ukraine (index 4), Azerbaijan and Belarus (index 2). In the block “TV and Radio Broadcasting” Moldova and Georgia received index 5, Armenia – index 3, Ukraine and Azerbaijan – index 2, Belarus – index 1. In the “Internet and New Media” block Georgia, Armenia and Moldova had index 6, Ukraine – index 5, Azerbaijan and Belarus – index 2.
On November 18, Yerevan Press Club presented another set of results of the Media Freedom Index (for the period of July 1 – September 30, 2013). For this period the cumulative rating list was headed by Moldova – index 6 (1,276 points) with Georgia following with – index 5 (1,270 points). The leaders were then followed by Armenia – index 5 (935 points) and Ukraine – index 4 (792 points). Azerbaijan – index 3 (546 points) and Belarus – index 2 (443 points) were at the bottom of the list. Thus, as compared with the previous study, Moldova and Georgia had swapped places, whereas the other countries retained their positions.
As the results for the four components showed, in the block “Politics” Georgia had index 7, Armenia’s index was 6, the index of Moldova and Ukraine was 5, Azerbaijan’s index was 4 and the index of Belarus was 2. The leaders of the block “Practice” were Moldova and Georgia (index 6), followed by Armenia and Ukraine (index 4), Armenia and Ukraine (index 4), Azerbaijan and Belarus (index 2). Moldova led the block “TV and Radio Broadcasting” with index 6, followed by Georgia (index 5), Armenia and Ukraine – index 3, Azerbaijan and Belarus – index 2. Also in the “Internet and New Media” block Moldova became the leader with index 7. Georgia and Armenia had index 6, Ukraine – index 5, Azerbaijan – index 3 and Belarus – index 1.
ON SEPTEMBER 5, around 22.10-22.20, in the courtyard of 2 Koghbatsi Street of Yerevan, a few steps away from the RA State Revenue Committee, prominent civic activists – Haykak Arshamian, Project Coordinator of Yerevan Press Club, and Suren Saghatelian, Board member of Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center, were brutally beaten up.
Haykak Arshamian was attacked from behind as he opened the doors of his garage to park the car. Suren Saghatelian was beaten in the car having no opportunity to get out of it. The assaulters told nothing, beat the activists for several minutes and then left. Haykak Arshamian said that the attackers were 6 or 7 well-built men, but he had not managed to see their faces. Haykak Arshamian also noted that a dark SUV probably followed them when they were driving home with Suren Saghatelian. Haykak Arshamian and Suren Saghatelian were hospitalized with severe injuries – contusions and fractures.
On September 6, around 40 civil society organizations made an open statement regarding the acts of intimidation towards Armenian civic activists. The statement particularly noted that Yerevan Press Club and Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center, the representatives of which were brutally attacked, are largely involved in the activities of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum. Civic activists Haykak Arshamian and Suren Saghatelian are public figures and carry out their social activities within a legal framework, the statement signatories stressed. During the last two days Haykak Arshamian participated in the civic protests against the announcement by RA President Serzh Sargsian regarding Armenia’s decision to join the Customs Union.
The authors of the statement assessed the incident as intimidation against NGOs, independent media, public figures and active citizens, who raise voice of protest against the Armenian authorities. “We consider this to be a consequence of the prevailing climate of impunity in Armenia, human rights violations, selective law enforcement, the usual practice of political prosecution, the manifestation of which we have also witnessed during the recent days, as repressions were used against activists protesting the controversial construction work at Komitas Street 5 and in front of the Yerevan municipality. We declare that the full responsibility for this act of intimidation falls on the authorities of Armenia, particularly the law enforcement bodies. If this crime is not solved as soon as possible, it will allow us to declare that this act of violence is directly sponsored by the Armenian authorities.”
The NGOs urged the “the civil society and all the free citizens to remain strong, not to retreat before the hired thugs and their patrons, to continue the struggle for their personal rights and freedoms”.
