Yerevan Press Club Annual Report
SINCE THE BEGINNING OF 2014 a number of print media had to increase the prices for their production. The reason for this, along with the reduction of the already meager flow of advertising revenue, was the rise in prices of printing services, in turn caused by increase of gas (17%) and electricity (27%) tariffs in Armenia. Thus, the issues of “Aravot” and “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” newspapers now cost 200 AMD (about 35 eurocents) instead of the previous 150 AMD; “Hayots Ashkhar” daily now costs 150 AMD (about 26 eurocents) instead of previous 100 AMD.
Since early 2014 “Azg” daily, known as one of the well established periodicals since 1991, temporarily ceased its publication due to accumulated debts to the printing house. The release of “Azg” was resumed on February 28, however in weekly periodicity. Therefore, issue of the newspaper began to cost 200 AMD instead of the previous 100.
ON JANUARY 16, at the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan a lawsuit was filed by “Investigative Journalists” NGO against the founder of PressIdent.am (“Ani Kochar Production” LLC).
The matter of the dispute was four pieces published on PressIdent.am without proper referencing to their initial source – Hetq.am, online edition of “Investigative Journalists”. “Investigative Journalists” demanded to oblige the founder of PressIdent.am to remove the pieces from their website and to pay compensation in the amount of 200,000 AMD (about 350 euros).
At the preliminary hearings, which began on June 26, representatives of “Ani Kochar Production” admitted their mistake, and the parties agreed to conclude an amicable settlement.
On July 24, the court approved the amicable agreement according to which the respondent committed to remove all the disputed materials from PressIdent.am, and “Investigative Journalists” dropped all the financial claims.
ON JANUARY 21, the international advocacy organization Human Rights Watch released its report on human rights practices in over 90 countries of the world in 2013.
In the section of the report on Armenia, a separate paragraph was devoted to freedom of expression. Emphasizing the diversity of print and online media in Armenia, Human Rights Watch underlined the lack of pluralism in the broadcasting sphere: “For example, only one of Armenia’s 13 television stations carries live political talk shows.” The authors of the report also quoted the opinion of international election observers, who noted the media’s “selective approach” in covering post-election developments, notably by limiting critical views on the elections. The Human Rights Watch report also mentioned violations of the rights of journalists and media in 2013.
ON JANUARY 25, at the public (aquarium) session Media Ethics Observatory (MEO) considered the complaint by Arzuman Harutyunian, President of Audio-Visual Reporters Association, on “Affectionate Torture” program of “Ajar Windows” talk show cycle broadcasted by ATV channel on December 9, 2013.
The program told the story of the creation and collapse of a family, also touching upon trafficking. The President of Audio-Visual Reporters Association believed that when covering this topic the authors of the program violated both legal and professional ethical norms: in particular, they publicized private information about the victims of trafficking. On December 19, 2013, Arzuman Harutyunian sent a letter to the administration of the TV channel with a thorough description of all the violations that had taken place in the program. A reply, dated January 14, 2014 and signed by ATV General Director Vahagn Khachatrian, noted that the TV company disagreed with the comments made by Association and was planning to broadcast “Affectionate Torture”-2.
On January 21, 2014, Arzuman Harutyunian turned to the Media Ethics Observatory. Regardless of the invitation, the representatives of ATV did not take part in the session.
Considering the complaint, the members of the MEO came to the conclusion that the program contained violations of both ethical norms and international conventions on trafficking.
The MEO expert judgment in particular noted:
1. Based on the ethical principle of the need to respect and to protect the human right to private life: only public interest can justify interferences with the privacy of officials, public figures, and individuals aspiring to the power or public attention”, the MEO members found that interference to private life which took place in the program cannot be justified by prevailing public necessity: guests of the show were not public figures or people seeking public attention.
2. Participation of children in the program, the questions asked to them along with the insistence to get the desirable answers from them and the vocabulary used in the program contradicted the principle of the need to be especially tactful when the sources of information or the heroes of publications are children or minors, and to be careful when disclosing the identity of juvenile defendants, victims of sexual crimes, and persons, who have committed suicide.
During the program the children were forced to listen to unflattering opinions about their parents, which also imply improper approach to minors.
The name of the victim of sexual offence (trafficking) was disclosed during the program, which also contradicts the ethical norms.
3. MEO believed that the program did not comply with the ethical norms spelled out by UNICEF directory on preparing materials about children, i.e. Point 1 – how to take interview from children.
4. Reminding about the need to be tactful towards people that have suffered tragedy or sorrow, when collecting information about them, when taking interviews or photos of such people, or when broadcasting video or audio materials about them, MEO stressed that the program did not comply with the principle of discretion. In fact, there had been abuse of credulity and inexperience of children and other program guests who did not have experience of communicating with the media.
5. MEO also reminded about the Principle 8 provided by Appendix to Recommendation Rec (2003)13 of the CE Committee of Ministers to member states on the provision of information through the media in relation to criminal proceedings: “The provision of information about suspects, accused or convicted persons or other parties to criminal proceedings should respect their right to protection of privacy in accordance with Article 8 of the Convention. Particular protection should be given to parties who are minors or other vulnerable persons, as well as to victims, to witnesses and to the families of suspects, accused and convicted. In all cases, particular consideration should be given to the harmful effect which the disclosure of information enabling their identification may have on the persons referred to in this Principle.”
Thus, according to MEO, in the program subject to this complaint, ATV violated the right to privacy, abused the credulity of children and people who have no experience of communicating with the media, giving preference to the interest of the audience in such topics.
ON JANUARY 30, the RA National Security Service (NSS) sent out a press release, explaining the reasons of inviting Avetis Babajanian, “168 Zham” newspaper reporter, to the NSS.
In its January 28-29, 2014 issue, “168 Zham” published an article by Avetis Babajanian “Chechens Plan a Terroristic Act in Armenia”, starting out with the following lines: “Our sources, standing close to authorities, inform that terroristic acts may target Russian objects in Armenia during the Winter Olympics in Sochi.”
The press release presented the written clarification, provided by Avetis Babajanian to the security agency, of his expression “our sources, standing close to authorities, inform that (…)”. “I used this word combination as a journalistic trick in order to make the story sound more intriguing. With full responsibility do I note that no source has ever provided me with any information on the topic presented in the article”, Avetis Babajanian explained.
Further the NSS press release stated: “This explanation makes it clear that Babajanian’s “article” is a forgery; moreover, it is the result of lack of serious journalistic approach and basic accountability. It is simply an unconscious composition of ungrounded suppositions. The journalist did not bother to think of those who would read his ominous thoughts. By the way, the editor of the newspaper did not bother either.”
ON FEBRUARY 3, Russian news agency “Regnum” released a statement “in connection with the fact that last few months certain Armenian print media contain inflammatory articles that provide readers with false information, which may harm the strategic partnership between Armenia and Russia”.
The statement read that “stories, based on materials of the media supported by the U.S. Embassy on Russia and the Russians are allegedly attributed to inciting the war in Mountainous Karabagh, spreading various types of dangerous infections in Yerevan. Russia is also made responsible for all the problems in the Armenian economy. In the run-up to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, an Armenian newspaper published false information about alleged preparation for terrorist attacks in Armenia by Doku Umarov, a terrorist from Chechnya”.
According to the agency, such publications are aimed at harming Russia and its relations with Armenia, including in the run-up to the latter’s joining the Customs Union. The statement also contained a request to the readers “not to let anti-Russian forces and publications provoke them, and think twice reading articles about Russia and its partnership with Armenia, to take into account the desire of third forces to split the two countries and slow down the process of Armenia’s joining the Customs and Eurasian Unions”. “Regnum” also addressed Armenian law enforcement agencies “with a request to take immediate actions regarding journalists, who provide readers with false information”.
The address of “Regnum” raised indignation among Armenian journalists.
“‘Regnum’ files complaints to police and provoke Armenian policemen against Armenian journalists,” German Avagian, a photojournalist, reacted on his Facebook page.
“When media of one state starts to declassify ‘customers’ of other state’s media and addresses foreign readers to ‘keep an eye’ – this is a new phenomenon that, probably, fits into ‘customs framework’”, Aram Abrahamian, Chief Editor of “Aravot” daily, stated. According to him, “Regnum” acts like that, mentioning absurd publications about Doku Umarov and spread of dangerous infections, adding to the quite common discussions ongoing in Armenia on the Customs Union and the role of Russia in the Karabagh conflict, hinting at alleged anti-Russian conspiracy.
“Regnum” warns us that ‘tragic events in Ukraine clearly demonstrate the long-term goals of information manipulators funded by the U.S.’”, the journalist said: “The same ‘dark forces’, presumably also operate in Armenia and are engaged in anti-Russian propaganda.” However, Aram Abrahamian believed that the strangest thing is that “Regnum” addressed law enforcement agencies of Armenia with a request “to take immediate actions” regarding these publications. That is, to punish the Armenian media. According to him, the agency “gives a tip” regarding colleagues, and the lawsuit is ready. “Expressing opinion is normal for media outlet, but addressing law enforcement agencies is too much,” Aram Abrahamian believed.
Ashot Melikian, the Chairman of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, stressed that “Regnum” address to Armenian public is as harmful as the nonsense, published in an Armenian newspaper about preparation of a terrorist attack on Russian sites in Armenia.
“First of all, I wonder why ‘Regnum’? It looks like we are living in the Soviet Union, when the government expressed its position through the Telegraph Agency of Soviet Union (just like in the Soviet series ‘TASS is to declare…’)”, Ashot Melikian said. “Secondly, someone’s sick imagination served a subject for someone’s ‘serious’ findings as ‘damage to strategic partnership between Russia and Armenia’, ‘discrediting the image of Russia and the Olympic Games in Sochi’, ‘third forces striving to split the two countries’.”
The head of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression believed that inappropriate comparisons with events in Ukraine and the statement that they “clearly demonstrate the long-term goals of US-funded information manipulators” is a Cold War rhetoric: “It looks as though one has to be funded by the United States to express the position of being against Armenia’s joining the Customs Union and support the idea of European integration.” And finally, a media outlet has no right to make political statements, especially regarding another country, which is not of “Regnum” mission, Ashot Melikian concluded.
ON FEBRUARY 7, the amendments’ package to several laws, including the RA Law “On Freedom of Information”, was put in circulation at Armenian National Assembly.
RA Law “On Freedom of Information” was adopted in September 2003, becoming one of the few progressive documents that are highly appraised by the international experts. The Law in general ensures the realization of a right to access and receive information. However, for the last 11 years since the adoption of the Law the journalistic community had been insisting on the necessity of developing and approving the by-laws in accordance with the requirements of Articles 5 (“Recording, Classifying and Maintaining Information”) and 10 (“Conditions of Providing Information”) of the Law, which are important guarantees of free access to information. The absence of such a procedure for granting or refusal of information, specifying lists of the information to be published and other issues related to putting the Law into practice resulted in its unsatisfactory implementation.
The amendments to the Law were called to eliminate the above-mentioned gaps, but on March 24 the consideration of the draft law was suspended for a year.
Meanwhile, at the end of 2014 the RA Ministry of Justice in collaboration with NGOs started the work on governmental decree, establishing the procedure of the application of the Law “On Freedom of Information” by bodies of executive authority.
As of end-2014 the work on the document continued.
ON FEBRUARY 10, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan started hearings on lawsuits filed by Levon Dokholyan, RA National Assembly Deputy from “Orinats Yerkir” faction, and “Orinats Yerkir” party itself versus the founder of “Zhoghovurd” daily (“Zhoghovurd Newspaper Editorial” LLC).
The reason to apply to the court were several pieces of “Zhoghovurd” published in November-December 2013, which, according to the plaintiffs, contained defamatory and insulting information.
In both lawsuits there was a claim for compensation in the amount of 3.5 million AMD. Levon Dokholyan demanded compensation for damage to his honor and dignity, while “Orinats Yerkir” party demanded compensation for damage to its reputation. Thus, the total sum of claimed compensation from the founder of the “Zhoghovurd” was 7 million AMD (about 12,500 euros). The lawsuit of Levon Dokholyan was accepted on December 5, 2013; the lawsuit of “Orinats Yerkir” – on December 9, 2013 (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2013).
The hearings on the RA NA Deputy’s lawsuit ended on May 29, 2014. The court granted in part the demands of Levon Dokholyan, obliging the founder of “Zhoghovurd” to publish a refutation on two of the four disputed pieces, but at the same time cut the amount of compensation to 253,000 AMD (50,000 – for insult, 100,000 – for defamation, another 100,000 – for attorneys’ fees and 3,000 – for state duty). “Zhoghovurd” appealed the decision with the RA Civil Court of Appeal, which was rejected on October 3, 2014.
The hearings on “Orinats Yerkir” lawsuit were discontinued on July 15, 2014, as the party withdrew the lawsuit.
ON FEBRUARY 11, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released its 12th annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index. The study was conducted in 180 countries and was based on events between December 1, 2012 and November 30, 2013. The index was compiled by surveying 18 partner organizations and 150 correspondents of RSF, as well as journalists, researchers, lawyers and human rights activists. The respondents were assessing the press freedom in each country with a questionnaire compiled by RSF and considering 6 media criteria: pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency of the institutions and procedures that affect the production of news and information, and infrastructure that supports the production of news and information. In this study the questionnaire included new part about the number of violations of different kinds used against representatives of traditional and new media.
The report’s authors noted that conflicts in different parts of the world had a negative impact on freedom of information and journalists. In some countries, journalists’ rights were violated in terms of providing them with information and informing citizens due to alleged national security reasons. According to experts, this trend is prevalent throughout the world and represents a serious threat to media freedom.
The top ten of the Index looked as follows: Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand and Sweden. Turkmenistan (178th place), North Korea (179) and Eritrea (180) rounded out the list.
Armenia took the lead among the countries of the South Caucasus region, holding 78th position. The country lost four positions, compared with 2012. Georgia followed Armenia in the list, having shown a rise by 17 positions and ranking 84th this year. According to RSF, “the 2013 presidential election was less tense that the previous year’s parliamentary elections, which were marked by physical attacks and hate campaigns against journalists. Thanks to political cohabitation and then a change of government through the polls, Georgia has recovered some of the terrain lost in recent years”. These two countries were followed by Turkey (154th, which hasn’t changed) and Azerbaijan (160 versus 156th in 2012). Russia took 148th position, which hasn’t changed since 2012. The position of the neighboring Iran rose slightly – to 173rd position versus 174th in 2012.
According to RSF, although their positions in the index were fairly dispersed, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan all enjoyed a significant degree of pluralism and relatively little state censorship. “But the considerable social polarization is reflected in the media and the climate for journalists, who are often harassed by pressure groups. Given that the political orientation of individual media usually coincides with that of their owners, it would seem that respect for the editorial independence of media employees is still limited”, RSF stressed.
ON FEBRUARY 12, around 19.00, Ani Gevorgian, correspondent of “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” newspaper, and Sargis Gevorgian, cameraman of iLur.am, were forcibly taken to a police department. The journalists were filming activists of the opposition party – Armenian National Congress (ANC) handing out leaflets in one of the main streets of Yerevan with information about the upcoming ANC rally, dedicated to March 1, 2008 events. According to Ani Gevorgian, a group of young people was putting obstacles to the activists. (As it turned out later, these young people were mainly students of the National Agrarian University and members of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia.) A verbal sparring broke out between the two opposing groups. The police, having come to the scene of the incident, began forcing the activists into police vehicles, even without trying to find out what was happening. As Ani Gevorgian informed, the police officers, having noticed that journalists were filming the incident, initially tried to seize cameras. Then the law enforcers forcible took the journalists to the Kentron Police Department of Yerevan, where they succeeded in seizing the equipment. Ani Gevorgian added that when she was in the presence of two female police officers speaking on the cell phone with her colleagues, who inquired about her condition, a man in plain clothes entered the room, gave the journalist a slap in the face and took the phone. As it turned out later, the assaulter was Artak Poghosian, the head of Kentron Police Department. Sargis Gevorgian, a cameraman, also suffered from ill-treatment at the police department. Journalists were released after four hours, their lawyers not being allowed to speak with them. Video equipment was returned, but the content of the Ani Gevorgian’s camera memory card was erased. Sargis Gevorgian was lucky to save the captured frames.
On February 13, six journalistic organizations, including Yerevan Press Club, issued a statement. They stressed that over the past years, the cases of impeding professional activities of journalists in Armenia by the police have become more frequent. Representatives of journalistic community demanded from the RA Prosecutor’s Office to consider the statement (as well as numerous publications in the press dealing with the incident) as a report on the crime. Besides they demanded from the RA Police to carry out an official investigation against the chief of Kentron Police Department and his subordinates.
According to the RA Police communication of February 13, the Head of RA Police Vladimir Gasparian has ordered to initiate an internal investigation based on official statement by Ani Gevorgian on the fact of unlawful actions against her.
Karen Andreasian, RA Human Rights Defender, posted on his Facebook page that “the use of force against journalists leads to criminal liability, especially if those crimes were committed by public officials.” According to Human Rights Defender, the only way to prevent such crimes is getting a clear and bold response of law enforcement agencies. The ombudsman stated that he expected “a proper and comprehensive investigation, as well as informing the public about the results in the nearest future”.
On February 14, Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, expressed concern about police obstruction of journalists’ activities. “Violence against journalists is unacceptable. It is especially alarming that police officers responsible to assist and protect journalists used force against them”, OSCE Representative stressed in a letter to Armenian authorities. Dunja Mijatovic urged the authorities “to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident, and do everything possible to avoid police misconduct towards members of the media in the future”.
On February 17, the Journalists’ Union of Armenia joined the statement of media NGOs. The statement emphasized that that even earlier the cases of impeding journalists’ activities were investigated, but no one was ever punished. Impunity gives rise to violence, the statement particularly stressed.
Meanwhile, Ani Gevorgian turned to the RA Special Investigation Service (SIS) to report about a crime. The journalist told the Armenian Service of Radio Liberty that the statement reported three episodes: “My complaint is connected with obstruction of my professional activities by Vardan Gevorgian, a police officer, on Mashtots Avenue. There are a few videos, which show him trying to tear off the camera from my hands. The second episode is connected with the fact that Sona Melikian, a woman, who presented herself as a legal adviser, stole my camera’s memory card at Kentron Police Department of Yerevan. And the third episode is violence, exerted on me by Artak Poghosian, the Chief of Kentron Police Department. He slapped me and took away my phone.”
On February 25, SIS instigated criminal proceedings under Clause 2 of Article 164 (“Impending the legitimate professional activities of a journalist by an abuse of power on part of a state official”) and by Clause 2 of Article 309 (“Abuse of power, accompanied by violence, use of weapons or special means”) of the RA Criminal Code.
After the instigation of criminal proceedings by SIS, the internal investigation of the February 12 incident in the RA Police was discontinued.
However, Ani Gevorgian complained that SIS was not interested in proper investigation of the case, which could be solved in a few days, as all the necessary evidence were at the disposal of the investigation. Speaking to YPC, the journalist noted that after the criminal case had been initiated she was invited to the investigative body only twice: to give testimony and to provide video footage for expertise. As Ani Gevorgian stressed, her complaint on the crime indicated specific names and the photo, video materials published in media were proofs to the abusive actions of the policeman who tried to seize her video camera. According to the journalist, SIS is idle: over the past two and a half months it still has not recognized her as a victim and she is still regarded as a witness. In addition, she was not informed about the results of the expertise.
“There is little I can expect from the preliminary investigation when the investigator, for example, does not simply attach video footage to the case as evidence, but obliges me to submit videos made by other media”, the correspondent of “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” said in an interview to Hetq.am.
On June 4, Ani Gevorgian addressed Vahram Shaghinian, the chief of the Special Investigation Service, with a request to hold liable an investigator for the criminal case.
