FINANCIAL STRANGLEHOLD FOR MEDIA
On March 2 Yerevan Press Club, Internews Media Support public organization, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, “Asparez” Journalists Club, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia delivered the following statement:
“The increasing number of lawsuits versus Armenian media demanding to refute information, discrediting the honor, dignity, business reputation of the plaintiffs, and to compensate their moral damage, raises outmost concern. The process of considering these suits by courts affirm the most pessimistic assumptions – the drastic introduction in 2010 of the moral damage institute, without taking into account the realities, will undermine the existence of many media. Granting the courts with competence to arbitrarily define the real public feedback to a piece and the size of the damage, to ignore the public significance of the disseminated information and the financial situation of the defendant are actually prescribed by the RA Civil Code amendments. All this was being persistently pointed out by the media community during the discussion of the amendments to the Code. Thus, the restricted freedom of expression, as it is nowadays in Armenia, is even more curtailed.
As the practice manifests, the legislative amendments, adopted last year, despite the pro arguments, do not serve as means of protecting the honor and dignity of the overwhelming majority of Armenian citizens in any way. “The power” of law is enjoyed only by “the powers that be” – representatives of the political and business elite, who get square with unwanted media and journalists. Sticking to their habit of violating the rights of their co-citizens and feeling themselves inviolable, these figures, who naturally raise public interest, neglect the accepted in civilized world principle of tolerance towards media. Furthermore, the last precedents demonstrate that courts are ready to indulge the unfolded “crusade” versus journalists.
We do not assume at all that Armenian media are sinless and do not give ground for serious pretensions. Nevertheless, struggling against the drawbacks of our journalism by shutting its mouth – and this is how the end of the financial pressure, being exerted today, promises to be – means to devaluate the role of media in the fight against many public aliments, and first of all, with different forms of corruption, and its most dangerous form – state capture.
We urge the RA National Assembly to reconsider in short term the provisions of RA Civil Code on moral damage compensation, to work out relevant comments, setting forth rational and grounded regulations for the compensation size, thus ensuring follow-up of specific circumstances on each case.
We call upon the courts to not be on the bit of powerful plaintiffs, their incessant ambitions and appetite, by limiting in the majority of cases with the right of reply and refutation, assigned by the law.
We call the media to develop media self-regulation and public accountability mechanisms, and the Armenian citizens – to be more active in using these non-judicial means of protecting their information rights.”
“E-CLUB” CYCLE: INTERNET AND ENVIRONMENT
On March 1 another program from “E-Club” weekly cycle went on the online broadcast of “A1+” TV company (www.a1plus.am). The “E-Club” is produced by Yerevan Press Club in cooperation with “A1+” TV company under “Alternative Resources in Media” project, supported by USAID.
The information and education blocs, particularly, dealt with Armenian online medical web-sites, which can be useful for young mothers, as well as how active is the RA National Academy of Sciences in using Internet and new technologies. The guests of the discussion part of “E-Club”, Suren Maksapetian, Deputy Head of the Environment Protection Department of Yerevan Municipality, and Marina Parazian, architect, activist of “We Are the Owners of Our City” initiative, argued the city environment issues and the role of the Internet in nature protection.
The next “E-Club” will be aired on “A1+” on March 8.
MEDIA-RELATED ISSUES OF EASTERN PARTNERSHIP COUNTRIES DEBATED IN ISTANBUL
On February 21-24 in Istanbul an off-schedule meeting of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (CSF) Media Sub-Working Group took place. The event was organized by Yerevan Press Club with the financial assistance of Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation. The meeting participants – members of the Sub-Working Group and host experts – discussed the media-landscape in 6 EaP countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine), prepared by the SWG members of these countries, the problems of digitalization, and arranged to present a joint report on the media situation within the following months. According to the SWG agenda, each of these events will be hosted by official figures from EaP countries to debate the policy of their countries on the media sphere. At the Istanbul meeting Deputy Chairpersons of competent parliamentary committees of Georgia and Moldova Chiora Taktakishvili and Corina Fusu were invited to dialogue with civil society representatives. A special session dealt with the media freedom in Belarus following December 2010 presidential elections. Ivan Nikoltchev, Head of CoE Media Section, introduced the meeting participants with the CoE plans regarding the media promotion in countries of the region. The preliminary report on monitoring the human rights situation in EaP countries, administered by the respective subgroup, was presented with the aim of coordinating the efforts of different CSF divisions.
CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS INSTITUTED ON THE CASE OF ASSAULT ON NIKOL PASHINIAN AT “KOSH” PENITENTIARY
On March 1 the communication, stored on the RA General Procuracy website, informed about the institution of criminal proceedings on the case of assault at “Kosh” penitentiary versus Nikol Pashinian, Chief Editor of “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily. (On January 19, 2010 the court of general jurisdiction found Nikol Pashinian guilty in mass riots of March 1, 2008 in Yerevan, and sentenced him to seven years of imprisonment. On March 9, 2010 the Criminal Court of Appeal, by applying an amnesty on Nikol Pashinian, cut down his unexpired term of imprisonment by half.) As it has been reported, the incident with the head of “Haykakan Zhamanak”, serving his punishment at “Kosh” penitentiary then, occurred on the early morning of November 11, 2010. According to Nikol Pashinian, at about 2.30 the journalist was beaten by two men in black, who entered the cell in masks. Meanwhile, the statement of RA Ministry of Justice of November 11, 2010 the incident was assessed as “an insatiable desire to create an illusion of violence against Nikol Pashinian in any way” (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, November 12-18, 2010). On December 30, 2010 the investigative bodies resolved not to institute criminal proceedings on the case for absence of corpus delicti.