In the following days, the statement was joined by dozens of civil society organizations and citizens.
Statements, condemning the incident, were also made by several international organizations, including the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks.
“The Armenian authorities have committed to ensure that activists can carry out their work without interference, obstacles, discrimination or fear of retaliation. To honour this commitment means only one thing in this particular case – that the attack on the two activists is investigated impartially and effectively and the perpetrators are found and brought to justice”, said Denis Krivosheev, representative of Amnesty International. CoE Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, also highlighted the need of ensuring effective investigation and accountability.
The Steering Committee of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum assessed the attack as an attempt to intimidate those people in the country, who do not agree with Armenia’s decision to join the Customs Union, and declared that it will monitor the situation in Armenia and will not hesitate to draw human rights infringements to the attention of relevant bodies.
The EU Delegation to Armenia urged the Armenian authorities to “take up immediate and firm steps to make the perpetrators accountable without delay”, and recalled that “respecting democratic principles and fundamental human rights and freedoms are still major elements of EU-Armenia bilateral agenda”.
Kentron Police Department of Yerevan started investigation on the case of attack against Haykak Arshamian and Suren Saghatelian. On September 10 – only on the fifth day following the assault – Haykak Arshamian and Suren Saghatelian underwent forensic examination.
On September 14, Kentron Police Department instituted criminal proceedings on charges of Articles 113 (“Infliction of willful medium-gravity damage to health”) and 118 (“Battery”) of the RA Criminal Code.
The case was further discontinued, since the perpetrators had not been identified. It should also be noted that neither Haykak Arshamian, nor Suren Saghatelian were informed about the discontinuance of the case.
ON SEPTEMBER 10, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Ajapnyak and Davitashen Administrative Districts of Yerevan submitted into consideration the lawsuit filed by the founder of “Es? Yes!” magazine (“PanArm Publishing House” CJSC) versus the founder of “Es Em…” magazine (“Ani Kochar Production” LLC). The plaintiff demanded to bind the founder of “Es Em…” magazine not to infringe the trademark of “PanArm Publishing House”. At the same time, the plaintiff petitioned the Court to prohibit further publication and distribution of the magazine “Es Em…” – as a measure to secure the claim. The petition was granted.
According to a press release, disseminated by “PanArm Publishing House” on September 12, “PanArm Publishing House” is the owner of the trademark, copyright and related property rights to “Es? Yes!” magazine (as approved in the certificate of August 30, 2011). After the magazine “Es Em…” was issued “PanArm Publishing House” alleged that the magazine’s name and design are confusingly similar to “Es? Yes!”.
As the press release stated, “Es? Yes!” magazine was founded in 2006 by the “CS Publishing House”, rebranded to “PanArm Publishing House” in July 2012. Since the day of the foundation of “Es? Yes!”, the magazine’s Chief Editor was Ani Kochar, who worked in this capacity until March 2011. In September 2011, “PanArm Publishing House” signed a license agreement with “Ani Kochar Production” LLC, authorizing the use of the “Es? Yes!” trademark for publishing a magazine under the same title. In August 2013, the contract was terminated, about which “Ani Kochar Production” received a prior written notice, the press release stressed. Later on, the disputed “Es Em…” magazine was issued; Ani Kochar is its Chief Editor.
In an interview to “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” daily (“I Am Not the One Who Gives up Easily”, “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun”, September 13, 2013), Ani Kochar, in her turn, stated that the dispute with “PanArm Publishing House”, which consequently brought to the termination of the contract, arose because of her “active civic engagement” (Ani Kochar was in the electoral list of “Barev, Yerevan” bloc at the May 6, 2013 elections to Yerevan Council of Elders) and her “independent stance”.
STARTING FROM SEPTEMBER 21, the daily newspapers “Aravot”, “Hraparak”, “Zhamanak”, “Zhoghovurd”, “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun”, “Haykakan Zhamanak”, as well as “168 Hours”, issued three times a week, were posting on their first or second pages a slogan – “We recognize Tigran Arakelian a political prisoner and demand his immediate release”. According to Aravot.am, the campaign was carried out in agreement with the Armenian National Congress party. Tigran Arakelian was an activist representing the party.