In an interview to Aravot.am Ani Gevorgian noted that during a face-to-face interrogation with the head of Kentron Police Department Artak Poghosian, investigator Arshaluys Minasian while transcribing Artak Poghosian’s answer to the journalist’s question “deliberately distorted the response ”, “resulting in a completely different meaning of the testimony”. This was revealed when the investigator read out the minutes of interrogation at the journalist’s request. This time Artak Poghosian had to write down his own response to the question of the journalist, however he did not put it as he originally said but the way it was written in the minutes of the investigator. According to Ani Gevorgian, investigator’s actions are “an obvious falsification” and he in fact hinted Artak Poghosian how to answer the question. The journalist reported all these in her complaint addressed to the chief of SIS.
On June 17, during a face-to-face interrogation with two police officers, the policeman Vardan Gevorgian (the one who tried to take away the journalist’s camera) ill treated her and her lawyer, Ani Gevorgian noted in an interview to Hetq.am. “Vardan Gevorgian insisted that we finish the interrogation as soon as possible but the lawyer said that a person in the status of the witness had no right to make those claims, and interrogation could end only by a decision of the investigator; in response to this the police officer started shouting at them. I exercised my right and after false testimony of the police officer began to ask him questions. This annoyed him, because after each question he had to invent a new lie”, the journalist said.
Ani Gevorgian again expressed claims to the investigation, which has been going on for four months, but no victims or suspects were detected so far: the police officers and the journalist still have the status of witnesses. “I reported the crime to SIS, gave clarifications and testimonies, I was involved in face-to-face interrogations, provided the investigator with the videos posted online about the incident. This is more than enough to recognize me the victim”, stated Ani Gevorgian in an interview with Hetq.am.
On June 24, SIS terminated the investigation of the case due to lack of evidence.
Ani Gevorgian challenged this decision in the RA Prosecutor’s Office, demanding from the supervisory body to check on what grounds the case against the policemen had been closed. The claim was rejected by Armenian Prosecutor General Gevorg Kostanian. On August 18, the journalist turned to the court.
On August 29, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan started hearings on the complaint by Ani Gevorgian. The journalist challenged the SIS decision to dismiss the criminal case, as well as the denial of her appeal to Armenian Prosecutor General.
On September 30, the court of general jurisdiction rejected the complaint. On October 10, Ani Gevorgian challenged this decision in the RA Criminal Court of Appeal which on November 20 left the decision in force.
Termination of the investigation and the rulings of the courts of two instances were another indication that the authorities are not interested in identification and punishment of those responsible for obstruction of journalists’ work. The course of the investigation raised a number of questions which remain unanswered: why the journalist has not been recognized as a victim in the case? Why at least one strong evidence of violence published by media – the video footage of the street incident featuring a policeman forcibly seizing the journalist’s camera, was neglected? etc. According to Ani Gevorgian, in the record of the criminal case it is reported that she was detained not as a journalist but as a perpetrator who tried to block the traffic, and the policemen grabbed her by the arms and shook, allegedly to ensure her safety…
The incident with Ani Gevorgian and other issues concerning the interaction of journalists and the police were brought up at several joint meetings. During these meetings law enforcement officials complained that it is difficult to “identify” journalists at public events: press passes may be counterfeit or expired which is why the police continues to insist that journalists should wear distinctive symbols, for example press vests. Media community almost unanimously disagrees with this suggestions pointing out incidents when vests or video/audio recording equipment, which the police is trying to seize in the first place, makes journalists targets for attack. Often the internal investigations conducted by the police in similar cases end up with standard formulations such as “abuse of power has not been identified in the actions of the police.” Instances wherein law enforcement officials at least to some extent are held responsible for obstruction of journalists’ activities are extremely rare.
ON FEBRUARY 12, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Arabkir and Kanaker-Zeytun Administrative Districts of Yerevan started hearing the criminal case against Argishti Kivirian, the coordinator of ARMENIA TODAY news agency, accused of using violence against a representative of authorities.
Argishti Kivirian was detained on August 24, 2013, during the civic protests against the construction of a residential building in the vicinity of 5 Komitas Avenue in Yerevan. 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. On August 25, 2013, 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. All materials related to the incident were submitted to the RA Special Investigation Service that initially accused the journalist by Article 316 as well as Article 333 (“False denunciation”) of the Criminal Code. SIS considered it unproven that the police used force against the journalist and qualified Argishti Kivirian’s statement as false denunciation: according to investigators, it was Kivirian who inflicted injuries to himself and not the police officers. Later the investigative body acquitted him of the false denunciation charge and offered to grant the journalist an amnesty. However, Argishti Kivirian refused the amnesty and demanded that all the offenders involved in illegal actions against him should be called to account. On November 28, 2013, SIS closed the investigation (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2013).
On January 22, 2014 SIS sent the criminal case to court. As of end-2014, the hearings on the case continued.
Coordinator of ARMENIA TODAY, in his turn, applied to the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan, contesting the decision of SIS not to initiate criminal proceedings against the police officers who beat the journalist during the civic protests on August 24, 2013.
At the court hearings, which started on March 3, 2014, testimonies of a SIS investigator, who conducted the investigation of the incident, were to be heard. However, the investigator did not come to the court due to poor health. Lusineh Saakian, lawyer of Argishti Kivirian, believed that there was a deliberate delaying of consideration of the case: the protesting party submitted to the court enough material to make a decision, and investigator’s testimony would add nothing new to them.
On March 27, the court dismissed the appeal. The journalist turned to the RA Criminal Court of Appeal which on June 4 upheld the decision of the court of general jurisdiction.
Notably, an opposite decision was made by the same Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash on a similar case of violent actions of police officers against Argishti Kivirian – during the civic activists’ protest action on August 1, 2013 in regard with the rise in public transport fares. The court granted the journalist’s appeal filed in connection with the refusal of the Special Investigation Service to initiate criminal proceedings against the police officers. The very same Criminal Court of Appeal upheld that decision (see below).
ON FEBRUARY 20, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Arabkir and Kanaker- Zeytun Administrative Districts of Yerevan accepted a lawsuit, filed by Narineh Sargsian and Hrant Suvarian against the spouses Susanna Davtian and Lemberik Khachatrian; the founder of “Aravot” daily (“Aravot Oratert” LLC) was involved in the case as a third party.
The piece headlined “Prime Minister’s Daughter and Her Father-in-Law Seized My Property”, published in “Aravot” on February 7, 2014, became the reason for suing. The spouses, in particular, stated in the piece that relatives of the Prime Minister Tigran Sargsian (Ed. Note: later resigned, on April 3, 2014) misappropriated their “building of stone”. A comment of Hrant Suvarian, the head of Financial Control Department of RA Central Bank, denying any offences on their part against someone’s property, was published as well.
In the lawsuit on protection of honor and dignity, the Prime Minister’s daughter and her father-in-law demand from the respondents a refutation and compensation of damage, caused by libel, in the amount of 300,000 AMD (about 540 euros) for each of the plaintiffs, as well as to pay 250,000 AMD each for attorney’s fees.
On April 18, the court of general jurisdiction started hearings. On November 28, the court granted the lawsuit. The plaintiffs contested the decision at RA Civil Court of Appeal.
As of end-2014, the appeals instance did not pronounce the judgment.
ON FEBRUARY 27, the U.S. Department of State released the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013, 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 multiple incidents of violence toward journalists in connection with the February 18 presidential election, the May 5 municipal elections, and citizens’ protests throughout the year.”
The report cited the dismissal of Armen Dulyan, the news anchor of the “Shant” TV channel, as an example of violation of the right to freedom of speech. He was fired after he posted on his Facebook page a comment, assessed by the management of “Shant” as insulting: “Many journalists criticized the dismissal, noting that the incident appeared to substantiate the accusation that ‘Shant’ TV was under government control and intolerant of free speech and thought.”
The Department of State believed that except for the four-week official campaign periods preceding the February presidential and May municipal elections, when broadcast media provided diverse and objective media coverage, traditional media for the most part continued to lack diversity of political opinion and objective reporting.
The report also mentioned that during 2013 the government did not carry out its promise to release the audit of the country’s television and radio frequencies that provided the technical basis for limiting the number of digital broadcasting licenses it will permit after the country switches from analog to digital transmission, planned for 2015. On June 19, 2013, the National Assembly adopted amendments to the Law “On Television and Radio” that delayed by six months the suspension of analog broadcasting initially scheduled for January 1, 2015.
Online media were the primary alternative source of information, and unlike broadcast media, provided diverse political opinions. The government did not generally control their content, the State Department stressed.
The State Department also cited several incidents of violence against reporters covering the February 18 presidential and May 5 municipal elections and the ongoing citizens’ protests throughout the year of 2013. In particular, it mentioned the attack on April 23 on Hakob Karapetian, reporter of iLur.am , trying to film a campaign rally, and obstructing by the police the work of journalists covering a protest action, held on May 18 by relatives of the soldier, killed at one of the military units.
According to the authors of the report, media outlets, 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 an outlet was in disfavor with the government. Fear of retribution led to a high degree of media self-censorship.”
The report also mentioned the November 15, 2011 recommendation by the RA Constitutional Court that courts avoid levying disproportionately heavy fines in libel and defamation cases resulted in smaller damages awarded to those who sued media outlets.
ON FEBRUARY 27, the Government of Armenia released a timetable for transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. According to the approved timetable, all the preparatory work was to be completed in the first half of 2014 and the digital broadcasting was to be introduced in Armenia within the first six months of 2015 (in the first quarter in test mode). Shutdown from analogue broadcasting system and equipment’s unmounting were supposed to be completed by the end of 2015. “Television and Radio Broadcasting Network of Armenia” CJSC, which is in the structure of RA Ministry of Transport and Communication, was entrusted with the implementation of actions related to the transition to digital broadcasting.
According to the amendments to the broadcasting legislation, adopted on June 19, 2013, complete suspension of analogue broadcasting in Armenia was to take place on July 1, 2015 (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2013). There were apprehensions that with the termination of analogue broadcasting 14 regional TV stations licensed for only analogue broadcasting would face the risk to be closed down. According to media experts, sharp reduction in the number of TV channels, primarily regional ones, will further exacerbate lack of diversity and pluralism in the Armenian television, and will increase the threat of monopolization of broadcast media market. Meanwhile, the Government has not released the results of the audit of broadcasting frequencies, which was used as a technical justification for reducing the number of digital broadcasting licenses. In other words, concerns that digitalization will help to strengthen the political control of the authorities over traditional broadcasting, were heard more often.
Media community and international organizations continuously criticized the RA Law “On Television and Radio”. The necessity to modernize broadcasting legislation in line with recommendations of the OSCE, the Council of Europe and media expert community of Armenia was the most urgent task in order to achieve broader pluralism in the information sphere.
Yerevan Press Club, Media Initiatives Center and Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression developed and in October 2014 submitted to the parliament a new package of amendments to the broadcasting legislation which, in addition to conceptual reforms, suggested better organized transition to digital broadcasting. The ultimate purpose of the draft law was to modernize relations in the media industry, to promote free and fair competition, to create a legal framework for independence of the broadcast media regulatory bodies, insure quality and diversity in the Armenian broadcast media.
Media experts have repeatedly stressed that the effective development of television in the era of transition to digital broadcasting requires civilized procedures and competent strategies. Discussions about the need for serious concept of digitization in the country are there since 2006, but problems still persist.
One possible way out of this situation, which was proposed in the package of amendments to the broadcasting legislation, developed by three journalistic organizations, could be the creation of private multiplexes. This would allow regional companies who are not licensed for inclusion in the public digital network to continue their activities after the termination of analogue broadcasting (some broadcasters expressed readiness to establish a private multiplex if it is envisaged by law). Additionally, the authors of the draft law introduced a model of the social package, which would make digital TV available for financially vulnerable groups. To ensure the right of access to information, the draft law emphasized the need to provide low-income families with decoders, for them to be able to receive digital signal on the old television sets.
In November 2014, MP Edmon Marukian turned to the Armenian Government with a written request in which he expressed his concern about regional TV companies that have licenses for broadcast in analogue, but face a danger of being closed down in connection with Armenia’s transition to digital broadcasting. According to the MP, simultaneous closing down of 14 regional TV companies, which have been building their audience for many years, will render at least several hundreds of people unemployed. Having remarked that professionals with such a narrow specialization will hardly be able to find new jobs in this sphere, the MP expressed his concern that they would be forced to leave their native places. The MP’s inquiry suggested the Government to prolong the validity of licenses for analogue broadcasting, for as long as a complex solution to this problem would be found.
It should be noted that the June 19, 2013 amendments to the broadcasting legislation had already prolonged validity of regional TV companies’ licenses for six months (from January 1 to July 1, 2015). However, this has been just a temporary solution of the problem.
As of end-2014, the terms for discussing the reform of the broadcasting legislation have not been identified.
ON MARCH 4, Armenian National Assembly put into circulation amendments to the RA Civil Code, introducing liability for dissemination of defamatory publications and comments taken from fake accounts (i.e., anonymous users or users hiding under falsified names). It was proposed to make amendments to the Article 1087.1 “Procedure and Conditions of Compensation of Damage to the Honor, Dignity or Business Reputation” of the RA Civil Code.
The authors of the draft law explained the necessity of this step with the fact that the number of cases of spreading information, containing libel and insult, from fake accounts, have increased recently. This, in turn, violates human rights, including privacy, as written down in the RA Constitution and in a number of international conventions. Some media reproduce and disseminate defamatory information, received from fake users, thus giving it even more publicity. As a result, this information becomes known even to those who are not registered in social networks.
The initiative of a group of MPs caused serious protest of journalistic organizations, the media and active Internet users.
On March 14, Yerevan Press Club, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Media Initiatives Center, Freedom of Information Center, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club, Public Journalism Club, Media Ethics Observatory and Information Disputes Council made a statement, in which they noted that “this initiative will cause new problems, rather than solve existing ones”.
“Most of those conflicts, which the above-mentioned legislative changes are intended to settle down, may be solved within the framework of the current legislation, judicial precedents and relevant comments of the RA Court of Cassation, as well as through mechanisms of appealing, which exist in social networks.
At the same time this legislative initiative is fraught with serious risks for freedom of speech, the right of citizens to receive and disseminate information, and the protection of personal data. It cannot have a significant impact on the flow of information that contains libel, insult and invasion to privacy. However, amendments to the law will have a chilling effect on honest participants of the information process, and Armenian Internet users will be forced to “migrate” to the segments of the virtual space, which are inaccessible to national jurisdiction. They will also create conditions for selective application of the law and persecution of citizens for subjective reasons.
Despite the fact that the draft law makes certain specification in regulating the behavior of users of social networks, its possible positive effect commensurate with the threats that are evident not only for freedom of speech, but also for development of communication technologies in Armenia, business in the areas of web hosting services, national domain space and e-commerce, which is one of the most dynamic fields of modern business”, the nine media NGOs stated.
The journalistic organizations called on:
– Authors of the amendments to withdraw the draft law from circulation;
– RA National Assembly to dedicate the upcoming March 31 parliamentary hearings to conceptual approaches to the regulation of the Internet, without which certain legislative initiatives cannot be effective;
– The legislative and executive branches of Armenian government to prepare legislation covering the scope of modern communications, solely in the context of full compliance with the standards developed and adopted by the European institutions;
– All interested individuals and organizations to realize the importance of self-regulation in the field of information and contribute to the development of its mechanisms in Armenia”.
The draft law was also criticized by European experts and international organizations.
On March 28, the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media released an expert opinion on the proposed amendments to the Civil Code.
The legal analysis of the draft law was commissioned by the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and carried out by Oreste Pollicino, Associate Professor of Media Law, Bocconi University, Milan.
The expert suggested a number of critical comments. In particular, he noted that the mechanisms stipulated in the bill threaten the protection of personal data and the free expression on the Internet in general. For instance, the draft law establishes a liability exemption in favour of media outlets in case they provide data identifying the author of the publication. Such a provision may pose a threat to protection of personal data and is likely to be determined to be a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“Right to Respect for Private And Family Life”), the expert stressed.
Furthermore, the amendments shift the liability for defamatory or insulting comments on media outlets where the owner of the website does not comply with a request of removal of such comments within the term of 12 hours as of receiving the same. This is very problematic since, depending on the structure and the organization of the media under scrutiny, such requirement would prove inappropriate, requiring efforts that cannot be fulfilled by the owners of certain websites in such a very short term, the expert believed.
From a general point of view, the amendments seem to be affected by lack of clarity and a certain degree of vagueness, the expert noted. The implementation of the supplements is likely to discourage Internet operators from carrying out business in Armenia, since the risk of being charged with liability for defamation is apparently doomed to increase.
On March 30, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) expressed serious concern and called on the MPs to withdraw the draft law and support the decision of the problem through self-regulatory mechanisms. The authors of the draft explain their initiative with a desire to reject the spread of fake defamatory or offensive comments, RSF noted. “Although the goal given by the parliamentarians is praiseworthy, this bill poses serious dangers to online freedom of information in Armenia,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. – “The bill’s vague and broad wording gives too much leeway to the judges who interpret it. But the problem is more than just the wording. The media cannot be held responsible for content they did not create and online anonymity is one of the founding principles of the Internet as a space for debate and freely reported information.”
Among the shortcomings of the draft law, RSF also highlighted ambiguous definition of the notion “media” that could be applied to all production of online content, including blogs and social networks. Furthermore, the proposed amendments provide no definition of the “anonymous user” whose comments would become the responsibility of the media that cite them: “The use of pseudonyms and avatars is so widespread on the Internet that its scope seems unlimited.” “If they do not want to be held responsible for the comments posted on their websites, the media are required to try to ‘identify their authors’, a demand that is both unrealistic and illegitimate”, RSF stressed.
RSF quoted the above-mentioned statement by nine Armenian media NGOs, as well as provided with the opinion of Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, who mentioned in the May 2011 report on the Internet that “censorship measures should never be delegated to private entities, and that no one should be held liable for content on the Internet of which they are not the author”. UN Special Rapporteur also said that technical intermediaries “are not best placed to make the determination of whether a particular content is illegal” and that holding them responsible entails the danger of their censoring arbitrarily in order to protect themselves.
RSF stressed that in 2013 Armenia was ranked 78th out of 180 countries in the RSF Press Freedom Index. “Adoption of this bill would probably have an impact on its ranking in next year’s Index”, RSF concluded.
On March 31, the National Assembly held hearings on the amendments to the RA Civil Code with the participation of both MPs and representatives of journalists’ associations. Representatives of media NGOs again emphasized that the draft law should either be significantly revised or completely withdrawn.
As Nouneh Sarkissian, the Managing Director of the Media Initiatives Center, believed, this draft law is an attempt to introduce into the legal field an issue that should be solved through self-regulatory mechanisms. Meanwhile, there are more important problems in the media field requiring immediate response on the part of legislators: the parliament has been failing for almost two years to consider proposals of journalistic organizations on the amendments to the Broadcast Law, with regard to the onset of the digitalization process at the country. Nouneh Sarkissian addressed the authors of the draft law with the request to mention the journalists who favored the bill: “You say that these were the media leadership and journalists who demanded the adoption of the amendments – then tell us their names, just for me to understand their position”. The request was still unanswered.
Levon Barseghian, the Board Chairman of the “Asparez” Journalists’ Club of Gyumri, thought the authors of the draft want to regulate the spreading of gossip, forgetting that the Internet is just a tool. “Such bill is like destroying the corners of buildings and turning them into round or oval ones – buildings become more beautiful from the outside, and people would not gather in corners. Or it is like pulling down alcoves where people can meet and communicate. Such measures will not solve the problem: the responsible media outlets will not distribute information without checking accuracy and source, as they do now, and the irresponsible ones do not care”, Levon Barseghian emphasized at the hearings, presenting graphic illustrations of the above said.
