“PRESS CLUB” AND “PRESS CLUB+”: THE ROLE OF NGOs IN PUBLIC COUNCIL FORMATION AND THE PROBLEM OF LAKE SEVAN
On October 22 another show of “Press Club” cycle went on air of “Yerkir Media” TV company. It is produced by Yerevan Press Club with support of the Open Society Institute Human Rights and Governance Grants Program. The guests of the President of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Ashot Melikian, were Director of “Political Economy” Research Institute Andranik Tevanian, founder of the Institute of Human Rights and Democracy Armine Arakelian and the Chairman of National Youth Council of Armenia Aram Sukiasian. “Press Club” participants continued the discussion on Public Council initiated during the previous program (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, October 10-16, 2008). The perspectives of the Public Council that is being created by the initiative of RA President, were considered in the context of the role of NGOs in its formation.
The next program of “Press Club” cycle will be aired by “Yerkir Media” on Wednesday, October 29, at 23.00.
On October 18 another show of “Press Club+” cycle went on air of “Yerkir Media”. It is produced by Yerevan Press Club with support of the Embassy of Great Britain in Armenia. The “Press Club+” host, YPC President Boris Navasardian, and the program guests, Vice President of “Sevan” national park Nikolay Simonian and Academic Secretary of Hydroecology and Ichthyology Institute of RA National Academy of Science Evelina Ghukasian discussed the problem of Lake Sevan from the aspect of elections to local self-administration bodies. The audience composed of representatives of NGOs and media of Gegharkunik region also participated in the discussion.
The next program of “Press Club+” cycle will be aired by “Yerkir Media” on Saturday, October 25, at 17.40.
COVERAGE OF URGENT ISSUES DURING ELECTIONS TO THE LOCAL SELF-ADMINISTRATION BODIES
On October 16-18 a seminar “Coverage of Problems of Public Importance during the 2008 Elections to the Local Self-Administration Bodies in Armenia” took place in Aghveran. The event was organized by Yerevan Press Club with support of Friedrich Ebert Foundation.
Seminar participants, representatives of media and journalistic associations of Armenia, discussed such questions as the role of local self-administration institute in political structure of the country, cooperation of media and civil society during the elections to the local self-administration bodies, Armenian electoral legislation and the practice of election coverage, as well as regional media activities. Also, preliminary results (for September) of the monitoring of eleven Armenian TV channels coverage on urgent issues during the elections to the local self-administration bodies were presented. The research is administrated by YPC in September-October 2008 under the project supported by the Embassy of Great Britain in Armenia. Seminar participants also were introduced another research conducted by YPC in September 2008 – monitoring of seven Armenian print media coverage of urgent issues during the elections to the local self-administration bodies. The study was realized under the YPC project, with the assistance of Friedrich Ebert Foundation.
MEETING OF HEADS OF THE MEDIA JOINING THE SELF-REGULATION INITIATIVE
On October 18-19 in Aghveran a meeting took place among the members of Media Ethics Observatory and heads of the media that supported Yerevan Press Club initiative and signed the Code of Conduct of Media Representatives and the Declaration on Election and Referendum Coverage Principles on March 10, 2007 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 9-15, 2007). At present, these documents were signed by 31 media. 8 journalistic associations also support the initiative.
Current year’s MEO activities were introduced at the meeting. The mission of this self-regulation body consists in the consideration of complaints and appeals regarding the violations of the Code of Conduct and making judgments on these. Participants also discussed precedents on professional ethics violations, and some other issues.
The event was organized by YPC with support of the Open Society Institute.
MINISTRY OF JUSTICE INITIATES A NEW DRAFT LAW ON FREEDOM OF INFORMATION. PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS ARE AGAINST
On October 23 discussion of draft law “On Freedom of Imparting Information” developed by RA Ministry of Justice took place in the Academic Centre of Ecological Right of the Yerevan State University Law Department. Representatives of journalistic associations, also Yerevan Press Club, and international organizations participated in the discussion.