Tigran Arakelian was arrested in connection to the incident with police that happened in Yerevan on August 9, 2011 and was charged with using violence against authorities. On July 20, 2012 the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan sentenced him to six years in prison. The defendant appealed to the RA Criminal Court of Appeal, which dismissed the complaint. The RA Court of Cassation partially granted the complaint and returned the case to the Court of Appeal for new consideration. The trial at the Criminal Court of Appeal started on August 5, 2013. During all this time, Tigran Arakelian was in custody; the court rejected the repeated motions of his lawyer to change the preventive measure.
ON SEPTEMBER 25, Radio “HAY” announced that it goes on strike. The reason of the protest was the order of the RA State Revenue Committee about holding an unscheduled tax audit in broadcasting companies. According to the September 23, 2013 order of the State Revenue Committee’s Head, Radio “HAY” and other radio companies would be subject to tax assessment to value the “production, mining and sale of minerals, turnover and volume of provided services, shortage of goods, factual, including average prices (tariffs) of sales”, noted Radio “HAY” in its statement. It further said that since the order specified neither the scope of audit, which should be related to the radio station’s activities, nor the methods of assessment, the management of Radio “HAY” had banned the conducting of the audit. “The radio station’s staff considers the actions of the State Revenue Committee illegal and regards them as an attempt to interfere in the activities of independent media, aimed at restricting freedom of speech in Armenia”, the statement mentioned.
The statement also informed that the strike would last up until October 4. The daily broadcast of Radio “Hay” would be interrupted for an hour, from 12.00, and during the rest of time the radio station would operate on an automatic programming mode.
ON SEPTEMBER 20, the former Chairman of the National Commission on Television and Radio Grigor Amalian was appointed General Director of “Television and Radio Broadcast Network of Armenia” CJSC of the RA Ministry of Transport and Communication.
Grigor Amalian’s term in office as Chairman of the National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR) expired in April 2013. Grigor Amalian headed this regulatory body for 12 years – ever since its foundation on March 19, 2001. The NCTR Chairman became nationally and internationally famous due to the denial of a broadcast license to an independent oppositional TV company “A1+” on April 2, 2002. Since then “A1+” has many times taken part in broadcast licensing competitions conducted by the NCTR, and every time the bids of the TV company were scored lower than those of its contestants, while the lawsuits disputing the results of the competitions were dismissed. In December 2010 NCTR refused to grant “A1+” TV company a broadcast license for the thirteenth time regardless the June 17, 2008 European Court of Human Rights ruling (on the case of the “A1+” founder, “Meltex” LLC, versus the Republic of Armenia), which acknowledged the refusals to provide “A1+” with a license as a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, i.e. of the right to freely impart information and ideas.
Now Grigor Amalian became the head of a state body that also has an immediate relation with the broadcasting sphere, this time, though, with its merely technical aspects. Thus, among the main directions of the activities of the “Television and Radio Broadcasting Network of Armenia” (TRBN) are: services to disseminate and transmit TV and radio programs using their own technical means; to maintain technical tools of TV and radio companies, communications operators and other entities installed at TRBN stations, as well as the construction, maintenance and operation of the national network of digital TV and radio broadcasting.
ON SEPTEMBER 30, the RA National Assembly adopted in second hearing and finally amendments to the RA Law “On Copyright and Related Rights”. The document had passed the first reading on September 10.
Within the period of the first and second reading, the draft was posted on Facebook for public discussion. In an interview to Aravot.am, one of the authors of the amendments, RA National Assembly Deputy Arpineh Hovhannisian assured that many of the suggestions, received in the course of discussion, were taken into account (Aravot.am, September 20, 2013, “We Took Into Consideration All the Reasonable Suggestions”).