As of end-2014, discussions on the amendments were still in progress.
ON MARCH 17, the Committee on Ethics of the RA National Assembly held a closed meeting to consider the complaints on the behavior of Manvel Badeyan and Arakel Movsisian, MPs from the faction of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
The complaint of the Yezidi community representatives regarding Manvel Badeyan dealt with the case, which occurred on December 10, 2013. When asked by a parliamentary correspondent why the game “What? Where? When?” on the “Armenia” TV channel is held in Russian and whether it is a violation of the RA Law “On Language”, Manvel Badeyan replied: “You indeed possess such a low developmental level that you think so? I would not be surprised if a Yezidi posed this question in the street, but do you really think so?” (Ed. Note: Yezidis are an ethno-religious community in Armenia, speaking Kurmanji). The Yezidi community claimed the MP to be brought to responsibility for the statements insulting the Yezidi people. On April 17, 2014 the discussion of the complaint was discontinued: the Committee was satisfied with the clarifications of the MP, who said he did not have either intention or purpose to offend the Yezidi people living in Armenia.
The other collective complaint on Arakel Movsisian was from journalists accredited at the parliament. On December 23, 2013, the parliamentary journalists held a protest action against the ratification of the Armenian-Russian agreement so shackling for Armenia. The journalists unfolded posters in the session hall calling for MPs to vote against the treaty (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2013). Arakel Movsisian spoke ill about the journalists’ action, advising them “to get the f… out of here”.
According to the June 2 decision, the Committee on Ethics had recognized the behavior of Arakel Movsisian as violation of the professional norms. The Committee noted that the abusive language in the session hall is a violation of parliamentarian ethics, at the same time underlining that the Committee is not competent to punish the MPs. The Committee also stated that according to the rules of accreditation journalists did not have right to organize any action during the parliamentary session.
News.am correspondent tried to get comments from Arakel Movsisian regarding the Ethics Committee decision and stumbled upon rudeness once again. “I do not follow that stuff, get out!” the MP said and hung up.
Later the discourtesy and insulting expressions by Armenian lawmakers towards media representatives continued. Especially “model” in this respect was the parliamentary session of May 19-22, during which there occurred four incidents that caused wide public outcry (see below).
ON MARCH 21, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club of Gyumri presented the results of its monitoring on volumes of commercial advertising on six Armenian TV channels. The study was conducted during the New Year holidays (from December 27, 2013 to January 2, 2014) and covered all six national TV channels (First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia, Second Armenian TV Channel, “Armenia,” “Shant”, “Yerkir Media” and “Kentron”). The study was the continuation of the monitoring, carried out by “Asparez” in August 2013 (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2013). According to Levon Barseghian, Board Chairman of “Asparez” Journalists’ Club, 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).
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”.
In general, the monitoring revealed various legislative violations at all the TV channels studied.
Thus, on December 27, 28, 29 and 30, 2013, PTA First Channel exceeded the specified 7% limit on average on 2-3% from the total amount of TV programs. On December 31 and on January 1 and 2, 2014, the public broadcaster met the limit; the figures were even less than 7%.
The legislative requirement of 7% threshold applies only to the public broadcaster. Another provision applies to all broadcasters, both public and private: the Law “On Advertising” establishes a 14-minute advertising ceiling within every broadcast hour. This provision was violated, but only by three TV channels: PTA First Channel, “Shant” and “Kentron”.
ON MARCH 26, RA Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the court of general jurisdiction, which secured an appeal, filed by Argishti Kivirian, ARMENIA Today coordinator, due to refusal of the RA Special Investigation Service to initiate criminal proceedings against the police officers.
On August 1, 2013, at the Yerevan City Hall, Argishti Kivirian was detained and taken to the police during a civic activists’ protest action against the rise in public transport fares. The policemen used violence against the journalist and held him in police department for more than three hours, which is prescribed under the law. Argishti Kivirian addressed the Special Investigation Service to open a criminal case against the policemen. Having been refused, Kivirian appealed the decision of SIS in the court. Kivirian presented videos and photos as evidence of illegal actions by police. The Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan secured the appeal by requiring SIS to initiate criminal proceedings against the police officers. RA Prosecutor’s Office, in turn, appealed the decision of the court of general jurisdiction in the Criminal Court of Appeal, which dismissed the complaint, as noted above.
Thus, the SIS was obliged to launch an investigation into the lawfulness of the police action against the journalist. According to the information posted on May 12 on the SIS website, a criminal case was instituted on August 1, 2013 incident under Clause 2 of Article 309 of the RA Criminal Code (“Abuse of power, accompanied by violence, use of weapons or special means”).
ON MARCH 28, Karen Andreasian, the Human Rights Defender of Armenia, released a statement denouncing threatening and harassment, expressed during the delivering of the verdict on the notorious murder at the restaurant “Harsnakar” to journalists and lawyers of the offended party.
The crime took place in Yerevan at “Harsnakar” restaurant on the evening of June 17, 2012. The restaurant belongs to Ruben Hayrapetian, big Armenian businessman and member of the RA National Assembly from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia. The kitchen staff and oligarch’s guards started fistfight and severely beat several military doctors, one of whom, Vahe Avetian, Major of the medical service, died later in a hospital. The crime caused massive public outcry and was actively covered by media.
On March 24, the court of general jurisdiction sentenced all the six defendants to 12 years of imprisonment. While the judge was reading out the verdict, relatives of the defendants were sounding off and, after the verdict was announced, started to insulted and threat loudly the judge, lawyers and journalists covering the trial.
Public insults and threats to people present at the courtroom are, first of all, the disrespect for the court, which is criminally punishable, the statement of the ombudsman says, in particular. It also stressed the unacceptability of any pressure on participants of the trial.
ON APRIL 2, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Syunik pronounced the judgment on the lawsuit of Gagik Ghahramanian, Chief Editor of “Kapanyan Lratu” newspaper, against Samvel Aleksanian, Chief Editor of “Syunyats Yerkir” newspaper.
The dispute was caused by a piece titled “The Outcast: A Famous Local Harlequin Again Faces the Issue of Self-Esteem”, published in “Syunyats Yerkir” on September 3, 2013. The piece criticized the activity of Gagik Ghahramanian as the Chief Editor of “Kapanyan Lratu”.
The lawsuit on protection of honor, dignity and business reputation was filed by Gagik Ghahramanian on October 2, and was taken into the court’s consideration on October 3, 2013. The plaintiff demanded public apologies, refutation of defamatory information and compensation of damage in the amount of 3 million AMD (about 5,500 euros). The hearings on the case began on December 5, 2013.
On April 2, 2014 the Court of General Jurisdiction of Syunik partially upheld the plaintiff’s claim and obliged Samvel Aleksanian to publish apologies to Gagik Ghahramanian in “Syunyats Yerkir” newspaper and refute the false information in the disputed piece. The court also ordered compensation of damage in the amount of 219,600 AMD (about 400 euros) by Aleksanian in favor of Ghahramanian, out of which 100,000 – for libel, 80,000 – for insult, 30,000 – for attorneys’ fees and 9,600 – for the state duty. The court rejected the plaintiff’s demand concerning the publishing of refutation also on the website of “Syunyats Yerkir”.
On June 5, Samvel Aleksanian challenged this decision in the RA Civil Court of Appeal. Hearings of the case began on July 23, and on August 15, the Civil Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the court of general jurisdiction.
ON APRIL 7, Armenian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum came up with a statement regarding the broadcasting of Russian TV channels Russia 1 and the First Channel in Armenia.
Noting that these TV channels are freely rebroadcasted in Armenia on the basis of intergovernmental agreements, the authors of the statement expressed concerns over “the programmes and reports overtly propagating xenophobia and spawning hatred between nations”: “This phenomenon has become more evidential in the context of recent political developments around Ukraine.”
Armenian National Platform, which brings together about 200 Armenian NGOs, noted that dissemination of Russian propaganda of this kind in the territory of Armenia violates both national legislation and international conventions ratified by Armenia requiring prohibition of dissemination of xenophobia and hatred between nations: “Such content is detrimental to information security of our country and its relations with other nations, as well as destabilizes the public life. As a matter of fact, Russia 1 and the First Channel, occupying radio frequencies which constitute a limited public resource, act against the national interests of Armenia.”
“Similar effects are observed in some other Russian TV channels, such as Russia 24, NTV, TVC, etc., rebroadcasting in Armenia via cable network or on other basis, which further aggravate the informational and moral damage caused to the Armenian citizens”, the statement further read.
Authors of the statement demanded from the Armenian authorities: to consider the legality of rebroadcasting Russia 1 and the First Channel in Armenia and suspend the broadcasting of the two named TV channels via national broadcasting network, if the propaganda of xenophobia and hatred between nations would not stop, as well as announce licensing competitions for the frequencies released.
The authorities did not react to this statement but its content caused a wide resonance in the society, including social networks.
ON APRIL 9, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan started hearing the lawsuit of “Investigative Journalists” NGO versus the founder of 1in.am (“Skizb Media Kentron” LLC).
The reason for bringing the legal action were the pieces of “Hetq”, online edition of “Investigative Journalists”, which had been reprinted by 1in.am without proper citing. The lawsuit, filed on January 16 and taken into consideration on January 20, initially challenged two pieces of “Hetq”, republished by 1in.am. Later the lawsuit was supplemented by another six pieces, which, as plaintiff believed, 1in.am also used with violation of copyright.
According to Grigory Balasanian, the lawyer of “Investigative Journalists”, initially the plaintiff demanded from 1in.am to remove all 8 pieces from the website and pay a compensation in the amount of 200,000 drams (about 350 euros). However, due to the fact that the disputed materials were reprinted a long time ago and, therefore, the question of their removal has lost relevance, the plaintiff has modified this demand. “We insist that 1in.am add relevant links to publications”, the lawyer said. At the same time the plaintiff kept insisting on compensate the damage caused by infringement of copyright. The lawyer of “Investigative Journalists” stressed that the plaintiff didn’t have a goal to undermine the financial stability of 1in.am, but “we just want our work to be respected”.
After the hearings began, 1in.am invited the founder of “Hetq” to conclude an amicable agreement, however the plaintiff did not agree, as he stated on June 9 court session. The hearings of the case ended on December 3.
Notably, this was the first litigation between media in Armenia after the RA Law “On Copyright and Related Rights” was amended in September 2013. The amendments establish conditions for full or partial reproduction of print/online media pieces by another print/online media, as well as material compensation for damage in case of violation of these conditions (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2013).
In other words, it was expected that the outcome of this court case could set a precedent in the Armenian judicial practice.
On December 17, the court of general jurisdiction rendered a precedent-setting ruling. The court partially secured the suit of “Investigative Journalists”.
The court obliged the respondent to compensate 100,000 AMD and pay off the plaintiff’s court costs of 158,000 AMD (150,000 – for attorneys’ fees и 8,000 – for the state duty).
The court delivered no judgment on the other claim of “Investigative Journalists”, as in the course of the month-long litigation 1in.am had already modified the content in question adding the appropriate references to the disputed pieces.
ON APRIL 15, in Yerevan Congress Hotel, an incident happened between representatives of the “Society Without Violence” NGO and journalists who came to the event.
Round table organized by “Society Without Violence” was dedicated to gender education in Armenian schools. In particular, a package of suggestions for inclusion of gender component in the curriculum of the “Social Science” school subject was to be presented at the event. The media attention was drawn to this round table due to controversial reactions to this initiative in the sphere of education.
Organizers of the round table invited a number of media representatives, but other journalists who also wished to participate in it, were not let to the event. In an interview to “Aravot” daily, Anna Nikoghosian, the NGO Executive Director, explained that “Society Without Violence” was under pressure, discussed topic required special knowledge and that is why this was a closed event. “Some people want to make our activities subject to manipulation and spread false information, obstructing our work”, said the head of the NGO.
The dispute between members of the “Society Without Violence” and the journalists, who were not let to the event, escalated into a brawl, which stopped only after the hotel security service interfered.
However, the fact that an NGO organized a public event and announced it to be of a closed one, was at least surprising. It looked like the NGO was trying to protect itself from unwanted media coverage. Anyway, this incident can be considered as obstructing the work of journalists.
ON APRIL 15, in Gyumri, the RA Administrative Court began hearings of the lawsuit of the RA Police versus Levon Barseghian, Board Chairman of “Asparez” Journalists’ Club.
Levon Barseghian was detained in Yerevan on December 2, 2013, on the day of the visit of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to Armenia, as a participant of the protest action against Armenia’s accession to the Customs Union. He and more than a dozen of protesters were taken to the Kentron Police Department of Yerevan, held there for about four hours, and then released. According to the police protocol, the protesters were detained upon Article 180-1 (“Violation of the legally established order of holding meetings”) of the RA Code of Administrative Offences. The lawsuit on bringing Levon Barseghian to administrative responsibility was passed in the court proceedings on February 14, 2014.
The first hearing on this case lasted eight minutes. Representatives of the RA Police did not come to the court. According to Levon Barseghian, in a letter sent to the court the policemen justified their absence upon the engagement in other trials. As Levon Barseghian ironically put, among 40 thousand of policemen in the country there was not a single one able to represent the police in court.
As of end-2014, the hearings on the case continued.
ON APRIL 19, Rauf Mirkadirov, well-known Azerbaijani journalist, columnist of “Zerkalo” daily and “Zerkalo” special correspondent in Turkey for last three years, was arrested in Baku. According to General Prosecutor’s Office of Azerbaijan, Mirkadirov was charged with high treason (Article 274 of the Criminal Code), in particular, for cooperation with intelligence services of Armenia. Fuad Agayev, the journalist’s lawyer, said that according to investigation, Mirkadirov shared secret information with Laura Baghdasarian, journalist and Director of Armenian “Region” Research Center.
The lawyer noticed that Rauf Mirkadirov was suspected of sharing information on military potential and dislocation of Azerbaijani armed forces with Armenian intelligence services, which allegedly happened during three international conferences in Armenia in 2008-2009.
Laura Baghdasarian was deeply surprised with the fact of her involvement in this case. She posted a feedback on her Facebook page: “It turns out that Rauf Mirkadirov was detained in Azerbaijan because of me. It appears as though I work for Armenian intelligence services. I’m quite surprised with the fact that Rauf Mirkadirov shared with me information on dislocation of Azerbaijani armed forces. These charges are humiliating for intelligence services and armed forces of Azerbaijan since these agencies are worthless if a mere “Zerkalo” journalist, though a skilled one, possessing much more courtesy than many of his colleagues, can get this information.”
According to Laura Baghdasarian, Rauf Mirkadirov was a co-author of a joint Armenian-Azerbaijan project of the “Region” and the Institute of Peace and Democracy, based in Baku, participated in the Internet press conferences “on our joint web site www.publicdialogues.info”. “I assume that my Azerbaijani partners, representatives of the Institute of Peace and Democracy, can face problems as well, due to the fact that they collaborate with Armenia’s ‘main secret agent’ that is with me”, Baghdasarian stressed.
The head of the “Region” noted that her organization has been collaborating with Institute of Peace and Democracy (chaired by Leyla Yunus, a well-known Azerbaijani human rights activist) as partner NGOs since 2005. Laura Baghdasarian is convinced that both in Armenia and Azerbaijan “everyone knows about our activities, since we don’t hide anything. We always tried to find common interests for cooperation between societies of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia”. “Anyway, now our peacemaking activities have reached a dead-end, since from now on our partners and newsmakers from Azerbaijan will hesitate to work with me, as ‘I’m working for Armenian intelligence services’,” the head of “Region” said (quoted from a piece by “ArmInfo”).
Laura Baghdasarian can’t understand why this issue has been raised only now in 2014, if the Ministry of National Security of Azerbaijan was aware of “Mirkadirov’s alleged espionage with Armenian counterparts” in 2008-2009?
Meanwhile, there are opinions that the situation with Rauf Mirkadirov could be caused with his articles that criticize the authorities of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia.
On April 20, “Zerkalo” daily, writing about the arrest of its columnist, noted: “Our colleague is charged with espionage. Who could he be spying for? The question seems rhetoric to us. Certainly, not for Turkey, or why would they turn him in? Iran – the version does not hold water. Georgia sounds absurd. Maybe, for Russia? If so, this is quite eccentric. Rauf must be beating his dog in front of the lion then. Who is there left? Certainly, Armenia. Why would a responsible Azerbaijani journalist work for anyone else but Armenia?..”
On April 24, “Zerkalo” published a statement of Rauf Mirkadirov, which said: “For about 25 years of my professional activity I have been serving the interests of Azerbaijan. I always believed that in dealing with the Karabagh issue and Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, the authorities and the opposition should not confront each other; this also refers to the media coverage of the issue. Therefore, I view the charges of espionage in favor of Armenia as a betrayal of the national interests. I assess these charges to be groundless from the legal perspective. Those who accuse me of espionage for Armenia are committing a great sin in front of Allah.”
On April 25, Laura Baghdasarian and Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute of Peace and Democracy, came up with a joint statement.
The statement read:
“We, the two women, human rights defender and journalist, two mothers from Azerbaijan and Armenia, have been cooperating for almost 10 years, shoulder to shoulder in the uphill struggle for building and enhancing Public Dialogue between our nations warring for more than 20 years.
It is almost 10 years since we have been going hand in hand with joint articles, books, and finally with the first and still unique joint website www.publicdialogues.info. This is a ground for dialogue between Azerbaijanis and Armenians.
It was the website where citizens of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, the USA and the EU countries communicated, argued and discussed major problems of our societies.
We are against future wars! We do not want our children and grand-children to hate and kill each other! We are against the politics sowing discord, against the hatred to the neighbor.
On April 19, 2014 the authorities of Azerbaijan arrested journalist Rauf Mirkadirov. He was arrested on charges of espionage for Armenia (Article 274 of the AR Criminal Code; term of punishment – from 10 years till life sentence). Rauf Mirkadirov is an active participant of numerous Internet conferences held in our website and international conferences held in Armenia.
Rauf Mirkadirov, the Gerd Bucerius International Prize Winner and Honored Journalist of Azerbaijan, is accused for his participation in the public diplomacy actions.
On April 22, 2014 following the decision of the President of Azerbaijan, a joint group of investigators of the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of National Security was set up to ‘uncover a big network of spies of Armenia in Azerbaijan’. It is not difficult to foretell that they want to include the participants of our Dialogue in this network. They have already begun putting strain on Arif Yunusov, a husband of Leyla Yunus. A. Yunusov authored 8 books and over 230 articles on the contemporary history of Caucasus, particularly the Karabagh conflict. Every year starting from 2001 Arif Yunusov has actively participated in international conferences held in Armenia.
Currently Arif Yunusov is hospitalized being in potential stroke condition.
‘Uncovering the spy network’ the authorities of Azerbaijan will put an end to joint Azerbaijani-Armenian projects with participation of independent NGOs.
We are calling all the people of good will around the globe!
Raise your voice for protection of peace in Caucasus, for putting an end to hatred and enmity between the Azerbaijani and Armenian people!
Call for immediate release of Rauf Mirkadirov, a father of two little girls!
Demand to stop the persecution of the participants of the public diplomacy, the activists of our Dialogue, the advocates for peace and democracy in our countries!”
Some time later spouses Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunusov were also arrested on charges of espionage for Armenia.
ON APRIL 23, the draft law on amending the RA Civil Code was put into circulation at the Armenian National Assembly. The amendments introduced the institute of moral damage and material compensation for it.