As the communication of General Procuracy notes, the ruling of RA General Prosecutor Aghvan Hovsepian on canceling the December 30, 2010 decision is stipulated by the fact that while examining the “Kosh” incident, the investigative bodies had not undertaken necessary investigative and criminal procedural measures, besides the case files were not duly worked up.
The criminal case on the assault of Nikol Pashinian of the early morning of November 11 2010 at “Kosh” penitentiary was instituted upon Article 118 of RA Criminal Code (“Beating”). The preliminary investigation is entrusted to the investigative department of Aragatsotn region of the Chief Investigative Department of the RA Police.
SPECIAL INVESTIGATIVE SERVICE FINDS NO CORPUS DELICTI IN RUBEN HAYRAPETIAN’S CONDUCT, WHILE “HETQ” CORRESPONDENT FILES THE COURT
On February 27 “Hetq”, the newspaper of “Investigative Journalists” NGO, received the decision of RA Special Investigative Service regarding the incident between Grisha Balasanian, “Hetq” correspondent, and Ruben Hayrapetian, RA National Assembly MP, Chairman of the Football Federation of Armenia. As it has been reported, on February 2 Grisha Balasanian had called Ruben Hayrapetian on his mobile phone for getting some comments. In reply the MP asked whether the journalist had a recorder, and after an affirmative answer, he started to swear at Grisha Balasanian. By assessing this conduct as impeding the legitimate professional activities of the journalist, on February 3 “Hetq” addressed a communication on a crime to the RA General Prosecutor Aghvan Hovsepian, by enclosing the telephone records to it (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 4-10, 2011). The case was submitted to the Special Investigative Service.
The Special Investigative Service decision, received on February 27, noted that the criminal proceedings versus Ruben Hayrapetian on Article 164 of RA Criminal Code (“Impeding the legitimate professional activities of a journalist”) will not be instituted for absence of corpus delicti. The decision, signed by investigator V.K.Mkrtchian, particularly, stated the explanations of Ruben Hayrapetian, who did not want to talk with the journalist, pleading “bad mood and health problems”. The second call of the journalist “outraged” the MP, and “he used indecent expressions”. Further, Ruben Hayrapetian said that he had not aimed to and he had not impeded the professional activities of the journalist. During all press conferences, interviews, the MP personally or via his press secretary has answered to every question, providing information the journalists were interested in, stressed the MP. Similar explanations were given by Tigran Israelian, Press Secretary of Chairman of the Football Federation of Armenia.
Apparently, the above-mentioned commentaries were quite enough for the Special Investigative Service for rendering a decision on not instituting criminal proceedings versus Ruben Hayrapetian.
On March 1 “Hetq” correspondent Grisha Balasanian filed a suit versus Ruben Hayrapetian at the court of general jurisdiction of Avan and Nor Nork administrative districts of Yerevan. The journalist demands to oblige the MP to present apologies, pay off a compensation of 1 million AMD (more than $ 2,700), as well as cover the court expenses. The suit on protecting the honor, dignity and compensating the moral damage is grounded by the RA Constitution provisions, international commitments of Armenia and case law of the European Court on Human Rights.
GOVERNMENT ESTABLISHES “SPIRITUAL AND CULTURAL PUBLIC TV COMPANY” CJSC
On February 24 at the session of RA Government the decision to establish “Spiritual and Cultural Public TV Company” CJSC with a nominal capital of 100,000 AMD was rendered. The management of the state-owned shares of the company is entrusted to the Council of Public Television and Radio Company. As the RA Government press release notes, “now the channel will have the opportunity to carry out a particular program policy, to determine independently the program profiles, thus satisfying the spiritual and cultural demands of all layers of society”.
As it has been reported, since January 21 “Shoghakat”, the TV channel of Holy See Etchmiadzin, had started broadcasting on the frequency of “Ararat”, TV channel of the Public TV and Radio Company. (“Shoghakat” had not applied to the digital broadcast licensing competitions, as they did not provide for spiritual and cultural profiles’ licensing.) As the Head of “Shoghakat” Manya Ghazarian explained, the broadcast on the frequency of “Ararat” is implemented within a one-month contract, concluded by “Shoghakat” and Public TV and Radio Company (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, January 21-27, 2011).
The Government’s decision on creating “Spiritual and Cultural Public TV Company” CJSC is likely to become a legal basis for “Shoghakat” to broadcast on a public frequency.
“ARAVOT” CONTINUES INTRODUCING TO THE APPLICATIONS OF BROADCAST LICENSING COMPETITION WINNERS
“Aravot” daily continues the article series, which examine the applications of the digital broadcast competition winners. As it has been reported, the applications copies were provided by National Commission on Television and Radio on the request of Anna Israelian, the series’ author and “Aravot” observer. Articles dealing with the first four competitions have already been published (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 18-24, 2011, and February 11-17, 2011).
On February 25 “Aravot” introduced to the application of competition No.5 winner -“Multimedia-Kentron TV” CJSC, founder of “Kentron” TV channel.