Clause 1 of Article 4 of the amended Law was supplemented with a provision according to which news or information on current affairs and facts are not an object of copyright if the mode of presentation of these materials is a result of creative work.
The Law was also supplemented with the Article 22.1, establishing conditions for full or partial reproduction of print/online media pieces by another print/online media. Particularly, Clause 1 of the Article provides that partial reproduction of a news piece of a print/online media by another print/online media – without the author’s consent and payment – shall be permitted only “within the reasonable limits”. Moreover, the content of the quoted material should not be fully disclosed.
According to Clause 2 of Article 22.1, a reference to the source is required for partial reproduction of news pieces. If a material is a partial reproduction from a print media, its title should bear the name of the given media. If a material is a reproduction from an online media, its title should bear the name of the given online, in Latin-script, and a hyperlink to it.
Clause 3 of Article 22.1 stipulates that full reproduction/reprint of a news piece shall be made only upon the author’s consent.
Also the Article 66 of the Law was supplemented with a provision providing compensation for damage in the amount of the 100-fold to 200-fold of a minimum wage (the latter established in Armenia in the amount of 1,000 AMD or $2.5) – in the case of violation the Article 22.1.
The amendments entered into force on November 9, 2013.
ON OCTOBER 7, “GALA” TV company in Gyumri informed that the European Court of Human Rights accepted the lawsuit of “GALA” founder, “CHAP” LLC, against the Republic of Armenia. TV company stated that the application to initiate the case was submitted to the ECHR in March 2009 by attorneys Karen Tumanian and Edmon Marukian. In an interview by the TV company the latter mentioned that the lawsuit was in particular justified by Article 6 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, guaranteeing the right to fair trial, as well as excessively high sanctions administered against the TV company as a result of tax audits. The attorney underlined that the European Court addressed questions to the RA Government for clarifications.
On March 19, 2008, the RA Administrative Court passed a decision on the dispute between Gyumri Tax Inspection and the founder of “GALA”, obliging the latter to pay the tax debt and the relevant fines into the state budget. With the court fees and further fines, imposed on “CHAP”, the total outstanding sum was about $100,000. The tax audit at “CHAP” and the subsequent legal proceedings (including the protracted and finally lost dispute with Gyumri Municipality regarding the right to use the city TV tower) began after the October 22, 2007 announcement by the owner of “CHAP” Vahan Khachatrian on the attempts of various power agencies to put pressure on “GALA”. Armenian and international organizations believed that the following judicial and fiscal persecutions of the oppositional TV company were politically motivated (for details see Yerevan Press Club Reports “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2007-2011).
ON OCTOBER 10, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan started hearing the lawsuit of “Shant” TV company’s founder (“Shant” LLC), versus the founder of “Iravunk” newspaper (“Iravunk Media” LLC). The reason for going into a legal action was the piece, called “Another ‘Shant’ ‘Bunko’ and Litigation” (“Iravunk”, June 5, 2013 ), criticizing the activities of the TV company. The lawsuit on the protection of business reputation was filed on July 9 and was taken into consideration on July 12, 2013. The founder of “Shant” demanded from the “Iravunk” founder to publicly apologize, publish a refutation, and pay a compensation for the damage caused by libel (2 million AMD) and insult (1 million AMD), with a total sum of 3 mln AMD (over $7,000).
As of end-2013, the hearings on the case continued.
ON OCTOBER 10, in Yerevan the journalistic community discussed the possibility of establishing an alternative public satellite TV channel in Armenia. The Concept of a Genuinely Public TV Company, developed by Levon Barseghian, Board Chairman of “Asparez” Journalists’ Club, in cooperation with an initiative group, was presented at the meeting attended by about 60 media experts and representatives of media and journalistic organizations. The Concept stated that the project aimed to create a “non-commercial satellite TV company, public in essence, and independent of any political force and the authorities”.