Media experts have repeatedly drawn attention of the Armenian authorities to the need for legislative regulation of the issue of compensation for moral damage caused by libel or insult. This issue often arose in trials on defamation in the media. The Article 1087.1 of the Civil Code (“Procedure and Conditions of Compensation of Damage to the Honor, Dignity or Business Reputation”) did not provide for such mechanism.
Absence of a mechanism for legal protection against moral damage in the national legislation allowed for situation that contradicted RA Constitution: citizens were deprived from the opportunity to demand material compensation when their fundamental rights (right to life, right to protection against ill-treatment, and right to liberty and security) were violated. This ran contrary to a number of documents ratified by Armenia and obstructed the proper execution of the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. According to experts, adoption of the norm of material compensation for moral damages into the Civil Code along with the development of an effective mechanism for assigning the due amount of compensation, will contribute to securing the right to private life and increased responsibility on part of the media.
The authors of the amendments, Armenian Government, suggested supplementing the Civil Code with the new Article 162.1, introducing the concept of moral damage. In this regard the amendments provided for compensation in the amount of 500-fold to 1000-fold of a minimum wage (the latter is established in Armenia in the amount of 1,000 AMD or less than 2 euros).
On November 5, 2013 the RA Constitutional Court ruled on the petition by citizen Artur Khachatrian, who had challenged the constitutionality of Civil Code provision for various kinds of losses, except for moral damage (Article 17, Clause 2). In the course of three years Artur Khachatrian’s lawsuit on material and moral damage compensation was heard by all national courts and was granted in part: the claim for indemnification of moral damage was rejected. The Constitutional Court adjudicated Clause 2 of Article 17 of the Civil Code in controversy 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 (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2013).
On May 13, the draft law was passed in the first reading.
On May 19, National Assembly adopted in the second reading and finally amendments to the Civil Code.
Hereafter, the concept of moral damage and imposition of financial compensation in case of such damage were enacted in the Civil Code.
ON APRIL 24, Ukrainian Commission on Journalistic Ethics ruled on the complaint filed by Boris Navasardian, President of Yerevan Press Club, against the talk show “Govoryt Ukraina” on the topic “The Fate of Unrecognized States”, aired on “TRK Ukraina” TV channel on March 18, 2014.
In his appeal to Commission on Journalistic Ethics on March 20, YPC President Boris Navasardian accused producers of “Govoryt Ukraina” for being biased and manipulating public opinion in the part of the talk show dealing with Mountainous Karabagh.
Boris Navasardian drew the Commission’s attention to the fact that the talk show was attended by representatives of the Azerbaijani side only. Additionally, facts were distorted in the program: in particular, in the piece about the size of pensions and in the video story on the Karabagh conflict which YPC President believed to be “free interpretation of events”. Thus, the author of the video story stated that only Armenia recognized Mountainous Karabagh, while Armenia did not. Finally, the appeal noted that the insults were voiced against the Armenian people in the program, and no one, including the talk show host, could confront them, since no Armenian representatives were present.
Having studied the subject of the complaint and having watched the video of March 18 talk show, which drew parallels between the events in Crimea and Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Mountainous Karabagh, the Commission on Journalistic Ethics confirmed that only three Azerbaijani representatives participated in the program, as well as a representative of Transnistria and others. At the same time, the talk show host never stated during the program that the producers invited Armenian representatives but they did not attend.
The Commission filed a request to “TRK Ukraina” management to which the press service of TV channel responded: “It was important for us to inform the audience about the position of ethnic Azerbaijanis who had to leave Mountainous Karabagh. Of course, we would like to hear the position of the Armenians living in this area but unfortunately, none of the invited representatives of the Diaspora could attend the talk show.”
At the same time, the press service of the TV channel did not comment on the accusations on the fact that insulting remarks against the Armenian people were voiced during the talk show to which the Armenian party could not respond. The TV channel also did not explain why it was not done by the show host.
On April 24, the Commission on Journalistic Ethics considered the complaint filed by Boris Navasardian, and concluded that the editorial office of the talk show “Govoryt Ukraina” partially or completely violated several articles of the Code of Ethics of Ukrainian Journalist, in the making of the TV show on March 18.
According to the Commission, the main task of the talk show “Govoryt Ukraina” is creation of a real, rather than formal balance of opinions, as well as presentation of verified facts, especially on such sensitive issues.
The talk show producers should not have broadcasted the program in the absence of the other party or should have taken measures to comply with the rules of journalistic ethics, including adjustment to the issues discussed, given the fact that one of the conflicting parties was not present to provide alternative position.
And since it was the producers of the talk show who made a decision to broadcast the program in the absence of one of the parties, Commission on Journalistic Ethics issued a warning to the editorial office of the talk show “Govoryt Ukraina”.
ON APRIL 28, Tert.am, referring to the Press Secretary of “Orinats Yerkir” party Arthur Misakian, reported that an Armenian-Russian company, whose shareholder is Arthur Baghdasarian, Chairman of “Orinats Yerkir”, bought a local TV company “Yerevan”.
Tert.am tried to get detailed information about the Armenian-Russian company, about the share of Arthur Baghdasarian in this company and about its other shareholders. However, Arthur Misakian refused to comment on the details, as the online media reported. Arthur Misakian noted that the TV company would be equipped with brand new equipment but the current professional staff would continue to work.
“Orinats Yerkir” party used to be in the ruling coalition with the Republican Party of Armenia. “Orinats Yerkir” leader Arthur Baghdasarian served as the Secretary of the National Security Council (NSC) of the country. After the resignation of the Government on April 3 and the appointment of a new prime minister, “Orinats Yerkir” left the coalition, and Arthur Baghdasarian resigned from the post of the NSC Secretary.
On April 29, Hraparak.am published a piece stating that acquisition of “Yerevan” TV company took place three months ago with the participation of a representative from a highly influential Russian political group. The owner of “Yerevan” TV Varsham Gharibian told Hraparak.am that information on the deal was not publicized for commercial considerations. “In fact, the deal was kept secret until the normalization of the political field and the withdrawal of “Orinats Yerkir” from the ruling coalition”, Hraparak. am commented. Referring to sources close to “Orinats Yerkir”, Hraparak.am informed that Arthur Baghdasarian allocated a space for the TV company in the office of his party.
ON MAY 1, the international human rights organization Freedom House released its annual report on freedom of the press in 2013.
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 data, of the 197 countries and territories assessed during 2013, a total of 63 (32%) were rated free, 68 (35%) were rated partly free, and 66 (33%) were rated not free. Only 14% of the world’s inhabitants lived in countries with a free press, while 42% had a partly free press and 44% lived in not free environments. Freedom House believes that this balance marks a shift toward the not free category compared with the rating in 2012.
The study also noted that global press freedom fell to its lowest level in over a decade in 2013. The year’s declines, stressed Freedom House, were driven by the desire of governments – particularly in authoritarian states or polarized political environments – to control news content, whether through the physical harassment of journalists covering protest movements or other sensitive news stories; restrictions on foreign reporters; or tightened constraints on online news outlets and social media. In addition, press freedom in a number of countries was threatened by private owners – especially those with close connections to governments or ruling parties – who altered editorial lines or dismissed key staff after acquiring previously independent outlets.
In terms of press freedom, Armenia was ranked as 134th. According to Freedom House study, the score of the Armenian media in 2013 was 62 points, i.e., one point less than in 2012 (61 points). Back then, commenting on the score of 2012, Yerevan Press Club stressed: “If the Armenian authorities express readiness to pursue a reform agenda in the media field, in 2013 our media will have all the chances to be classified under the “partly free” category, from which they are only one step behind” (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2013). This, however, was not the case; in the 2013 study Armenia remained among the countries with not free media, where it has been since 2002. According to Freedom House, in 2013 the freedom of the press index in Armenia was on the same level as in Ecuador, Libya, Turkey and South Sudan also occupying the 134th position with 62 points.
ON MAY 2, ahead of World Press Freedom Day Gallup released a report on the perception of the level of media freedom in various countries of the world. The report compared the results of the polls conducted by Gallup in 2010-2013.
The report noted that the data obtained by Gallup coincide with the findings of latest study by Freedom House, which showed decline in the freedom of press in 2013. “In 2013, we saw more cases of states targeting foreign reporters and media outlets”, Karin Karlekar, representative of Gallup, said.
According to survey held by Gallup in 2013, 63% of all respondents in 132 countries and territories believe that their country’s media are free (in 2012, 67% of respondents believed so). 26% of respondents think that media in their country are not free (compared with 24% in 2012) and 7% did not know/refused to answer.
In Armenia 44% of respondents agree that Armenian media have a lot of freedom and almost the same number of people – 43% express the opposite view. Another 14% found it difficult to answer.
The list of the surveyed countries and territories included the Mountainous Karabagh, where 63% of respondents think that their media are free, 29% find them not free, and 8% did not know/refused to answer.
In the other countries of the South Caucasus the situation was as follows: 61% of respondents in Azerbaijan believe that their country’s media have a lot of freedom, and only 27% think that they have not (13% did not know/refused to answer). In Georgia 51% think that media of their country are free, and 31% that they are not free (18% did not know/refused to answer).
ON MAY 2, the news program “Zham” of “Armenia” TV company reported about the visit of the Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian to a boarding school in the village of Bureghavan, near Yerevan. In the caption to the story the name of Hovik Abrahamian was distorted: instead of Hovik (Հովիկ) it was spelled as Havik (Հավիկ), translated from Armenian as “chicken”.
The mistake caused immediate dismissal of the author of the story and of the technical editor of the story. In an interview to Aravot.am, Gaguik Mkrtchian, the head of news service of “Armenia” TV channel, noted that one should not seek political context in the incident: “It was just an unintentional typo; the responsible for this have already been dismissed from the work.”
On May 5, the Prime Minister commented on the dismissal of the journalists on his Facebook page. Hovik Abrahamian stressed that he had “learned about the dismissal of “Armenia” TV channel employees from press publications”, and expressed confidence that it was just a technical mistake. “However, I want to say that dismissal of the journalists in such cases is undesirable for me”, the Prime Minis wrote, calling upon the management of “Armenia” TV company to reconsider its decision.
Apparently, the TV management promptly reconsidered its decision and the dismissed employees were recovered.
The entire story reminded of the famous example of amphibology in eloquent expression “panda eats shoots and leaves”, where the meaning of a sentence is changed to the opposite depending on the position of a comma.
ON MAY 7, the RA Administrative Court started hearings of the lawsuit, filed by “Investigative Journalists” NGO versus RA Ministry of Environmental Protection.
In October 2013 “Investigative Journalists” requested the Ministry of Environment to provide information for journalistic investigation conducted by the NGO on trafficking of the animals listed in the International Red Book, in Armenia. The “Investigative Journalists”, particularly, requested to provide them with copies of permits for import and export of animals issued by the Ministry in accordance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), in the timeframe from 2010 to December 9, 2013. Ministry of Environment responded merely with the list of the animals imported and exported from Armenia. The Ministry refused to provide the copies of permits as they contain the names of importers and exporters, which constitute a commercial secret. In the following request “Investigative Journalists” suggested the agency to provide the demanded information, after details containing commercial secret are blurred. The Ministry refused again. The NGO appealed to court, demanding to oblige the Ministry of Environmental Protection to provide the requested information in full and to compensate the court fees of the plaintiff.
At the ongoing hearings the Ministry representative stated that the agency provided all the information requested, except for the names of importer and exporter companies, which constitute a commercial secret. Grisha Balasanian, representative of “Investigative Journalists”, in his turn, said that the Ministry’s excuses had no legal grounds, since the companies’ names are not considered to be commercial secret. Balasanian also stressed that after the lawsuit was filed, the Ministry provided foreign journalists, visiting Armenia for filming a documentary on animal trafficking, with several copies of CITES. “If it’s a commercial secret, then why one media outlet had an access to it, while the “Investigative Journalists” had not? This is nothing else but arbitrary decision”, the representative of the plaintiff emphasized .
At the June 25 hearing the respondent made a motion to conclude an amicable agreement. The court supported the motion and appointed a three-week period of negotiations between the parties. However the parties did not reach an agreement and the trial continued.
The hearings on the lawsuit ended on November 24.
As Hetq.am, the online edition of “Investigative Journalists”, reported, Levon Gevorgian, the representative of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, reiterated the position to keep the data secret. At the same time, he admitted that the Ministry had provided foreign journalists, visiting Armenia for filming a documentary on animal trafficking, with several copies of CITES (this was evidenced by a video footage attached to the case by “Investigative Journalists”). However, the Ministry’s representative claimed that this data was provided to the foreign journalists “as a result of a misunderstanding, not as an official act”. Samvel Hovakimian, the judge, inquired whether the staff member had been brought to responsibility for having shared the information.
In this regard Hetq.am cited a remarkable dialogue between the judge and the representative of the Ministry. “Who can bring Ziroyan to responsibility!”, Levon Gevorgian answered. “What do you mean ‘who can bring Ziroyan to responsibility’?” the judge wondered. “Well, he is an academician”, the representative of the Ministry explained.
Hetq.am further reported that Grisha Balasanian, the attorney of the plaintiff, asked if a criminal case on animal trafficking, initiated after media publications, had caused public response and increased attention to the issue. “Why would monkeys interest anyone? There are so many issues out there. Go cover them”, the representative of the Ministry of Environmental Protection responded. The judge admonished the Ministry’s representative for his “inappropriate answers and attitude”, Hetq.am concluded.
On December 8, the court announced its ruling. Administrative Court fully secured the lawsuit of “Investigative Journalists”. The court obliged the Ministry to provide the requested information in full and to compensate the court fees of the plaintiff, including state duty, in the amount of 49,000 AMD (approximately 90 euros).
ON MAY 8, media representatives were not allowed to the meeting of the Standing Commission for Culture, Education and Social Issues of Yerevan Municipality, wherein the issue of placing a statue to Anastas Mikoyan in the Armenian capital was discussed. They were informed that “journalists’ participation in the meeting is not convenient”.
According to information by “A1+”, Anahit Bakhshyan and Styopa Safarian, the members of the Council of Elders of Yerevan Municipality, tried to get an explanation from Artur Gevorgian, the head of the city hall press service. It was a straightforward question: what law regulates the appropriateness of the presence of journalists at the meeting? Artur Grigorian answered that it was a decision of Tamar Poghosian, the Standing Commission Chairwoman, “A1 +” reported and added that Poghosian promised to provide the journalists with the information after the meeting, urging them to wait one hour.
The issue of building in Yerevan a monument to Anastas Mikoyan, Bolshevik, prominent politician and Soviet statesman during the rule of Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, had a great public feedback. Anastas Mikoyan was called “the Kremlin long-liver” for his exceptional political “vitality”. The public opinions, whether to put the monument to Mikoyan or not, divided.
ON MAY 9, “Hraparak” daily and iLur.am published anonymous information about a dispute that took place on one of the streets of Gyumri, Shirak region, in the evening of May 7, between the regional police chief – colonel Vardan Nadarian and two brothers – Artur and Rafael Aleksanians, first being a world-renowned athlete, multiple champion of Europe and Olympic bronze medalist in wrestling. According to that information, the head of Shirak police did not like that the car in which the brothers were driving had too bright headlights. Vardan Nadarian got out of his car and started to hit the brothers with the pistol grip, causing them injuries.
Soon after the incident that caused a wide public outcry, including in the social media, RA Prosecutor’s Office assigned the Special Investigation Service (SIS) of Armenia to prepare the materials on the Gyumri incident, based on media publications.
SIS, ignoring the provisions of the RA Law “On Mass Communication”, which states that only the court has the authority to demand disclosure of the source of information, tried to get that information from the media. Having been refused, SIS turned to court.
On June 26, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan ruled to oblige “Hraparak” and iLur.am to disclose the source of the information.
On July 9, founders of “Hraparak” (“Hraparak Oratert” LLC) and iLur.am (“Start-Media” LLC) disputed the ruling of the court of general jurisdiction at the RA Criminal Court of Appeal.
On July 22, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović expressed concern that “this ruling might have a chilling effect on media as it could thwart reporting on issues of public interest”. “The need for journalists’ professional confidentiality with public and private sources of information must be acknowledged”, noted the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Dunja Mijatović also stressed that the right of journalists to protect the identity of sources is a key principle of investigative journalism and has repeatedly been declared as a basic requirement for freedom of expression by the OSCE.
The hearings in the Criminal Court of Appeal started on July 29.
On September 22, the Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the court of general jurisdiction, thereby causing a new barrage of criticism.
Thus, Chairman of the Armenian Helsinki Committee Avetik Ishkhanian in his interview to Aravot.am assessed the ruling of the Court of Appeal as unlawful. “The media can keep the confidentiality of their sources of information if it is not a threat to national security, which, in turn, needs to be proven in the court”, said Avetik Ishkhanian, stressing that the information about the Gyumri incident “in no way is a threat to national security”. In his view, this is an attempt to intimidate the media so that they write more carefully and refuse to publish sensitive information.
Board Chairman of “Asparez” Journalists’ Club of Gyumri, Levon Barseghian, in his interview to Aravot.am also commented on the ruling of the Criminal Court of Appeal, calling it “a step to cover the inaction of the police and the Prosecutor’s Office”. The latter claim that they cannot solve the case as the media refuses to provide information, Levon Barseghian believes. “They could have just track down the phone calls of the police chief and Artur Aleksanian to find out how many people the Shirak police chief called after the incident to contact Artur and settle the issue with him; that would be enough to solve the case”, said the head of “Asparez”. He further added that the law enforcement bodies are trying to lay the blame for the unsolved case on the media which refuse to give out their sources of information.
It has to be noted, that according the Article 5 of the RA Law “On Mass Communication”, media or journalists can be required to disclose source of information only by the court decision in course of a criminal proceeding with the aim of revealing heavy or most heavy crime, “if public interest in law enforcement overweighs the public interest in protecting the sources of information, and all other means to protect public interest are exhausted”.
Thus, a dangerous precedent was created in Armenia that jeopardizes the freedom of speech.
“Hraparak” disputed the decision of the court with the RA Court of Cassation, which dismissed the appeal on November 28. Some time later the SIS investigator applied to “Hraparak” demanding to disclose the source of information. The newspaper announced that it did not possess any evidence on the source of information.
As of end-2014 the situation did not change. The media refused to disclose the source of information, and there were no further actions taken against them.
This ruling, as well as other attempts to force the media to disclose sources of information, should be viewed in the context of the statement by the RA Prosecutor’s Office, published on May 22, 2014 (see below).
ON MAY 13, at the hearings on defamation dispute, in which the founder of “Aravot” daily (“‘Aravot’ Oratert” LLC) at first appeared as a third party, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan decided to change the legal status of the daily’s founder and named it as a co-respondent.
On July 4, 2013, Senik Julakian, head of the “ArmHydroProject”, filed a lawsuit on protection of honor, dignity and business reputation against Hmayak Hovhannisian, the Chairman of the Armenian Association of Political Scientists. The reason for resorting to justice was the piece by Hripsimeh Jebejian, correspondent of “Aravot”, titled “Suren Khachatrian, Not Being Governor, Continues to Be De Facto Governor of Syunik”. The piece was published at Aravot.am on June 10, 2013 and cited Hmayak Hovhannisian’s statements on Senik Julakian which the latter found defamatory.
The plaintiff demanded the refutation of the information discrediting him, to publish public apologies from Hmayak Hovhannisian on Aravot.am, as well as to oblige the latter to pay him a compensation for damage caused by libel in the amount of 600,000 AMD (about 1,100 euros). The hearings started on October 9, 2013.
Later the plaintiff withdrew the lawsuit, and the consideration of the case was discontinued.
ON MAY 13, “Zhoghovurd” daily reported that residents of the town of Vardenis, Gegharkunik region, are no longer able to watch the programs of the Second Armenian TV Channel.