Artak Gevorgian, Chief of the State Legal Department of Legal Acts Assessment of RA Ministry of Justice, who introduced the draft law, pointed out that the new document is called to replace the acting Law “On Freedom of Information”. Artak Gevorgian motivates it by the necessity to bring the legislation in accordance to the amended Constitution. In particular, the procedure of registration, classification and archiving of the information processed by the owner of the information or imparted for him, is not developed yet, as well as the procedure of providing duplicates (copies) of information by state institutions and organizations, local self-administration bodies. These requirements are stipulated by Articles 5 and 10 of the Law “On Freedom of Information”, respectively. And even if the relevant subordinate acts are developed for the acting Law “On Freedom of Information”, they, in the opinion of the representative of Justice Ministry, can contradict to the Constitution.
Such an approach arose objections among discussion participants. They stressed that the acting Law “On Freedom of Information” (adopted in September 2003) is one of the few progressive documents that are highly appraised by the international experts, and have proved their value on practice. Regarding the necessity of developing and approving the by-laws in accordance to the requests of Articles 5 and 10 of the Law (this obligation was put on the government), the journalistic community has been reminding about that for 5 years. And at present there are no obstacles for developing necessary legislative amendments and procedures that will not contradict to the Constitution, with the participation of the interested parties. The journalistic associations expressed their readiness to participate in the improvement of the acting Law and in the development of its by-laws. Representatives of the Justice Ministry, in their turn, promised to introduce the results of the discussion and the approaches of the professional associations to their management.
REFUTATION DEMANDED FROM “ARAVOT” DAILY
On October 21 Civil Court of Yerevan started hearings of the case of Arthur Ghevondian, RA police officer, versus ”Aravot” daily. The plaintiff demands to induce the newspaper to publish a refutation of the information in the article “If Your Neighbor is a Policeman” (“Aravot”, June 25, 2008) by Ruzan Minasian, Correspondent of the daily. In the opinion of Arthur Ghevondian, this article discredits his honor and reputation. The publication is devoted to the court session on dispute between Arthur Ghevondian and his neighbors regarding an annex on the roof of building. Litigation proceeding on this case goes on for more than a year already.
During the session on October 21 the defendant motioned that the plaintiff point out specific words or expressions in the article considered by him as discrediting his honor and reputation. The court provided the plaintiff time for getting prepared and scheduled the next session for October 30.
As Ruzan Minasian told YPC, she also intends to apply to the Media Ethics Observatory to receive a professional judgment on the publication that became the subject of trial.
VARDENIS POLICE INSTITUTED CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS FOR IMPEDING OF JOURNALIST’S WORK
On October 20 “Hetq” on line informed that the Police of Vardenis (Gegharkunik region) instituted criminal proceedings on Article 164 (“Impeding the Legitimate Professional Activities of Journalist”) on the incident of July 29, 2008 that took place in Geghamabak village. On that day “Hetq” Correspondent Sara Petrosian and “Kyavar” TV company cameraman Vardges Khachatrian (Gavar, Gegharkunik region) arrived at Geghamabak to get the material on the situation in the community after the elections of village administration head on June 22, 2008. Gagik Barseghian, occupying that position for last 9 years, was elected again. As Sara Petrosian told YPC, after meeting the head of village administration, the journalists talked to the village dwellers and then sat into a car willing to meet the village head and receive his comments regarding the complaints of the villagers. But the way of the car was blocked by a group of community people leaded by Victor Barseghian, father of the village head. The latter, as the journalist mentioned, started to threaten her and the cameraman and tried to drag them through the open windows of the car. The journalists were forced to stop their work and leave the village. Sara Petrosian said that stones were thrown on their departing car.
The proceeding on the incident was instituted by Vardenis Police on October 10 versus a group of Geghamabak villagers, including Victor Barseghian, father of the village head.