ON OCTOBER 16, Aravot.am published a press release, according to which the Armenian version of the business magazine Forbes would soon start to be published in Armenia. In a statement, signed by Forbes Armenia, it was mentioned that the latter was granted a license for publication. The representative of Forbes Armenia is “Media Partners” company which planned to have 12 issues of the magazine during the year and to launch the business portal www.forbes.am. The press release stated that Gagik Yeghiazarian was the publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Armenia, and Shushan Harutyunian would act as the Editor-in-Chief of www.forbes.am. As the Forbes Armenia informed, the first issue of the magazine was scheduled to come out in November 2013.
On December 15, 2006 Yerevan already witnessed the presentation of the first issue of the Armenian-language Forbes magazine. However, there was no follow-up issuance. At the end of December the magazine Editor-in-Chief Petros Ghazarian (Director of “Kentron” TV at that time, currently the author and anchor of a popular TV program “Urvagits” on the same channel) resigned, accounting his action for the excessively politicized response to the magazine. Early in January 2007 the press circulated rumors that the publishers of the Armenian Forbes made an illegal use of the title, having no agreement with the US owners of the brand. Elizabeth Petrosian, Director of “Faces” LLC (the founder and publisher of the Armenian Forbes), mentioned that negotiations with the American party on a number of issues were underway and promised to invite a press conference shortly afterwards to clarify the situation. No clarifications followed; the question of probable piracy hung in the air and was forgotten over time.
As can be seen, six years later, another attempt was made for the Forbes to enter the Armenian market, but the published information suggested that this attempt had been made by other entities.
ON OCTOBER 22, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, met the RA Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduard Nalbandyan. Dunja Mijatovic visited Yerevan to attend a conference on combating racism, xenophobia and intolerance in Europe, organized by the Armenian Government and the Council of Europe.
As the OSCE press release reported, at the meeting with the Foreign Affairs Minister the OSCE Media Freedom Representative welcomed “the readiness of Armenian authorities to continue the constructive dialogue” with her Office. Dunja Mijatovic noted “the positive developments in the field of safety of journalists in Armenia in recent years” and encouraged the authorities of Armenia “to keep advancing the media-related legislation in line with the OSCE commitments”. “It is time to introduce the promised amendments in the broadcasting legislation in order to ensure pluralism in this sphere”, Mijatovic emphasized, offering the support of the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media in reforming the media legislation, including the on-going digitalization of terrestrial television.
IN THE EVENING OF OCTOBER 31, the coordinator of ARMENIA Today Argishti Kivirian was taken to Arabkir Police Department of Yerevan along with three civic activists. According to the ARMENIA Today information, dated November 1, 2013 (“Coordinator of ARMENIA Today and Activists Were Taken to Police Station for Attempt to Present President with Pumpkin”), the activists brought an empty pumpkin as a gift to the RA President at his office on the occasion of Halloween celebrations. Handing the pumpkin to the police officers, guarding the residence, they continued their way, however they were detained not far from the residence, the article reports. According to the ARMENIA Today, the activists were detained in the Police station for over 4 hours and were later released, with an administrative action brought against them.
ON NOVEMBER 5, an incident happened to Gayaneh Aprunts, correspondent of News.am, in downtown Yerevan Mashtots Avenue during the dispersal of protest action, organized by the oppositional movement United National Initiative. The journalist, shooting the happenings, was in the way of policemen, detaining an action participant: “I was shooting the traces of explosions on the asphalt, with a jam next to me: police officers were trying to detain Shant Harutyunian (Ed. Note: leader of the movement) and other activists. I felt people approach me, turned around and immediately felt the weight of a number of people on me. I hit my head against the car windshield; I felt a blow in the eye and fell down. The camera fell off my hands and broke. I was helped up onto my feet.” Gayaneh Aprunts’ report on the happenings was published in the article “News.am Reporter Attacked in Clashes in Yerevan”, posted on News.am on November 5, 2013. The video of the incident, shot by the Gyumri “GALA” TV company, was attached to the story.