According to “Zhoghovurd”, “Television and Radio Broadcasting Network of Armenia” CJSC revised the list of locations where the programs of the Second Armenian TV Channel are broadcasted, at the request of the TV company. Now, this list covers only regional and tourist centers of the country. Therefore, “Zhoghovurd” stressed that “the ‘selection’ criteria of the TV company are questionable”.
In an interview to YPC, the Second Armenian TV Channel explained that the contraction of broadcasting area was caused exclusively by technical reasons. At the same time, as the TV company stressed, even after the contraction, their broadcasting covers nearly the same area as other national TV channels. The TV company also assured that problems with transmission in mountainous areas or problematic terrain will disappear after the switch to digital broadcasting.
MAY 19-22, the parliamentary four-day sittings, held on those days, were marked by explicitly aggressive and indecent behaviors on behalf of four MPs towards parliamentary journalists.
On May 19, “All of you are immoral”, said Shushan Petrosian, MP from the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) and famous singer, responding to a question of Ruzanna Stepanian, correspondent of Armenian Service of Radio Liberty, on May 17 shooting in Yerevan downtown. Correspondent of “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” newspaper also got insulted as she stepped into the conversation. “Go away”, Shushan Petrosian threw to the journalist.
On the same day, Margarit Yesayan, MP from the ruling RPA and former journalist, on her Facebook page apologized to journalists, primarily to Ruzanna Stepanian for the “upsetting incident”. Margarit Yesayan believed that what happened between the journalist and the MP was “a misunderstanding”, as “Shushan did not want to offend anyone or anyone’s profession”. Margarit Yesayan added that Vahram Baghdasarian, the head of the RPA faction, also apologized to Ruzanna Stepanian. Margarit Yesayan expressed confidence that Shushan Petrosian “will respond adequately” as well.
Later on, “Zhoghovurd” newspaper posted on its website a video interview with Shushan Petrosian, in which the MP stated that her words were not intended as a personal insult to Ruzanna Stepanian. Speaking of immorality she had in mind the workstyle of journalists. The MP does not like when her interviews are accompanied with readers’ offensive comments, and this is what she finds immoral. Shushan Petrosian stressed that over the past two years (Ed. Note: most likely since she is an MP) journalists spoiled her life with their fabrications. To the question of “Zhoghovurd” what specific piece offended Shushan Petrosian, the MP answered: “Shall I be telling you about those pieces? Go and find yourself.”
On May 21, Melik Manukian, MP from the “Prosperous Armenia” party, behaved vulgarly with the correspondent of “Hraparak” daily, Vahe Makarian, who had inquired about the opinion of the deputy on the program of the new Government, presented at the four-day parliamentary sittings.
On May 22, Mher Sedrakian, MP from RPA, used foul language addressing the correspondent of Tert.am. According to Tert.am, after the discussion of the newly appointed Government’s program, the correspondent approached the MP with a question and received curses and insults as an answer. Tert.am noted that they have a video footage of the incident, but the online newspaper “would yet abstain from publishing dirty accusations against the journalist”, as the MP’s vocabulary “does not correspond the norms of decency, ethics and even humanity”.
It should be noted that it is not the first time when Mher Sedrakian insults journalists. In December 2012 the MP treated badly “A1+” correspondent Mher Arshakian. Later, Sedrakian issued a statement in which he regretted for his words that had been told in “nervous condition”, but apologies were not expressed.
On May 22, MP Araik Grigorian came to the parliament session drunk, and in a conversation with Fnews.am correspondent behaved extremely frivolous.
A month later, on June 18, Araik Grigorian reacted aggressively to the question of the correspondent of “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, who wondered why MP came drunk to the session wherein the program of the newly formed Government was being voted. “I was not drunk, you’re drunk, get out of here”, the MP told the journalist.
On May 26, eight journalistic associations, including Yerevan Press Club, issued a statement condemning the offensive behavior of four deputies of the National Assembly of Armenia towards parliamentary journalists.
The media NGOs’ statement noted that Shushan Petrosian was the only one among the four MPs who tried to come up with explanations in the media, but the latter turned out to be unconvincing and inadequate to her offensive expression. The other three did not bother to apologize, the authors of the statement wrote.
The media organizations demanded:
– The parliamentary factions of RPA and “Prosperous Armenia” to bring the above-mentioned incidents for discussion and publicly give appropriate assessments;
– The Prosecutor’s Office to consider this statement, as far as Mher Sedrakian’ incident is concerned, as a report on crime, in case Sedrakian does not publicly apologize to Tert.am correspondent.
Media NGOs urged the journalists who had been insulted to file complaints to National Assembly Committee on Ethics. They also called upon the journalistic community of the country to show professional solidarity and to provide moral support to their colleagues, as well as to express their disapproval of indecent behavior of MPs.
It should also be noted that all the above-mentioned incidents took place in the National Assembly building.
ON MAY 20, speaking to parliamentary reporters, the newly appointed RA Finance Minister Gagik Khachatrian stated that Armenia is not an attractive country for investment, almost all sectors of the economy are in “shadow”, and blamed journalists for the current situation in the country. Gagik Khachatrian expressed an opinion that journalists “obstruct Government’s work with their ‘useless’ articles, hamper implementation of the current programs and undermine the trust of small and medium enterprises towards the Government” (hereinafter quoted from ArmInfo article). “We want to grant benefits to small and medium business, while you undermine their confidence in us with your articles”, Gagik Khachatrian reproached media representatives.
Finance Minister also refuted allegations voiced in his address about his involvement in big business, assuring that he does not own any companies.
Meanwhile, information on businesses of Gagik Khachatrian has been circulated in the media. Reportedly, the Minister is the owner or co-owner of a number of companies, including “Ucom”, taxi services, shopping centers, etc. Prior to his appointment as the head of the RA Ministry of Finance, Gagik Khachatrian chaired Armenian State Revenue Committee (taxes and customs) and is considered to be one of the richest people in the country.
ON MAY 22, RA Prosecutor’s Office warned the Armenian media of potential criminal liability for unauthorized publication of data on preliminary investigation.
The press release from the Office read that the confidentiality of preliminary proceedings in criminal cases is an important condition for ensuring the rights of the parties involved, while the publication of investigation data “could harm legitimate interests and the rights of parties, obstruct the investigation and the solving of the case”.
The Prosecutor’s Office highlighted that according to Article 342 (“Publication of data on preliminary investigation or further investigation”) of the RA Criminal Code, publication of data on preliminary investigation without permission of the prosecutor, investigator or someone conducting the investigation, is a criminal offense.
The statement also emphasized that in case this happens, supervising prosecutors will take legal measures to determine the source of information and the circumstances, as well as carry out the necessary investigation and pursue action on behalf of the Prosecutor General.
Commenting on that statement for YPC, lawyer Ara Ghazarian noted: “Article 342 has been in the Criminal Code of Armenia for a long time, but there is no judicial practice on this Article. Application of Article 342 of the Criminal Code, especially against the media, is problematic due to fact that it contains very general formulations.” In his opinion, this Article addresses specifically “ the cases when there is an extreme necessity to disclose the information sources for solving serious or very serious crimes, and not all criminal cases”. Furthermore, any attempt of the prosecution to influence the media will be perceived as a restriction of freedom of speech and cause a public outcry, the lawyer added.
On May 26, the Freedom of Information Center expressed its view towards the Prosecutor’s Office statement, describing it as “extremely problematic”, “jeopardizing proper performance of journalists’ professional duties, and as a consequence, compromising the public’s right to information”.
The FOI Center noted that Article 342 of the Criminal Code contradicts RA Law “On Mass Communication”. First, Article 5 of the Media Law contains two mandatory provisions: media or journalists may be required to disclose the source of information only by the court decision in course of a criminal proceeding with the aim of revealing heavy or most heavy crimes, “if public interest in law enforcement overweighs the public interest in protecting the sources of information, and all other means to protect public interest are exhausted”. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor’s Office claimed that the supervising prosecutors can act without taking into account these provisions, the FOI Center stressed.
Secondly, Article 9 of the Media Law stipulates that media and journalists are not responsible for the dissemination of information, if this information has not been acquired in a way prohibited by the law, or it was not made obvious that it was confidential. In addition, the media and journalists are exempted from liability for dissemination of information even if its confidentiality was obvious, in case its publishing was necessary to protect the public interest.
The Prosecutor’s Office statement does not mention these legislative provisions and, as a result, it is not seen as a way to strengthen the rule of law, but as a direct threat to journalists doing their jobs, the FOI Center mentioned and urged the Prosecutor’s Office to review its statement.
ON MAY 23, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan announced its ruling on 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 “Another ‘Shant’ ‘Bunko’ and Litigation”, published in the newspaper on June 5, 2013 and 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 5,400 euros). The hearings on the case started on October 10, 2013 (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2013).
According to the court ruling, the lawsuit of “Shant” was granted in part. The court obliged to publish its ruling in the newspaper and on the website, as well as to pay a compensation to the TV company for damage caused by libel (60,000 AMD), the attorneys’ fees (100,000 AMD) and state duty (1,500 AMD). Meanwhile, the court obliged “Shant” to pay to “Iravunk” 170,000 AMD for the reasonable attorneys’ fees. In other words the plaintiff and the respondent almost “tied” in the issue of material compensation.
The decision of the court was contested by both parties with the RA Civil Court of Appeal. The hearings on the complaints started on July 3.
As of end-2014, the appeals instance did not pronounce its judgment.
It should be noted that in 2014 there were two more lawsuits on the protection of business reputation filed by the TV company against the newspaper, pending before the same court of general jurisdiction (see below).
ON MAY 27, RA Civil Court of Appeal upheld RA Administrative Court ruling on the lawsuit of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression against the RA Ministry of Transport and Communications.
On June 4, 2013, the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression (CPFE) sent to the Ministry of Transport and Communications an inquiry, concerning the government program on switchover from analog to digital broadcasting. Having received no response within the statutory period of five days, the journalistic organization appealed to the Administrative Court on June 28, 2013. The lawsuit contained two demands: to oblige the Ministry to provide the requested information, and recognize the case of the Ministry’s illegal inaction.
On July 1, 2013, after filing the suit, the Ministry responded to the request, and the CPFE gave up one of its demands – regarding provision of information.
On November 22, 2013 the Administrative Court granted the claim and found the inaction of the Ministry of Transport and Communications to be illegal.
The Ministry challenged this decision, but the appeal was dismissed on May 27, 2014.
IN JUNE, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan accepted several defamation lawsuits from representatives of non-governmental organizations and individuals against the founder of “Iravunk” newspaper (LLC “Iravunk Media”) and the Chief Editor of the newspaper Hovhannes Galajian.
The reason for the class action was a homophobic piece by Hovhannes Galajian titled “They Serve the Interests of the International Homosexual Lobby. Black List of Enemies of the Nation and the State”, published on May 17, 2014. The author of the piece incited hatred and aggression towards people who criticize the members of the Armenian national jury of the Eurovision Song Contest 2014. The piece contained the “black list of traitors of the nation” – “lobbyists of homosexuals, aggressively trying to impose their rules in our country”, as well as links to their Facebook pages. Chief Editor of “Iravunk” was urging to have “zero tolerance” for these people, not to communicate with them, not to hire them for work and dismiss from public service.
After the disputed piece was published, representatives of NGOs addressed the editorial office of “Iravunk”, demanding refutation. On June 3, “Iravunk” Chief Editor responded with outrage in the piece “And These Ones Dare to Demand Refutation?!”, wherein he brought details which proved, in his opinion, that the NGO representatives had “controversial biographies”.
On June 16, representatives of 16 NGOs filed the class action against “Iravunk” founder and newspaper Chief Editor. The lawsuit was accepted on June 18. The plaintiffs demanded refutation of the defamatory information and compensation for the damage caused by libel and insult in the amount of 5 million AMD (about 9,000 euros).
On June 19, three representatives of a humanitarian NGO “Nor Serund” (“New Generation”), Grigor Gevorgian, Arman Sahakian and Hovhannes Mkrtchian, which were also included by “Iravunk” in the “black list of traitors of the nation”, filed a lawsuit both against the Chief Editor of “Iravunk” newspaper Hovhannes Galajian and the Chairman of Editorial Board of the newspaper Hayk Babukhanian (also the deputy of the RA National Assembly from the faction of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia). The lawsuit was accepted on June 24 and contained demands to oblige the respondents to publish a refutation and the decision of the court, as well as to pay 3 million AMD (about 5,400 euros) in compensation to damage caused by libel and insult. The hearings on the case started on September 4 and continued as of end-2014.
Another lawsuit against “Iravunk” and its Chief Editor was filed on June 16 and accepted on June 20 by the same court of general jurisdiction. The plaintiff was Iranian citizen Romik Danial, who also made the “black list of traitors of the nation”.
It is noteworthy that the same “Iravunk” kept publishing pieces of homophobic nature calling for “zero tolerance” also towards the people that sued the newspaper and its management. Here are some of the headlines of such pieces: “When Grant Sucker Defenders of Homosexuals Get Support from The Government” (June 6-9, 2014, under “Antinational” heading); “Human Rights Defender’s Ijevan “Defunct” Branch Are Lobbyists of Homosexuality?” (July 1, 2014); “All We Needed Was an Iranian Citizen to Protect Homosexuals” (July 9, 2014); “Another Trio of Conchita’s Witnesses Joined the Persecutions Against Freedom of Speech” (July 11, 2014, under “Obscenity Without Borders” heading); “When the Daughter of a Public Official Is Engaged in Lobbying Homosexuality” (July 15, 2014, under “Conchita’s Witnesses” heading).
As for the class action of 16 NGO representatives against “Iravunk” founder and newspaper Chief Editor, the trial on it started on August 21.
At October 20 court session the lawyer of the plaintiffs, speaking about the subject of the trial, in particular, noted: “3,500 and more views prove the publicity of the piece. The piece discredits the honor of the plaintiffs because it accuses them for treason, which is a criminal offense. The piece also intends to offend the plaintiffs as the author asks the relevant state bodies to fire those people, and calls on the journalists to refrain from their ‘lobbying’, basically pushing for aggressive actions” (hereafter quoted from Epress.am).
At the same time, during the entire court session “Iravunk” Chief Editor continued to insult the plaintiffs. The respondent’s lawyer was speaking in the same tone, using a word, probably of his own invention, “goluboyism” (“faggot”). He stated that Armenian Constitution gives everyone the right to express their opinion. Hovhannes Galajian expressed his opinion that “goluboyism” was a threat to national security, and the lawyer shared his opinion.
On October 30, the court not only dismissed the lawsuit, but also ordered the plaintiffs to compensate 300,000 AMD (about 580 euros) for their opponent’s attorneys’ fees.
On October 25, a few days before the court decision was announced, RA President Serzh Sargsian honored the work of “Iravunk” newspaper on their 25th anniversary and awarded Hayk Babukhanian, Chairman of newspaper Editorial Board and MP from Republican Party of Armenia, with Movses Khorenatsi Medal – “for important personal input in the establishment of the newspaper”. Hovhannes Galajian also received a special Medal of Appreciation – “for his input in the establishment of the newspaper, devotion and productive work of many years”.
On October 31, “Iravunk” commented on the court ruling in the piece titled “Court Dismissed the Lawsuit of the Lobbyists of Homosexuals Against ‘Iravunk’ and Its Chief Editor”: “(…) The ruling of the court reiterated that moral values are not entirely lost in our country, as there still exists front liners fighting for the traditional family, for the state, for the genuine honor – in the face of “Iravunk” newspaper, its editor H.Galajian and the CEO of the “Lev Group” law firm Levon Baghdasarian who was representing the interests of the respondent.”
The court ruling caused a public outcry from a large part of the society. In particular, Levon Barseghian, Board Chairman of “Asparez” Journalists’ Club, wrote at his Facebook page: “‘Thanks to’ the court’s decision, from now on we can say whatever we like about the newspaper, its owners or advisors and then claim that it simply was our own opinion. If I follow the same logic, I can say that Ruben Nersisian (Ed. Note: the judge who made the decision) serves the interests of the international homosexual lobby and stress that this is only my personal opinion.”
On November 5, thirty Armenian NGOs, including Yerevan Press Club, “Asparez”, Journalists’ Club, “EcoLur”, Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor Office, issued a statement condemning court decision on the lawsuit disputing the homophobic piece by the Chief Editor of “Iravunk” newspaper.
The authors of the statement stressed that they find unacceptable the hate speech and calls for discrimination, along with inappropriate reactions of Armenian judiciary to it. With this decision the court puts at risk citizens’ safety and privacy, triggering more dangerous forms of discrimination in the future, the statement emphasized.
“We are convinced that such attitude toward citizens, which is being supported at the state level, creates an atmosphere of impunity and a platform for more severe forms of hate crimes,” the statement read. The representatives of thirty NGOs noted that Hayk Babukhanian, while being present at court hearings, was insisting that the disputed statements by “Iravunk” were legal. Moreover, awarding Hayk Babukhanian at the highest state level “gives green light to spread of opinions causing segregation and divide in the society”.
The authors of the statement demanded the Armenian authorities to:
– condemn calls for discrimination and hate speech by high-rank state officials and other citizens, disseminated by media or other sources;
– ensure fair, objective and comprehensive trial of hate cases;
– ensure the security and privacy of sixteen plaintiffs targeted by this case, as well as protect their rights to be free from discrimination and violence.
In its December 9 opinion the Information Disputes Council (IDC) referred to the justification of the court ruling. The court noted that even though the disputed piece contained some exaggeration that could have shocked and disturbed the plaintiffs, in general, it was presented in a balanced manner. For this reason the court found that the feed of information in the piece “does not exceed the acceptable limits of journalistic freedom”, and the content of the piece was driven by “the supremacy of the public interest”.
According to the IDC, “the piece voiced the expressions and appeals, which are manifestation of extremism and hate speech”. However, the court did not take into account this circumstance, although it was clearly pointed to in the lawsuit. The IDC did not put the right of the author to freedom of expression under question, but emphasized that “no mechanism of freedom of speech protection applies to hate speech”.
The IDC believed that “zero tolerance”, referred to by the author in his piece, as well as its general context, calling to show absolute intolerance to specific individuals up to the segregation of them, is incompatible with democratic values, the rule of law and civil solidarity, provided for in the Constitution of Armenia.
The specific problem is that in this case the media outlet was not only a platform for the dissemination of hate speech but its author. The other problem is that the author of piece is the person determining the editorial policy. This attribute provides him both with the additional rights and with the responsibility to comply with the Constitution, laws, and norms of journalistic ethics in his professional activities, the IDC concluded.
Representatives of 16 NGOs contested the ruling of the court of general jurisdiction with the RA Civil Court of Appeal, which did not pronounce its decision as of end-2014.
STARTING FROM JUNE 1 cable radio network ceased broadcasting in Armenia. This caused discontent of those who from the Soviet times used to listen to cable radio receiver installed at home and transmitting programs of the state radio. After Armenian independence and establishment of public broadcaster, home cable radio aired programmes of Public Radio of Armenia (PRA).
In an interview to “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, PRA Executive Director Armen Amirian said that “Television and Radio Broadcasting Network of Armenia” CJSC put down its decision of disabling the cable radio to financial unprofitability. In April 2014, as the daily wrote, cable radio network stopped broadcasting for a few days and this caused protest on the part of listeners. Then the “Television and Radio Broadcasting Network” raised the issue of setting fees for its services and negotiations with the PRA were held resulting in a temporary compromise. However, this time the network is disconnected permanently, said Armen Amirian. “We appealed to the higher instances but saw no reaction”, the head of the Public Radio told the newspaper. Armen Amirian also noted that in February 2014 cable radio network had 7 thousand subscribers, and today, according to “Television and Radio Broadcasting Network”, their number is only 2,5 thousand. “I do not want to draw conclusions, but it turns out that the number of subscribers is diminishing”, Armen Amirian concluded. The attempts of the daily to get clarifications from the RA Ministry of Transport and Communication, as well as from the “Television and Radio Broadcasting Network” (which is in the structure of the Ministry) failed.