LITIGATION OF FOUNDER OF “HAYKAKAN ZHAMANAK” VERSUS KENTRON COMMUNITY COUNCIL OF ELDERLY REFUSED
On October 17 RA Administrative Court refused the litigation of LLC “Dareskizb”, founder of “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, versus Council of Elderly of Kentron community of Yerevan. As it has been reported, the plaintiff demanded to find invalid the resolution of the Kentron community Council of Elderly of March 28, 2008, according to which the future renting of the premises occupied by “Haykakan Zhamanak” had to be annulled (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, October 10-16, 2008)
NEEDS ASSESSMENT OF PUBLIC TELEVISION BY BBC WORLD SERVICE TRUST PUBLISHED
On October 17 presentation of report “Needs Assessment of Armenia’s Public Television Company” prepared by the BBC World Service Trust, took place in Yerevan. The research was commissioned by OSCE Office in Yerevan and conducted on July 14-18, 2008.
“Public television should raise its ambitions in providing programming of a broadly educational nature that would serve to the interests of different groups of the community”, said during the presentation of the report one of its authors, Michael Randall, Projects Manager for Europe and CIS at the BBC World Service Trust (cited from the press release of OSCE Office in Yerevan). He also stressed that strengthening of PTA public “heavily relies on political will and change in attitude at the government level”.
Authors of the report particularly recommend to the Public Television of Armenia to create a long-term consultancy program for development of new programs and reorganization of working methods.
Full report in Armenian and English can be found on OSCE web-site: www.osce.org/yerevan/
RSF INDEX: ONLY PEACE GUARANTEES PRESS FREEDOM
On October 22 “Reporters Without Borders“ international organization released its seventh annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index. The study was conducted in 173 countries and based on events between September 1, 2007 and September 1, 2008. RSF index was compiled by surveying 18 partner organizations and 130 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 including 49 criteria: ranging from various forms of pressure on journalists and media to legislative restrictions, the behavior of authorities towards the state-owned media and foreign press. It also includes the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for press freedom violations.
It is not economic prosperity but peace that guarantees press freedom. That is the main lesson to be drawn from “Reporters Without Borders” study. Thus democratic countries embroiled in wars outside their territory have a very different approach to freedom of speech inside and outside their country. This can be noticed from the example of USA and Israel that received two RSF ranking indices each. By domestic ranking USA shared 36-41 lines, while its extra-territorial ranking is 119. Israel occupied lines 46 and 149, accordingly. Consequences of war affected other countries as well decreasing their ranks dramatically. While several emerging countries not engaged in wars, especially in Africa and the Caribbean, give better and better guarantees for media freedom. Among other factors defining the state of press freedom, the study particularly points out corruption and political hatred.
Another important conclusion is that the international community’s conduct towards authoritarian regimes is not effective enough to change the situation. This refers to China (167th in RSF index), Cuba (169) and three more countries – Turkmenistan (171), North Korea (172) and Eritrea (173) – occupying the bottom ranks, similarly to the previous RSF study (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, October 12-18, 2007).
The first places of the RSF index were shared by Iceland, Luxemburg and Norway. In general, European countries prevail in the top twenty: they got 18 positions together with Canada and New Zealand. All European Union countries made into the top 60.
Of the former USSR countries the most benign is the situation in Estonia (4-6), Latvia (7-12) and Lithuania (16-19). At a significant distance these are followed by Ukraine (87), Moldova (98), Armenia (102-103, sharing with Turkey), Tajikistan (106), Kyrgyzstan (111-112), Georgia (120), Kazakhstan (125). Even lower ranks are occupied by Russia (141), Azerbaijan (150), Belarus (154), and Uzbekistan (162). Among those only Ukraine, Russia and Tajikistan slightly improved their positions, as compared to the previous RSF study, Kazakhstan’s rating remains the same, while in the rest of the CIS countries regress is registered.
RSF study stresses deterioration of the situation in the Caucasus since last year, in particular, in Armenia going down by 25 ranks (it had 77th line in the previous index), and Georgia going down by 54 ranks (66th line in the previous index). Both countries, as outlined by the “Reporters Without Borders”, “had major problems and introduced states of emergency”. Besides, several journalists fell victim to the sudden outbreak of war in Georgia, RSF stresses.