ON NOVEMBER 5, the RA Constitutional Court passed a ruling on the compliance of Clause 2 of the RA Civil Code Article 17 (“Compensation for Losses”) with the Main Law. The Clause established different types of compensable damages, except moral damage. The ruling was posted onto the RA Constitutional Court website on November 8.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling was issued following the petition of citizen Arthur Khachatrian. The latter disputed the constitutionality of Article 17 Clause 2. In the course of three years Artur Khachatrian’s lawsuit on material and moral damage compensation was heard by all court instances with only partial satisfaction – the claim for indemnification of moral damage was rejected.
According to November 5 ruling, the Constitutional Court adjudicated Article 17 Clause 2 of the RA Civil Code at variance with the Armenian Constitution and ineffective. Besides, the Constitutional Court ruled that the given provision would lose its legal force on October 1, 2014, since its immediate abolition might cause legal imbalance. To prevent it, the Court considered it necessary to institutionalize the legislative regulation of moral damage compensation.
Ara Ghazarian, one of Artur Khachatrian’s lawyers, evaluated the decision of the Constitutional Court as positive. In his opinion, the inclusion of a provision on the material compensation for moral damage in the RA Civil Code will contribute to the protection of privacy and enhancing the responsibilities of media. It is necessary to work out a clear mechanism to define the amount of material compensation for moral damage, Ara Ghazarian added.
ON DECEMBER 2, on the day of the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Armenia protest actions were held in Yerevan against Armenia’s joining the Customs Union.
At around 14:00 the Police hindered the most massive action, detaining and taking over more than a dozen participants of the march along the central streets of the capital. Levon Barseghian, Board Chairman of “Asparez” Journalists’ Club of Gyumri, was among the detained. The action participants were taken to the Kentron Police Department of Yerevan and were released about four hours later. According to Levon Barseghian, the Police compiled a report where the detainment was grounded by Article 180-1 (“Violation of Legal Procedure for Assembly”) of the RA Code of Administrative Violations.
Police officers also detained Hraparak.am correspondent Vardan Minasyan who was covering the action. Hraparak.am published the details of the incident on the same day in the pieces titled “Hraparak.am correspondent was beaten” and “What Happened in Police Car, and Then in Police Station”. In particular, when Vardan Minasyan intended to shoot Levon Barseghian’s detention, Ashot Karapetyan, Head of Yerevan Police, unexpectedly stood in his way and snatched the video camera from his hands, with two policemen forcing the journalist into a car. According to Hraparak.am, in the car the policemen were “appeasing” the two detained people, sitting next to the journalist. A man in a Police uniform who hurried to help them, and was called “Serozhik,” gave Vardan Minasyan a blow to the chin.
On the same day, December 2, an announcement was posted onto the RA Police website, stating that an internal investigation has been launched on the incident with the Hraparak.am correspondent Vardan Minasyan.
ON DECEMBER 11, the “Zhoghovurd” daily published an article, titled “‘Orinats Yerkir’ MP and the Party Filed Lawsuits versus ‘Zhoghovurd’”, reporting on two lawsuits against the founder of “Zhoghovurd” (“Zhoghovurd Newspaper Editorial” LLC), filed into the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan. In one of the cases the plaintiff was Levon Dokholyan, the RA National Assembly Deputy from the “Orinats Yerkir” faction, in the other the “Orinats Yerkir” party itself.
The lawsuit of Levon Dokholyan was accepted on December 5, 2013. The MP challenged several newspaper pieces (of November 14, 15, 26 and December 3, 2013) which, according to the plaintiff, contained defamatory and insulting information. The plaintiff demanded compensation for damage to his honor and dignity in the amount of 3.5 million AMD.