In other words, the old, usual source of information suddenly became unavailable for many listeners without any reasonable explanation. The termination of cable radio broadcasting mostly concerned elderly listeners, who were left without the radio in the kitchen (where the receivers usually were installed); the majority of them does not use the Internet and cannot spend a long time at the TV set due to health or other reasons.
ON JUNE 4, Hetq.am, the online edition of “Investigative Journalists” NGO, published a piece titled “Information ‘Closed’ to Media Made Available with Human Rights Defender’s Intervention”. The piece noted that Hetq.am turned to Karen Andreasian, Armenian Human Rights Defender, complaining about the law enforcement bodies refusing to provide information and thus violating the media’s right to receive it. Government agencies use a standard phrase to decline journalistic inquiries: there is no statistics on this information, Hetq.am wrote.
According to the piece, Hetq.am tried to figure out how many times the Article 42 of the RA Criminal Code on justifiable self-defense was used in Armenia for termination of criminal prosecution. Nearly all of the state agencies gave the same answer: “There is no statistics on this information.” However, after Human Rights Defender interfered, it turned out that there is such data. RA Police informed ombudsman that three such cases were reported in 2009-2013.
In connection with numerous complaints to the online edition by prisoners regarding non-use of parole, Hetq.am appealed to the ombudsman for assistance in obtaining this information. For comparison Hetq.am pointed out two years: 2006 (when the institution of parole was introduced) and 2013. Hetq.am stressed that prior to this the Penitentiary Service of the Ministry of Justice told that there is no statistics on that issue. Again, it turned out that there is such information, judging from the data provided by the Ministry of Justice to Karen Andreasian.
With the help of the ombudsman Hetq.am received access to data on life-term prisoners in Armenia which had been previously closed to online edition.
Judging by Hetq.am piece, legal and judicial authorities found a convenient runaround for journalists. It looks like they provide responses to your requests and inform you that there is no data you are interested in. Therefore, they do not violate your right to access to information. Does this mean that from now on all journalists have to turn to the ombudsman to obtain requested information? Meanwhile, the issue of selective approach of law enforcement authorities to the media was repeatedly raised at numerous joint meetings of various formats as well.
ON JUNE 6, the RA Administrative Court dismissed the lawsuit of Freedom of Information Center against the Information Technologies Center of the Committee of the Real Property Cadastre of the RA Government.
On May 7, 2013 the FOI Center had applied to the agency requesting to provide information related to the transmission of rights to Closed Market on Mashtots Avenue in the center of Yerevan (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, 2013 (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2013).
The RA Administrative Court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit was contested with the RA Civil Court of Appeal, which upheld the decision on December 18, 2014. Freedom of Information Center contested the decision of the appeals instance with the RA Court of Cassation, which in its turn dismissed the complaint.
The organization announced of their intention to apply to the RA Constitutional Court.
ON JUNE 6, the Freedom of Information Center released a statement accusing the State University of Economics of Armenia for “violating the constitutional right to receive information”.
On April 16, 2014, the Freedom of Information Center filed a request to the University of Economics to provide a list (first and family names) of the University graduates for the years of 1990-1991. According to the FOI Center statement, the University of Economics responded only nine days later: in its letter University noted that it had not been made clear whether the request was filed by a physical or legal entity. The FOI Center deemed this response to be groundless, as the request was written on a letterhead of the organization, contained all the necessary information and did not differ from other similar requests sent by the NGO to various agencies for already 11 years. Moreover, the statement stressed, five days prior to the mentioned request the University of Economics had responded to another inquiry by the FOI Center, drawn up exactly in the same way.
Meanwhile, on May 6, Gevorg Hayrapetian, the lawyer of the Freedom of Information Center, made another request on his behalf to the University to provide the same information about the graduates. Two weeks later, the University answered that it is unable to provide the information because it required a huge amount of work and there were no available staff member to do that. The University also rejected the suggestion of the lawyer that he could look through the lists of graduates on the spot by himself.
From the perspective of the FOI Center, the correspondence lingering for many months proved that the University of Economics was deliberately stalling.
ON JUNE 10, “Aravot” daily published a piece by the newspaper correspondent Adrineh Torosian, “Decision of Vanadzor Mayor Does Not Abide Principles of Publicity and Freedom of Information”. The piece reported that the municipality of Vanadzor denies access to journalists for its weekly working meetings.
The author of the piece quoted Arman Veranian, representative of the press service of the municipality, as he explained that three of the four meetings were to be held behind closed doors, and journalists could be present only at one of them (the concluding one). Upon request, media outlets can receive video records of closed meetings, Arman Veranian said.
This decision caused heated discussions on Facebook, “Aravot” wrote. Edik Hovsepian, the assistant to the Mayor and also his nephew, probably trying to “fix the situation”, gave the journalists a different explanation, the newspaper reported. In his words, media representatives are not banned from attending the meetings, but the decision was made “for their convenience”: say, instead of coming early in the morning to the meetings, media would receive the video footage, filmed by cameraman of the city hall, and media outlets would be free to choose whether to publish these records or not. “Eventually, you should have and publish decent information, shouldn’t you?” the newspaper cited Edik Hovsepian’s comments. At the same time, the assistant of the Mayor noted that the video footage would be provided to media outlets not in the original but in an edited form, “Aravot” stressed.
According to the newspaper, the decision to limit the access of journalists to the municipality followed after a series of critical publications in the address of Samvel Darbinian, the Mayor of Vanadzor. The pieces read about the abuses by the Mayor of his position and use of the city budget in the interests of his own business.
The “Aravot” piece also cited the opinion of Gevorg Hayrapetian, the lawyer of the Freedom of Information Center, who commented on the decision of the city hall. The lawyer found this decision illegal and the explanations of the representatives of the city hall to be unacceptable because they contradict statutory principles of publicity and transparency of activities of local self-government. Officials should not decide for journalists how the latter can get information – through physical attendance of meetings or through the press service. The right of choice belongs exclusively to journalists, Gevorg Hayrapetian believed.
ON JUNE 10, an incident took place between Arevik Isajanian, parliamentary correspondent of PressIdent.am, and Hermineh Naghdalian, Vice Speaker of the RA National Assembly.
According to journalist, she approached the Vice Speaker to ask her a few questions about her entrepreneurial activity. In response, Hermineh Naghdalian insulted the journalist, calling her “ignorant”.
On June 12, Arevik Isajanian turned to the Committee on Ethics of the RA National Assembly.
In her complaint PressIdent.am correspondent listed some provisions of the Code of Ethics of an MP, which, in her opinion, have been violated by the Vice Speaker, and asked the Committee to consider this issue and make a decision on it. The journalist expressed willingness to submit to the Committee an audio recording of her conversation with Hermineh Naghdalian.
On June 26, Committee on Ethics discussed the complaint. According to media reports with reference to the Committee’s Chairman Hovhannes Sahakian, this body decided that the appeal cannot be processed because what happened was a private conversation between two persons.
ON JUNE 11, “Aravot” daily informed that they had recently received a letter signed by the Head of Goris Police Department, Syunik region, requesting to reveal the source of information for the piece “Stabbing in Goris, and Again Surik Khachatrian’s Relatives” published on May 26, 2014 on Aravot.am.
“The experience of “Aravot” shows that the desire of our law enforcement agencies to find out the source of information awakens when it comes to the former Syunik Governor Surik Khachatrian”, Anna Israelian, the Editor of Aravot.am, wrote in the piece titled “‘Aravot’ is Again Requested to Disclose the Source of Information”. The author recalled that once the investigation service of Defense Ministry of Armenia had already interrogated two Aravot.am employees, requesting to disclose the source of information in publications about Ex-Governor.
As Anna Israelian noted, the newspaper had already answered the Goris Police Department with the same explanations as they gave during the previous interrogations at the Defense Ministry. That is, “Aravot” cited Article 5 of the RA Law “On Mass Communication”: media or journalists can be required to disclose source of information only by the court decision in course of a criminal proceeding with the aim of revealing heavy or most heavy crime, “if public interest in law enforcement overweighs the public interest in protecting the sources of information, and all other means to protect public interest are exhausted”. The Law provides that in such cases, at the motion of the journalist, the court proceedings can be held behind closed doors.
Accordingly, “Aravot” suggested the Goris Police Department to apply to the court with the demand on disclosing the source of information.
The newspaper stressed that whenever they are requested to disclose the source of information they will refer to the same provision of the Law. “Thus, we call the police to apply to court without wasting time on correspondence”, Anna Israelian concluded in her piece.
This attempt to force the media to disclose source of information can also be viewed in the context of the May 22, 2014 statement by the RA Prosecutor’s Office, in which the media are reminded of potential criminal liability for unauthorized publication of data on preliminary investigation. The statement was sharply criticized by media experts and lawyers (see above).
ON JUNE 21, the RA National Assembly adopted in the second reading and finally amendments to the RA Law “On Advertising”, abolishing the ban on advertising strong alcohol beverages on television and radio.
Thus, the broadcast media were again allowed to advertise strong spirits (with alcohol content of 20 percent or more) from 22.00 to 06.00.
The ban on advertising alcohol beverages (except Armenian brandy) and tobacco products in broadcast media, as well as the restriction of such advertising in print media (in the first and last pages of newspapers, on the cover, the first and last pages of magazines), was introduced by the law adopted on June 26, 2002 and entered into force on January 1, 2003. Back then the journalistic community opposed the restrictions, noting that the ban will hit the pockets of broadcasters who already suffer from financial difficulties (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2002). At the same time, the imposed restrictions were not based on study of the influence of such advertising on alcohol consumption in Armenia or specific social threats and addressed narrow interests, if any.
It took the legislators 12 years to realize these factors, and now the authors of the draft law justify their initiative with the desire to help TV channels improve their financial conditions. According to the authors of the amendments, their initiative will allow the broadcasters to earn 1 billion AMD (about 1 million 740 thousand euros) annually on advertising of strong liquor. Oppositional parliamentary factions did not take part in the vote. Their representatives expressed a view that oligarchs will benefit from lifting the ban on alcohol advertising, given that practically they are monopolists of liquor production and import. “Advertising liberalization” will be beneficial primarily for two national TV channels – “Armenia” and “Shant”, which are ascribed to pro-government circles. According to experts, their combined share comprises more than two-thirds of the total advertising market to date.
ON JUNE 23, journalists together with dozens of people were waiting outside of the Kentron Police Department of Yerevan for the release of activists detained earlier that day for participation in the civil protest action in downtown Yerevan against the forthcoming rise of electricity tariff (27 protesters were detained). Standing in a line, policemen started pushing the people. Journalists were among the casualties of the incident. In particular, physical force was exerted on Sargis Gevorgian, cameraman of iLur.am. Ani Gevorgian, correspondent of “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” newspaper, was hit in the face then on the leg. Arpi Makhsudian, correspondent of CivilNet.TV, was also hit while filming with her mobile phone. Paylak Fahradian, “GALA” TV cameraman, was assaulted and his laptop was smashed.
In an interview with Epress.am “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” correspondent described details of the incident, noting that immediately after the incident she went to Yerevan Police to report on crime. According to Ani Gevorgian, she did not remember the policeman who had slapped her in the face, as at that moment she was filming.
“We firmly condemn the police violence against journalists who were just doing their job in a law-abiding manner. The actions of the police must not be unpunished or else their violent behaviour will recur and could become the norm. The policemen who attacked the journalists must be brought to justice”, stressed Reporters Without Borders in their statement of June 26.
On July 1, RA Special Investigation Service (SIS) initiated a criminal case under Clause 3, Article 164 (“Impending the legitimate professional activities of a journalist”) and Clause 2, Article 309 (“Abuse of power”) of the RA Criminal Code, on the basis of complaints filed by Ani Gevorgian, correspondent of “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” newspaper, and Sargis Gevorgian, cameraman of iLur.am.
Since other citizens also filed complains about the actions of the police, all the complaints were united into one case. Ani Gevorgian and Sargis Gevorgian, together with a number of other participants of the incident, were recognized as victims.
Ani Gevorgian informed YPC that she was summoned to SIS on October 14 to provide some additional clarifications on the matter. On October 15, she confronted one of the policemen who used force against the citizens. Ani Gevorgian stressed that she had provided the investigators with footage of the incident.
On December 27, SIS discontinued the case due to the absence of corpus delicti.
Ani Gevorgian announced about her intention to contest the SIS decision at court.
ON JUNE 25, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan started hearing the lawsuit of writer Arpi Voskanian versus the founder of 1in.am (“Skizb Media Kentron” LLC).
The writer accused 1in.am founder for a breach of copyright. According to Arpi Voskanian, 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 published the poem under its own headline, removing the original title and attaching the photo of one of the Armenian politicians. Besides, the news portal announced a song contest on the poem’s lyrics, fixing an award of $1,500.
On December 10, 2012, Arpi Voskanian complained about 1in.am to the Media Ethics Observatory (MEO) in order to settle the conflict out of court. Since the complaint touched upon both professional ethics and legal matters, the Media Ethics Observatory examined it jointly with the Information Disputes Council (IDC).
In January 17, 2013 joint expert conclusion MEO and IDC stressed 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 for the legal aspect of the case, the joint expert conclusion further read that 1in.am had obviously violated the material and non-material rights of Arpi Voskanian. Besides, the announcing of a song contest and monetary award may be considered in some cases as interference to the material interests of the author. The self-regulatory bodies called upon the parties of the conflict to settle the dispute out of 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, 2013, the MEO organized the meeting of Arpi Voskanian with the 1in.am representative (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2013).
“However, I realized that the dispute could only be settled in court, after the editor of 1in.am said that I had to apologize to them”, Arpi Voskanian wrote on her Facebook page.
On March 20, 2014, the writer filed the lawsuit against the 1in.am founder. The lawsuit was accepted on March 21. Arpi Voskanian demanded the respondent to be banned from reprinting the poem and to compensate the damage in the amount of 200,000 AMD (about 360 euros).
As of end-2014, the hearings on the case continued.
ON JULY 3, correspondent of AraratNews.am and Board member of “Heritage” party Hrayr Manukian published an audio recording of a conversation with a person who introduced himself as an agent of the National Security Service (NSS) of Armenia and tried to recruit him first “on good terms”, and then – by threatening him. According to the journalist, the conversation took place on June 30, in one of the cafes of Yerevan.
On July 8, Hrayr Manukian submitted a crime report to RA Prosecutor General Gevorg Kostanian and to RA Human Rights Defender Karen Andreasian. “In June 2014 Vlad Hakobian, who introduced himself as an employee of RA NSS offered me -Hrayr Manukian – to cooperate with NSS”, the statement of the journalist read. He also noted that in response to a refusal to cooperate, Vlad Hakobian threatened with “negative consequences” for his professional and political activities.
On July 18, RA Prosecutor’s Office refused to initiate a criminal case against National Security Service, due to the absence of corpus delicti in the journalist’s report on crime. Moreover, the audio recording of the conversation made by the journalist was not taken as material evidence.
On August 21, Hrair Manukian and “Heritage” party contested the decision at court. On November 17, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan started hearing the complaint.
As of end-2014 no judgment was pronounced on this case.
ON JULY 31, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan started hearing the combined lawsuit of “Shant” TV company’s founder (“Shant” LLC) versus the founder of “Iravunk” newspaper (“Iravunk Media” LLC).
The first lawsuit was accepted by the court of general jurisdiction on August 23, 2013 and contested the piece “‘Shant’ Wanted To Take Vengeance on Me for That Conflict” published in “Iravunk” on July 23, 2013.
The second lawsuit was accepted by the same court on January 8, 2014. Here the subject of the dispute was the piece “‘Iravunk’ Must Thank ‘Shant’ for 10-Minute Advertisement of the Newspaper”, published in “Iravunk” on December 2, 2013.
On April 23, 2014, both lawsuits were combined in a single proceeding. The combined lawsuit on the protection of business reputation of the TV company contained demands from “Iravunk” to make public apologies, to publish both a refutation and the decision of the court in the newspaper and on “Iravunk” website, and to pay a compensation to “Shant” for the damage caused by libel and insult. The total amount of financial claims of the TV company towards the newspaper made 4 million AMD (more than 7,000 euros).
The hearings on the case ended on November 24 with a suggestion of amicable agreement.
On December 8, the court confirmed the amicable agreement, according to which “Shant” abandoned its claims against “Iravunk”.
ON AUGUST 22, lawyer Ruben Baloyan appealed to the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan with the defamation lawsuit against Zhanna Aleksanian, head of “Journalists for Human Rights” NGO. The NGO itself was involved in the case as a third party.
The matter of the dispute was the piece by Zhanna Aleksanian, “Hey, I’m Talking to You As a Man-to-Man, Not As a Lawyer”, published on July 21, 2014 on the website of “Journalists for Human Rights”. The piece dealt with an incident which occurred in Abovyan town, on July 18, near the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kotayk Region, where proceedings in a high-profile case of a car accident were taking place. The defendant in the case was famous actor Vardan Petrosian, who crashed his car to another vehicle causing death of two passengers. According to the piece, after a consecutive hearing finished, Ruben Baloyan, lawyer of the plaintiffs, behaved aggressively towards Nikolay Baghdasarian, lawyer of Vardan Petrosian, and intimidated him telling the phrase, subsequently taken as the headline for the disputed piece. Then the victims approached Nikolay Baghdasarian and the relatives of the actor, insulting them. The bailiffs prevented the verbal altercation from turning into a fistfight. On July 22, the NGO’s website posted the footage of the incident.
On the same day, July 22, the RA Chamber of Advocates initiated disciplinary proceedings against Ruben Baloyan on the basis of the piece by Zhanna Aleksanian.
On July 25, “Journalists for Human Rights” published the letter by Ruben Baloyan demanding refutation. The letter was accompanied by an editorial comment, in which Zhanna Aleksanian confirmed that she was not going to backdown on what she wrote.
On August 22, Ruben Baloyan appealed to the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan with the defamation lawsuit against Zhanna Aleksanian. “Journalists for Human Rights” NGO is involved in the case as a third party. The plaintiff demands.
The lawsuit was accepted on August 25 and contained a demand to oblige the respondent to publish a refutation.
As of end-2014, the hearings on the case did not start.
ON AUGUST 26, at the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan a defamation lawsuit was filed by “M.Gevorgian” LLC against “Aravot” daily and its correspondent Nelly Babayan.
The lawsuit disputed two pieces by Nelly Babayan, “Pedestrian Underpass Is a Motel” and “Pedestrian Underpass Is Also a Work Place of Prostitutes”, published in “Aravot” newspaper on August 21 and on Aravot.am on August 22, 2014. “M. Gevorgian” LLC, who is, according to the pieces, the owner of the night club situated in the underpass, demanded 3 million AMD (about 5,600 euros) for compensation of the damage caused to its honor, dignity and business reputation.
“Aravot” told YPC that before filing the case “M. Gevorgian” LLC did not demand refutation from them. The newspaper also stressed that after the pieces had been published, they were receiving phone calls with threats.
The lawsuit was accepted on August 28. At the hearings that started on December 5 the burden of proof was imposed on the plaintiff.
As of end-2014, the hearings on the case continued.
ON SEPTEMBER 8, the RA National Assembly resumed its work after the summer holidays. And together with it a topic of indecent treatment towards media representatives in the main legislative body of the country also resumed.
Most likely, for many MPs summer vacation was unfairly short: they could hardly sit out the workday in the session hall. So, Galust Sahakian, Speaker of the parliament, on the first day of the work week had a hard time bringing the colleagues to order to start the session. He had to remind the MPs that journalists were also present in the session hall. The Speaker recommended the MPs to make some more noise, “so that the journalists have something to write about.”
The MPs from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) sat through the opening of the first session and then began leaving the hall, despite the Sunday address of the RA President calling upon the RPA MPs to work more actively in the parliament. At that point they were “caught” by journalists, and therefore had to answer a few questions. Some said that they were heading to their offices to work on the legislation, others were even harsher.
“Get out of here!”, Arakel Movsisian, MP from the RPA, threw to media representatives. This is exactly the same person, whose rude treatment to journalists is regularity being dealt with by the Committee on Ethics of the parliament.
Mher Sedrakian, another MP from RPA, did not want to communicate with journalists, saying that he was offended by them: “Foolish things you write”, he responded.
Nahapet Gevorgian, also Republican, when asked to comment on the above-mentioned address of the RA President, simply reproached the journalists: “Are you not ashamed of your actions?!”
The “ashamed” parliamentary journalists believed that this autumn too the Committee on Ethics will not be left without work.
ON SEPTEMBER 9, at the main entrance of the RA National Assembly Karen Hayrapetian, Chief of the National Assembly Security Service, hindered the work of Marineh Khachatrian, correspondent of “A1+” TV company.
On that day members of “Counterblow” Art Group hung a banner reading “Hello, Rob” on the main gate of the National Assembly. (The action was a reminder to the incident that occurred 13 years ago when bodyguards of Robert Kocharian, RA Second President, beat to death Georgian citizen Poghos Poghosian for saying “Hello, Rob” at the cafe “Aragast” in Yerevan downtown.) Several minutes later, the head of the National Assembly Security Service rushed out from parliament’s gates, tore down the banner and, noticing that “A1+” correspondent is filming the scene, approached the journalist and hit her on the arm, knocking down her tablet. Later Karen Hayrapetian tried to justify his actions saying that he did not see her press badge and assumed that the journalist was the one who hanged the banner. There were numerous witnesses to the incident, including Hetq.am, which on the same day published photo and video footage of the incident.
On September 10, during the session of the parliament, the opposition MPs called on the NA Speaker Galust Sahakian to hold an internal investigation against the head of the security service in connection with the obstruction of professional activity of “A1+” correspondent. According to Nikol Pashinian, MP from the Armenian National Congress, this was a serious offense which should be addressed by law enforcement agencies. Tevan Poghosian, MP from the “Heritage” party, also suggested to organize “courses of tolerance” for security staff, describing the incident as an act of aggression on part of the chief security officer. The NA Speaker Galust Sahakian did not respond to these calls. In fact, Eduard Sharmazanov, the Vice-Speaker of the parliament, did that for him. “The rule of law must prevail in Armenia, no matter who breaks the law. It is unacceptable that freedom of speech is ignored in Armenia, and journalist’s work is hindered,” Sharmazanov said (quoted from a piece by “А1+”).
On September 11, Yerevan Press Club, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Media Initiatives Center, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, “Journalists for the Future” and “А1+” TV company issued a statement describing the incident “as an act of impeding the professional activities of a journalist, which makes for a criminal offence”. The seven professional organizations urged the RA Prosecutor’s Office to regard this statement as a report of the crime, and the National Assembly of Armenia to hold Karen Hayrapetian responsible and to take appropriate steps in order to prevent reoccurrence of such incidents in the future.
As RA Prosecutor’s Office reported on September 12, Gevorg Kostanian, Prosecutor General of Armenia, has instructed that all media coverage of the September 9 incident, be forwarded to the RA Special Investigation Service (SIS).
On September 22, SIS refused to open a criminal case against Karen Hayrapetian.
On September 29, “A1+” reported that Daniel Ioannisian, head of “Union of Informed Citizens” NGO, filed a complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office about SIS decision.
On September 29, seven Armenian media NGOs, including Yerevan Press Club, condemned the decision of the SIS on the cases related to impeding professional activities of journalists. “In fact, a vicious tradition is being set: after receiving reports on obstruction of journalists’ activities or usage of violence against them, the RA Prosecutor’s Office requests the SIS to investigate the incidents, but the latter glosses over the cases with a standard explanation ‘absence of corpus delicti’. And this happens even in the cases where the facts of violence and impeding had been filmed and published on the Internet and in numerous media outlets”, the statement stressed.
On September 30, Dunja Mijatović, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, called on the Armenian authorities to end the climate of impunity and to bring to justice those responsible for attacks on journalists.
On October 7, the RA Prosecutor’s Office informed that the Prosecutor General Gevorg Kostanian canceled the decision of the SIS. The press release read that the Prosecutor General, having considered the statement of the NGO head and the materials published by Hetq.am, has ordered to initiate a criminal case against Karen Hayrapetian under Clause 1 of Article 164 of RA Criminal Code (“Obstruction of legitimate professional activities of journalist”).
However, SIS remained faithful to its previous decision. On November 20, the investigative body refused to initiate a criminal case, since once again it could not find any corpus delicti in the actions of the Chief of the National Assembly’s Security Service.
On November 28, the Prosecutor’s Office stated that it canceled the SIS decision as the Service had “conducted a preliminary investigation with serious procedural violations”. Particularly, “A1+” correspondent was not recognized as a victim in spite of sufficient grounds, the Prosecutor’s Office statement stressed. The Prosecutor’s Office resubmitted the case to the Special Investigation Service. This time the prosecution required the latter to recognize the journalist as a victim, to explain her rights and obligations under the RA Criminal Procedure Code, including “the right to call for another expert evidence in case of disagreement with the existing expert conclusion”.
Thus, the case has already set a kind of “precedent”: for the first time Prosecutor’s Office disagreed – twice – with the decision of the investigative body not to initiate a criminal case regarding the attack on journalist and obstructing his/her professional activities. Moreover, for the second time it has publicly pointed out serious errors in the course of the investigation and ordered to improve them.
However, the question arises, why the Prosecutor’s Office had not done so from the very beginning, when it returned for the first time the case to SIS for another investigation? After all, Marineh Khachatrian was not recognized as a victim at any stage and, therefore, one can assume that the investigation in whole was initially conducted “with serious procedural violations”.
Meanwhile, on November 28, the RA Special Investigation Service celebrated seven years from the date it was established. In his congratulatory address, Armenian President Serzh Sargsian noted that SIS “mostly succeeded to implement its tasks, it has formed the staff of investigators, able to withstand the actual challenges, it hold high quality investigations of criminal cases, which fall under the mandate of the Service” (quoted from “ArmenPress” news agency).
On December 1, SIS fulfilled the requirement of the Prosecutor’s Office, but on December 26, it again terminated the investigation due to absence of corpus delicti in the actions of the Chief of the National Assembly’s Security Service.
ON SEPTEMBER 3, the Information Disputes Council (IDC) issued opinion on the defamation lawsuit filed by Yenok Abrahamian, a doctor, against Ashot Meloyan. Ashot Meloyan addressed IDC with request to give an expert opinion on his Facebook post, which became a subject of legal proceedings.
On March 31, 2014, Ashot Meloyan posted on his Facebook page the following: “This is the face of the “doctor” whose wrong diagnosis and wrong treatment caused the death of my mother”. The status was disputed by Yenok Abrahamian in the court. One should note that back in 2007 Ashot Meloyan addressed the RA Prosecutor’s Office with an appeal to initiate criminal proceedings against Yenok Abrahamian. The investigation had lasted for years (till 2012) and was closed due to absence of corpus delicti.
On May 27, Yenok Abrahamian filed a lawsuit with the Court of General Jurisdiction of Shengavit Administrative District of Yerevan against Ashot Meloyan, demanding from him to refute the information discrediting his honor and dignity, to make public apologies and to pay him a compensation for the damage caused by libel and insult in the amount of 3 million AMD (about 5,400 euros). The hearings on the case started on July 4.
In its opinion IDC emphasized that Facebook post is a public statement and, therefore, can be subject to Article 1087.1 of the RA Civil Code (“Procedure and Conditions of Compensation of Damage to the Honor, Dignity or Business Reputation”). Having analyzed the post of Ashot Meloyan, IDC identified the phrases which can be deemed defamatory. In particular, the word “doctor” written in quotes was a value judgment, though it was extremely critical. However, it had factual basis and, therefore, was not an insult, IDC said. As to the expressions “scoundrel” and “fascist”, then, according to IDC, the author had used disproportionately negative words, and therefore they are found insulting. The expression “a criminal case was initiated against him” and “two murderers found each other” require proof, otherwise they are considered defamatory.
On November 7, the court of general jurisdiction revoked the lawsuit reasoning that the term, stipulated by law, for filing a lawsuit had been missed. The court also obliged the plaintiff to pay the state duty in the amount of 64,000 AMD.
On December 5, Yenok Abrahamian contested the decision with the RA Civil Court of Appeal, which returned the appeal on December 15, as it had been formed with procedural violations. Further the plaintiff did not make use of the two-week term for a re-appeal, and thus, the decision of the court of general jurisdiction remained in force.
ON SEPTEMBER 19, Artyusha Karapetian, head of the Armenian community of Kazakhstan, behaved aggressively towards Taguhi Hovhannisian, correspondent of “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily.
The incident took place in Yerevan, near the National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet, where the 5th Armenia-Diaspora Forum kicked off on the same day. According to “Haikakan Zhamanak”, Taguhi Hovhannisian approached Artyusha Karapetian with some questions regarding the Forum, to which Karapetian responded normally. However, when the journalist asked Karapetian to comment on the recent publications in the Armenian press, where representatives of the Armenian community of Kazakhstan are criticizing the work of Artyusha Karapetian as the community leader, Karapetian grabbed the voice recorder from the hands of the journalist and threw it away. Later that day, Taguhi Hovhannisian tried to take a photo of the head of the Armenian community of Kazakhstan with her mobile phone, but Artyusha Karapetian ordered his bodyguards to “get rid” of the journalist. One of the bodyguards, whose badge read “A. Abrahamian”, seized the journalist’s phone and returned it after deleting all the taken photos, “Haikakan Zhamanak” wrote.
On September 22, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Yerevan Press Club, Media Initiatives Center, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia and “Journalists for the Future” NGO regarded the incident as obstruction of the professional activities of “Haikakan Zhamanak” correspondent by the head of the Armenian community of Kazakhstan.
The media NGOs welcomed the reactions of the Forum organizers who condemned the incident. At the same time, the authors of the statement once again reminded that “obstruction of journalistic activities is a criminal offence, and the incident should be followed by an adequate reaction of the law enforcement bodies”.
Journalistic organizations demanded the RA Prosecutor’s Office to consider their statement along with the press publications on the incident, as a report on the crime and take appropriate measures to bring the perpetrators to justice.
On September 24, News.am, referring to the press service of the Prosecutor’s Office, reported that the media publications on the incident were forwarded to the Prosecutor’s Office of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan for consideration.
On September 30, Dunja Mijatović, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, in her letter to RA Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, expressed hope that the attack on Taguhi Hovhannisian would be duly addressed by law enforcement agencies.
On October 8, the RA Investigative Committee (newly established independent investigative body, not subordinated to any governmental institution) announced on its Facebook page about the initiation of a criminal case on the September 19 incident. According to the information, the criminal case was initiated on the basis of complaint by Taguhi Hovhannisian, submitted to Kentron Police Department of Yerevan on October 3. The case dealt with violation of Clause 1 of the Article 164 of RA Criminal Code (“Obstruction of legitimate professional activities of journalist”). The preliminary investigation was carried out by territorial division of the Investigative Committee.
It is noteworthy that this time the investigation of September 19 incident was not conducted by the RA Special Investigation Service, whose decisions in cases of obstructing journalists’ work had been sharply criticized by local and international organizations, but by the newly created institution, whose activities are regulated by a special law. The question on how professionally and impartially the Investigative Committee will handle its first case dealing with the media arose interest.
As of end-2014, the investigation was in progress.
ON SEPTEMBER 25, after the meeting of the Government, RA Minister of Justice (MoJ) Hovhannes Manukian met with reporters to present decisions adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers. However, the press conference ended before it had even started.
Reporters first tried to inquire about the Minister’s opinion regarding the recovery of Surik Khachatrian in the post of Syunik Governor which was announced on the same day, September 25.
Hovhannes Manukian promised to answer the journalists’ questions at the end of the press conference and went on with his speech but the media representatives insisted that Manukian, as the Minister of Justice, commented on the re-appointment of Surik Khachatrian, which caused a wide public outcry.
Syunik Governor and his family members in the recent years are often associated with various scandals, the apogee of which was the shooting of June 1, 2013 in the backyard of his house in Goris, with the involvement of his son and bodyguards. Avetik Budaghian, former candidate for Goris mayor, died from the gunshots received in the shooting, and his brother, Artak Budaghian, colonel of Armenian armed forces, was severely injured. Another citizen – Nikolay Abrahamian was also wounded in the shooting. Khachatrian resigned after the incident. His son Tigran Khachatrian and his bodyguard Zarzand Nikoghosian were facing charges on three articles of the Criminal Code (murder, illegal possession of weapons, intentional infliction of grievous bodily harm). They were arrested for two months by the court decision, however later were released from the custody, and the criminal prosecution against them was terminated. Investigating authorities came to a conclusion that “the defendants’ actions fall under the features of self-defense”.
Determination of the journalists to get comments from the Minister regarding the recovery of Surik Khachatrian in the post of the governor irritated the head of the MoJ. His attempts to bring the press conference back to the scheduled course failed.
Hovhannes Manukian reminded the media representatives that their mission is to communicate significant topics to the public, including decisions ratified at today’s Government meeting. The reporters, however, argued that re-appointment of Surik Khachatrian in the post of the governor is of no less, if not more, concern for the public. But the Minister was adamant. Once you are not interested in such important things, I will find another way to inform the public about the decisions of the Government, said the Minister and left the press conference (video footage from the press conference by Lragir.am) .
Similar situation occurred during the subsequent briefing with the Deputy Minister of Finance Vakhtang Mirumian. Reporters’ attempts to get the Deputy Minister’s opinion regarding the re-appointment of Surik Khachatrian were equally unsuccessful (ibid.).
ON SEPTEMBER 29, at the meeting with journalists Ashot Aghababian, MP from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia and owner of the shopping center “Hrazdan”, claimed that journalists and the opposition were responsible of instigating merchants to come out and protest.
The protest actions of representatives of small and medium business taking place in Yerevan were connected with the amendments to the law on turnover tax, which were to be enacted on October 1. The merchants claimed that if the law becomes effective, the country would face a large-scale increase in commodity prices.
At the meeting with journalists Ashot Aghababian stated that the discontent of the people was heard by the authorities, and the appropriate steps were being taken to solve the problem. At the same time, Ashot Aghababian accused journalists saying that they are to blame for the protests.
“Why do you upset people ahead of time, forcing them to take the streets?” the MP appealed to journalists. “That is to say you, journalists, are so smart and supportive of people, while we are against them all?” (quoted from a piece by News.am).
ON SEPTEMBER 29, seven media NGOs of Armenia issued a statement condemning the decision of the RA Special Investigation Service (SIS) on the cases related to impeding professional activities of journalists.
The journalistic organizations mentioned two high-profile cases investigated by SIS: the incident which took place on September 9 at the entrance to the RA National Assembly, when the head of the security service of the parliament obstructed the professional activities of Marineh Khachatrian, “A1+” TV correspondent (see above), and the February 12 incident, when police officers used force against Ani Gevorgian, correspondent of “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” newspaper (see above). On the first incident, the SIS refused to open criminal case as there was no corpus delicti. On the second incident, the investigation was terminated.
“Such course of events suggests that the incident which occurred on September 19, when Artyusha Karapetian, the head of the Armenian community of Kazakhstan, and persons accompanying him used violence against Taguhi Hovhannisian, correspondent of “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily (see above), most probably will bring no further consequences”, the statement noted.
“In fact, a vicious tradition is being set: after receiving reports on obstruction of journalists’ activities or usage of violence against them, the RA Prosecutor’s Office requests the SIS to investigate the incidents, but the latter glosses over the cases with a standard explanation ‘absence of corpus delicti’. And this happens even in the cases where the facts of violence and impeding had been filmed and published on the Internet and in numerous media outlets”, the statement read.
“Such work style of the SIS is extremely reprehensible and dangerous: SIS, in fact, protects the perpetrators, thereby increasing the frustration and distrust to law enforcers”, media NGOs stated.
Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Yerevan Press Club, Media Initiatives Center, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, “Journalists for the Future” and Goris Press Club demanded:
– the SIS administration to take measures to review the decisions made on the aforementioned incidents, and to hold responsible the investigators that did not show impartiality and professionalism;
– the RA Prosecutor’s Office to exercise pertinent supervision over the activities of the SIS and the decisions it had delivered, and to ensure a thorough investigation of each case of violence and impeding the professional activities of journalists in order to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice;
– the authorities of the country to oblige the law enforcement agencies, with all severity, to put an end to the parade of impunity gaining momentum in the country.
ON SEPTEMBER 30, Dunja Mijatović, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, called on the Armenian authorities to end the climate of impunity and to bring to justice those responsible for attacks on journalists.
In a letter to RA Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, dealing with the September 19 incident between Taguhi Hovhannisian, correspondent of “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily, and Artyusha Karapetian, the head of the Armenian community of Kazakhstan (see above), Dunja Mijatović expressed concern with the recent attacks against journalists in Armenia and the lack of effective measures to end the climate of impunity. “I hope the attack on Hovhannisian will be duly addressed by law enforcement”, stressed OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media in her letter to Foreign Minister.
Dunja Mijatović also expressed her disappointment with the RA Special Investigation Service’s (SIS) refusal to open a criminal case on the September 9 attack on Marineh Khachatrian, correspondent of “A1+” TV, by the chief of parliament security service (see above), as well as with the decision of the SIS to dismiss the criminal case initiated against police officers who on February 12 used force against Ani Gevorgian, correspondent of “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” newspaper (see above).
“I urge the authorities to adequately and timely address these crimes. Impunity has a potential to generate more violence and produce a chilling effect on free expression and free media”, Dunja Mijatović said.
ON OCTOBER 2, at the RA National Assembly, Human Rights Defender of Armenia Karen Andreasian presented the annual report on his activities and violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country in 2013.
One of the chapters of the report was on the National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR), the body regulating activities of Armenian broadcasters. The Human Rights Defender singled out current problems of broadcasting field in general and flaws in the work of NCTR in particular. Thus, the ombudsman pointed out that NCTR failed to react to violations of the legislation on advertising by TV channels, which were revealed by independent monitorings.
Speaking of gaps in the broadcasting legislation, the ombudsman stressed that the process of digitalization is still not regulated by the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, whereas July 2015 was set as the deadline for terminating analogue broadcasting in Armenia. Moreover, in the ombudsman’s opinion, NCTR does not make effort to draft legislation providing for anti-monopoly guarantees. The report also mentioned deficient pluralism in broadcast media, with “obviously insufficient oversight” by NCTR over the compliance of TV channels with this requirement.
The report contained a separate chapter on freedom of speech in Armenia. In particular, it cited the official statistics of the RA Police, according to which in 2013 they gathered materials on 19 cases of violence against journalists or of obstructing their professional activities. However, only three criminal cases were initiated, while 13 cases were rejected, and the materials of three other cases were sent to other bodies for further investigation.
The report stressed that out of the incidents involving journalists that happened in the period of presidential elections and elections to the Yerevan Council of Elders only one case was opened – on bases of obstruction of the professional duties of Hakob Karapetian, correspondent of iLur.am (the case however was later closed, since the sides reconciled). On all other incidents the law enforcement bodies refused to institute criminal cases, and on two incidents investigations were terminated.