The second lawsuit taken into consideration on December 9, 2013 related to the defense of the reputation of the “Orinats Yerkir” party with a demand of compensation in the amount of 3.5 million AMD too. The reason for “Orinats Yerkir” to apply to the court were the same pieces challenged by Levon Dokholyan (of November 15, 26 and December 3, 2013) as well as the pieces directly referring to “Orinats Yerkir” (of November 13, 14 and 30).
Thus, the total sum of claimed compensation from the founder of the “Zhoghovurd” was 7 million AMD (about $ 17.300).
As of end-2013, the hearings on these cases did not start.
ON DECEMBER 12, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club of Gyumri announced the results of the monitoring on the volumes and distribution of advertisement on six TV channels in Armenia. The monthly survey, held in August 2013, covered six national TV channels -First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia (PTA), Second Armenian TV Channel, “Armenia,” “Shant”, “Yerkir Media” and “Kentron.”
The monitoring aimed at revealing how many TV channels complied with the provisions of the RA Law “On Advertising” and whether the public broadcaster implemented the 7% limit of allocation volume for advertising (of total air time), envisaged by the RA Law “On Television and Radio”.
According to the survey, conducted by “Asparez”, in August 2013 the PTA First Channel complied with the 7-percent time allocation. In the meantime, a number of other requirements were not met in the monitoring period. Thus, the norm, forbidding interrupting a program more frequently than every 20 minutes, was violated at different degrees by all the six TV channels.
Another provision on the Law “On Advertising”, establishing a 14-minute advertising ceiling within every broadcast hour, was violated by 4 of the monitored TV channels: single cases of violation of the allocation norm were detected on “Armenia,” “Yerkir-Media,” and “Kentron” (from several seconds to one minute), whereas on “Shant” the given legislative provision was not complied with practically throughout the whole monitoring period (the allocation ceiling was seriously exceeded, and in individual cases – it was exceeded more than twice).
A similar monitoring was going to be conducted by “Asparez” during the New Year holidays. According to Levon Barseghian, Board Chairman of “Asparez”, the periods for the survey were not accidentally selected: August is the most passive month in terms of broadcasting (the vacation season), and the end of December/early January is the most active one (because of the New Year).
ON DECEMBER 23, at the special session of the RA National Assembly journalists accredited to the parliament held a protest action against the ratification of the Armenian-Russian intergovernmental agreement on the sale of a batch of shares of “ArmRusGasProm” CJSC to Russia and the terms of the company’s future activities. Four reporters with placards that called the MPs to come to their senses and say no to the agreement so shackling for Armenia entered the National Assembly hall right before the vote. A protest flash mob was held also in the box for the press where the media representatives held posters, reading “Do not Vote for the Russian Gas” and “We Are against the Russian Gas”.
Evaluations of this action within the journalistic community were dual: some believed that the media representatives violated the norms of professional ethics, while the others were convinced that in issues so vitally important for the country a journalist ought not to remain as a wing-side spectator and has a right to express his/her civic stand by all available means.
ON DECEMBER 26, the Freedom of Information Center filed a lawsuit with the RA Administrative Court against “Parking City Service” CJSC and its Director Vazgen Harutiunian.
On November 21, FOI Center requested the “Parking City Service” to provide the copies of legal acts, based on which video cameras were placed at the paid parking stations of Yerevan. The “Parking City Service” refused to provide the information, claiming that it was not a public company, because it does not provide services to the public and consequently the RA Law “On Freedom of Information” does not apply to it.
In the lawsuit the FOI Center demanded to recognize its right to receive information violated, oblige the respondents to provide the requested information and to impose an administrative penalty on the “Parking City Service” Director in the amount of 50,000 AMD (about $ 125).
As of end-2013, the lawsuit was not taken into consideration.
ON DECEMBER 26, 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, “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.
Later, 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”.
ON DECEMBER 26, at the Government session draft laws on amending the RA Law “On Television and Radio” and the RA Law “On Advertising” were approved. The amendments envisaged cutting the duration of commercials on Public Television of Armenia.
In particular, it was 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.
At the Government session it was also 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.