These statistics, according to the Human Rights Defender, undermines the society’s trust towards investigations of cases on obstruction of journalists’ professional activities, especially in the context of election campaigns.
As a positive trend, the report mentioned reduction in damage compensations awarded by courts in defamation cases against media. At the same time, new problems were revealed, such as court decisions to put the property/financial resources under arrest as a measure to secure a claim.
In addition, the Human Rights Defender talked about the access to information. As independent research shows, many governmental agencies do not provide the requested information or do not provide it in full.
In relation to legislative amendments and initiatives, the ombudsman positively evaluated the draft law on banning commercial advertisement on Public Television of Armenia prepared by the Government (see below). Another positive development were the amendments to the Armenian law on copyright, adopted in September 2013 (the amendments stipulate conditions for full or partial reproduction of print/online media pieces by another print/online media).
ON OCTOBER 17, Yerevan Press Club presented the results of the Media Freedom Index (for the period of January-March and April-June 2014) in the six Eastern Partnership countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
The research was 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.); 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 is the better is the media situation).
At the meeting with journalists YPC introduced the results of the study for the period of January 1 – March 31 and April 1 – June 30, 2014.
The cumulative rating list was headed by Georgia in the both periods with Index of 7 (1,362 points in January-March and 1,409 in April-June).
Moldova came in the second with Index of 6 (1,271 and 1,284).
Armenia for both periods had Index of 5, but as for the total cumulative score, the country was the third in January-March (963) and the fourth in April-June (955).
Ukraine, with Index of 4, was on the fourth position in January-March (752) but improved its rating in April-June, receiving Index of 5, and came in the third, outstripping Armenia by the number of points (1,071).
Azerbaijan and Belarus were closing the rating list: Index 3 (547 and 560) for Azerbaijan, and Index 2 (461) in January-March for Belarus, which was improved to Index 3 (502) in April-June.
Deterioration of Armenia’s position in the first half of 2014 was caused by several factors. The experts particularly noted the following negative events: introduction of the draft law, providing for responsibility for dissemination of defamatory articles and comments taken from fake accounts (see above); incidents of obstructing journalists’ work which have become frequent in 2014 and still remain unpunished, including the cases accompanied with violence, often involving police officers; precedent-setting court ruling obliging “Hraparak” daily and iLur.am to disclose their source of information (see above).
ON OCTOBER 21, Levon Barseghian, Board Chairman of “Asparez” Journalists’ Club of Gyumri, called on the local media to boycott the visit of RA President Serzh Sargsian to Gyumri, Shirak region, scheduled for the following day.
Levon Barseghian urged his colleagues not to cover President’s visit (including in the future), because Serzh Sargsian has not fulfilled his election pledges: till now 4,000 families in Gyumri remain homeless (Ed. Note: December 7, 1988 earthquake brought major destruction to the Northern regions of Armenia), and the city is still facing severe poverty, migration and unemployment issues.
The head of the journalistic organization advised the media to publish materials about the life and hardships of families which still do not have a shelter, instead of covering President’s visit.
Levon Barseghian said he understood that not all media were able to join the boycott. Still he noted that neither their website Asparez.am nor “Asparez” newspaper were going to write on the visit of the head of state.
Levon Barseghian stressed that the newspaper would come out with a white spot on the place where the report on President’s visit to Gyumri could have been.
In turn, on October 21, “GALA” TV company from Gyumri assured that it would ignore the visit of Serzh Sargsian. Among the reasons for the boycott, TV channel also mentioned President’s failure to deliver the election pledges and poor social, economic situation in the city and in the Shirak region in general.
“GALA” particularly noted that Serzh Sargsian arrived in Gyumri to snip the red ribbon at the opening of the school of arts “Varduhi”, built by Hovhannes Oyunjian, American-Armenian philanthropist. The President, though, had nothing to do with the construction of the school.
“GALA” also said that the presidential press service had invited local media to film the school prior to Serzh Sargsian’s arrival, as “the school corridors were too narrow and there was no room to turn around”. Later, as the statement by “GALA” read, the press service “gave in” and “allowed” to film from afar, while the President was leaving or getting into the car.
Having thanked the presidential press service for such an opportunity, the TV company refused to cover the visit at all, noting that for “GALA” the opening ceremony of the school would start after Serzh Sargsian’s departure from Gyumri.
On October 22, “GALA” broadcasted stories on difficult social situation of homeless families, and the website of the TV company posted photo story titled “We Do Not Cover the Visit of Serzh Sargsian to Gyumri, Instead…”.
Levon Barseghian informed YPC that two out of the three regional TV channels, a local weekly and several special correspondents in Gyumri did not join the boycott. However, the majority of special correspondents joined the campaign.
On October 23, “Asparez” newspaper was issued with an empty space on the front page as it was promised.
ON NOVEMBER 10-11, the 11th South Caucasus Media Conference on “Public Service Broadcasting in the Digital Age”, organized by the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, took place recently in Tbilisi. More than 70 journalists, representatives of government, civil society and academia from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, along with international experts from Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Kazakhstan took part in it.
The discussions in the conference resulted in adoption of the following recommendations, published in the OSCE web site on November 20:
• Public service broadcasters should serve citizens, not government or political forces or commercial or other interests.
• Public service broadcasters’ activities should always be guided by principles of accuracy, objectivity, balance, accountability and editorial independence.
• Public service broadcasters should do their best to be the most relevant and trusted source of information across all media platforms.
• Public service broadcasters should distribute their programmes via all possible means of communication and networks (satellite, Internet, cable and terrestrial) to ensure wide outreach.
• Public service broadcasters should regard the convergence of all broadcasting platforms into digital as a new opportunity to strengthen media pluralism.
• Governments should include provisions in legislation and regulations to facilitate public service broadcasters’ digital switchover.
• The Internet and other platforms should not only provide access to traditional programming of public service broadcasters, but also operate as new content services in their own right.
• The Internet and social media should be used by public service broadcasters to get feedback and to engage in debates and dialogue with the audience.
• Public service broadcasters should aim to measure the needs and satisfaction of their audience, paying attention to all parts of society.
• Public service broadcasters should give high importance to self-produced and local content, as well as to the diversity of programmes for all social groups to reflect the cultural, religious and language diversities of its audience.
• In multi-ethnic and multi-language countries, programmes should be produced in several languages and public service broadcasters should have a multi-ethnic employment policy.
• Special programmes for online distribution should be made to attract and involve younger audience into the realm of public service broadcasting.
• The financing of public service broadcasters should be sufficient, guaranteed, transparent and predictable in the medium term, and allow independence from both political and commercial interests and pressure.
• In view of increased competition in the audiovisual media, public service broadcasters should look into new technologies that would ensure wider public outreach.
• The process of appointing or election of members of public service broadcasters’ boards and regulatory bodies should be transparent and reflect a broad spectrum of society.
• The integrity of editorial and operational decision making of public service broadcasters should be properly protected.
• All public service broadcasters’ documents, policy papers, decisions and recommendations should be available on line for public oversight. A system of interaction with the public should be in place. It should include an effective self-regulatory mechanism, including an ombudsman or similar institution within the structure of the broadcaster, which has the possibility to receive complaints, provide corrections and suggestions, and seek redress in conflict situations.
ON NOVEMBER 12, Lusineh Khachatrian, correspondent of Epress.am, was invited to the RA Special Investigation Service (SIS).
According to Epress.am, the person who invited the journalist to SIS explained that she had called someone named Emma Sahakian from her personal cellphone, and that SIS wished to clear up the reason of that call (Ed. Note: Emma Sahakian held sit-in in front of the RA President’s Office). Lusineh Khachatrian responded that she would show up at the SIS only if she received an official notice. Later, the SIS representative called again. This time the journalist was asked to come to their office in person and to take her notice “not to waste time”. Lusineh Khachatrian refused to come and insisted that she would show up in SIS only after the notice was sent to her.
Epress.am reminded also the story of Emma Sahakian, the woman who was contacted by Lusineh Khachatrian. Emma Sahakian is continuing her sit-in in front of the RA President’s Office for quite a long time now. She is protesting against the expropriation of her apartment. Epress.am has covered her story many times and interviewed her.
The Armenian Service of Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe addressed the issue in the piece “Journalists in Spotlight of Law Enforcement Agencies”.
In an interview to the Armenian Service of Radio Liberty, Lusineh Khachatrian supposed that the SIS might have “launched a campaign against journalists”. She also noted that he saw a special purpose in the call from the SIS, as “journalists had always been in the crosshairs and they were subject to violence at times”.
“Bribery, abuse of power, embezzlement of budget funds and murders – all these scandalous cases use to be disclosed and made public by the efforts of investigative journalists, and not of the law enforcement agencies”, the piece of the Armenian Service of Radio Liberty stressed.
The piece also cited the opinion of Boris Navasardian, Yerevan Press Club President. According to him, by doing this the SIS tries to kill two birds with one stone. First, it makes its own work easier, and, secondly, it impedes the work of investigative journalist. According to YPC President, the requirements to disclose source of information have also become more frequent. Boris Navasardian noted that despite the law provides protection to the journalists’ sources, investigators and courts, trying to make their task easier, demand media to show the hand. In such case, not only a journalist suffers, but his source of information as well.
ON NOVEMBER 22-25, Batumi hosted conference “Hate Speech and Information War: a Challenge to Quality Journalism”, organized by Deutsche Welle Academie. Representatives of media and journalistic organizations from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine took part in the conference.
Results of monitoring “Hate Speech in the Media of South Caucasus”, administered on October 1-31, 2014, were presented at the meeting. In each country of South Caucasus two TV channels, two newspapers and two online media were subjected to monitoring.
The study was conducted to examine the linguistic features of hate speech in the South Caucasian media and to elaborate recommendations which could help to decrease presence of hate speech in media, as well as the number of conflict-invoking materials on domestic and international politics, ethnic, religious, gender and minority issues.
According to the results of the monitoring, in Armenian media 1.9% of the total number of materials studied contained hate speech (it was most often used in newspaper pieces), in Azerbaijani media this indicator was at 3.9% (also, predominantly in newspapers’ pieces) and in Georgian media – 2.5% (mostly in online media). Even though these numbers are not high, still they prove that the problem exists and needs to be addressed.
Another factor shows that the media coverage is on an acceptable level: in majority of cases media of the three countries used hate speech only in the main text. Low percentage of “hate-inducing” headlines/subheadlines, leads and TV announcements (as well as video materials in online pieces) provides grounds for optimism, since audience usually starts to get acquainted with media content from scanning / looking through / listening to these key elements.
During the monitored period in Armenian and Georgian media hate speech was most often found in materials on domestic political situation. Materials with hate speech on ethnic and international/interstate issues came second in media of these two countries. In Azerbaijani media materials that contained elements of hate speech were predominately on domestic politics, as well as on ethnic and international topics.
In all three countries of South Caucasus, the studied media used hate speech the least in respect to religious, gender and minority issues.
In general, in media of all three countries soft (creating negative image of a group) or moderate (containing accusations, fostering intolerant atmosphere) forms of hate speech were present. Only in several materials of Armenian, Azerbaijani and Georgian media harsh forms of hate speech were employed (direct or implicit calls for violence and discrimination).
The source of hate speech in Armenian media in most cases were journalists themselves, followed by officials. In Azerbaijani media the main source of information with the elements of hate speech were officials followed by journalists. In Georgian media hate speech was voiced most often by experts/public figures followed by officials, while journalists were in the very bottom of this ranking.
In media of Armenia and Azerbaijan the materials rarely contained balance of opinions. Only in 13 and 10 cases, correspondingly, the party, which was an object of hate speech, was given a chance to answer to allegations within the same material. In Georgian media this indicator is significantly higher: 40% of materials were balanced.
Conference in Batumi also discussed such important topics as practice of self-regulatory bodies in cases of discrimination and xenophobia in media, as well as information wars in post-Soviet media space.
At the Batumi conference there also took place the presentation of Ukrainian journalists’ project Stopfake, launched in March 2014 on a voluntary basis. The main purpose of this project is to check facts, verify information, and refute distorted reporting and propaganda spread by media about developments in Ukraine.
IN THE EARLY MORNING OF NOVEMBER 27, a group of Armenian serviceman departed for Lebanon to serve as part of UN peacekeeping forces. However, instead of “reporting on the participation of the Armenian blue helmets in protecting the civilians of Lebanon, journalists had to face the bureaucratic apparatus”, News.am wrote.
According to News.am, the security service of cargo terminal of Yerevan “Zvartnots” airport did not admit representatives of several media on the airfield to cover the farewell ceremony. News.am reported that the guards had a list that contained the names of “correspondents and cameramen of 2-3 TV channels”.
“The management of the terminal’s security service boldly refused to make any concessions and never let the journalists to approach the plane. The Minister of Defense present at the event was unable or unwilling to intervene. According to a security guard, he received the list from his supervisors, and they, in turn, got it from the Ministry of Defense”, News.am stressed.
News.am also emphasized that it had learnt about the farewell ceremony of Armenian servicemen from the press release of the Ministry of Defense, which did not contain any information or requirement for accreditation.
ON DECEMBER 2, international human rights organization Freedom House published its fifth annual report “Freedom on the Net” in 2013-2014.
The Freedom House comprehensive study covered developments in 65 countries that occurred between May 1, 2013 and May 31, 2014. The level of Internet freedom – obstacles to access, limits on content and violations of user rights – were evaluated on the scale from 0 to 100 points, where 0 is the best score and 100 is the worst. Countries scoring between 0 to 30 points were regarded as having a “Free” Internet and digital media environment; 31 to 60, “Partly Free”; and 61 to 100, “Not Free”.
As a result of increased government control over the online sphere, 36 of the 65 countries assessed have experienced a negative trajectory in Internet freedom since May 2013, Freedom House stressed.
According to Freedom House data, in 2013-2014 Armenia scored 28 points and thus became a country with free Internet again (in 2012-2013 the country scored 29 points). The difference of one point is caused by the improved indicator in the category “obstacles to access” – 7 points, while evaluation of the categories “limits on content” (9) and “violations of user rights” (12) did not change.
The chapter of the report on Armenia provided details on technical parameters, legislation, activities of Internet providers and other elements that influence freedom on Armenian Net.
As Freedom House noted, during the studied period, in Armenia there were no cases of blocking social media, political or social content and no bloggers arrest. Internet access in Armenia has increased, particularly in the past few years. According to the International Telecommunication Union, the Internet penetration rate in Armenia stood at 46% in 2013, compared with 39% in 2012 and just 6.2% in 2008.
“Armenian Internet users enjoy access to Internet resources without limitation, including peer-to-peer networks, voice and instant messaging services such as Skype and Google Talk, and popular social networks such as Facebook, YouTube, and Odnoklassniki”, Freedom House stated.
However, as Freedom House pointed out, two Armenian journalists (Kima Yeghiazarian, from “Hayots Ashkhar” daily, and Armen Dulyan, from “Shant” TV company) were fired from their jobs for Facebook posts: “In both cases, the journalists expressed personal opinions that did not correspond with the policy of the media outlet that they represented. Kima Yeghiazarian criticized the government, and “Hayots Ashkhar” is considered to be pro-governmental newspaper. Armen Dulyan criticized the Russian television media and made parallels with Armenian media, characterizing the representatives of both sides as “primitive”. “Shant” TV issued a statement (…), saying that future collaboration with commentator Armen Dulyan could not be considered acceptable, since he displayed a “disrespectful attitude” toward the TV station” (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2013). “However, aside from these two incidents, the behavior of journalists on social media is generally not regulated in Armenian media”, Freedom House noted.
ON DECEMBER 4, at the entrance to the National Assembly of Armenia an incident occurred between correspondent of “Hraparak” daily and bodyguard of Ashot Aghababian, MP from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
The incident took place during a protest action against the ratification of the agreement on Armenia’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Civic activists, having gathered near the parliament, had been urging the MPs to vote against the agreement. The activists were calling “traitors” the supporters of accession to the EEU.
On the same day, December 4, “Hraparak” published a piece on the incident, titled “Burnash’s Bodyguard Ran Riot” (Ed. Note: the headline referred the nickname of the MP).
According to “Hraparak”, the protesters hissed down MP Ashot Aghababian, who arrived to the parliament, naming him a traitor. The latter did not respond. However, the MP’s bodyguard reacted to the yelling, hitting the video camera of “Hraparak” correspondent, the newspaper wrote (without mentioning the journalist’s name in the piece).
Answering the question, why he hit the camera, the bodyguard replied that the journalist had no right to film, “Hraparak” noted. The daily added that the journalists covering the protest action blocked the bodyguard’s attempt to beat activists.
The newspaper’s piece also provided the video footage of the incident.
ON DECEMBER 8, Russian news agency REX published an article “All-Out War in Ukraine”, having attached to it a photo taken 22 years ago during the military conflict in Mountainous Karabagh.
“‘A la guerre comme à la guerre’. No holds barred at a war. Even if this war is an information war. It is repugnant, when а photo by Ruben Mangasarian, now deceased journalist, taken in Karabagh in 1992, was used to “decorate” an article of some American professor about Ukraine… In short, this is looting”, famous photojournalist German Avagian wrote in Аsekose.am.
One could understand the initially emotional reaction of our colleague, who responded to piece “All-Out War in Ukraine”, published in the website of REX Russian news agency, which had a photo of dead soldiers, taken not in Ukraine. However, the caption under the photo cited the headline of the piece and the name of its author – James Petras, presented by REX as “Ph.D. at the University of California”. And in the lead of the piece the news agency noted that it “publishes a translation of (his) article on the situation in Ukraine”.
A blitz survey on the Internet showed that the original English version of the article, “All-Out War in Ukraine: NATO’s ‘Final Offensive’”, was published in the Official James Petras Website on November 20, without any illustration. Moreover, according to the website, James Petras was not a Ph.D. at the University of California, as stated by REX, but a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York.
On November 27, the Spanish version of the article was published in Rebelion.org, under the official permission of its author, and once again the piece had no photos attached.
The “misadventures” of the article, most likely, began two days later, when it was published by inoSMI.ru in Russian. In inoSMI.ru the article still bore a reference to the Rebelion.
The REX’s reprint of December 8 had no more links to the original source, but there was the photo by Ruben Mangasarian, famous Armenian photojournalist, unfortunately now deceased, taken in 1992 during the Karabagh military conflict.
To put in another way, the photo of coffins with soldiers killed 22 years ago in Karabagh was set up by REX news agency as an illustration of today’s events in Ukraine.
When journalists start to follow the dubious principle “no holds barred at a war”, they not only violate all the other principles of journalistic ethics, but also the standards of basic competency. While the manipulations with public opinion are growing in Russia, to call the consumers of information to be critical is the lowly craft.
ON DECEMBER 17, at the extraordinary session the RA National Assembly adopted in the second reading and finally the amendments to the RA Laws “On Television and Radio” and “On Advertising”. The amendments introduced a ban on commercial advertising on the Public Television of Armenia (PTA).
This legislative initiative was put forth and approved by the Government of Armenia at its December 26, 2013 session. The Government substantiated the initiative by the fact that the cancellation of commercials in public broadcasting will free time for higher value programs (for details see Yerevan Press Club Report “On Freedom of Speech in Armenia” in 2013). On January 20, 2014, the draft laws were put in circulation at the National Assembly, and on March 12, they passed the first reading.
Thus, the adopted amendments to broadcasting and advertising legislation introduced a ban on commercial advertising on the PTA.
The restriction however does not apply to social advertising, as well as mentionings of the sponsors of cultural, educational, science and sports programs (not more than once during the program). At that, the total duration of such advertising should not exceed 90 seconds for each hour of broadcasting.