On May 29 another program of “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 under “Alternative Resources in Media” project, supported by USAID.
The program was devoted to opportunities of organizing holidays through Internet. Particularly, useful links for tourists were presented: www.tripadvisor.com, www.hotels.com, http://maps.google.com, www.couchsurfing.org, http://travelnews.am, etc. The news bloc of “E-Club” told about the new functions of the 13th version of Firefox browser, and about the almost 9 million orders that Samsung Electronics has received for its third-generation Galaxy-S smartphones. The ratings of online sources and headlines of last week were presented by Stepan Danielian, Head of “Cooperation for Democracy” Center. The web sources’ top list was headed by www.lragir.am, while the most popular topic were the perspectives of forming a ruling coalition in Armenia.
The next “E-Club” will be aired on “A1+” on Tuesday, June 5 at 15.50 (rerun - on Thursday, June 7 at 18.20).
On May 26-28 a seminar on “The Role of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum in the Fields of Visa Facilitation and Media Reforms” was held in Gyumri. The event was organized by Yerevan Press Club with the support of Friedrich Ebert Foundation and was attended by representatives of NGOs, journalistic organizations of Armenia, experts from Belarus and Poland.
The report of Olga Stuzhinskaya, EaP Civil Society Forum’s First Working Group Coordinator, was dealing with the implementation process of CSF recommendations in the field of visa facilitation in the six EaP countries - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Stepan Grigorian, Head of Analytical Center for Globalization and Regional Cooperation, presented this issue from the Armenian civil society’s viewpoint. Seyran Martirosian, Armenian National Facilitator of EaP CSF, told about the perspectives for strengthening ties between CSF and NGOs in the field of visa facilitation.
Krzysztof Bobinski, member of EaP CSF Steering Committee, discussed the implementation process of CSF recommendations in the field of media reforms in EaP countries. The report of Elina Poghosbekian, Editor of Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter, was dealing with the contribution of the Armenian civil society in improving the media situation in the country. The perspectives for strengthening ties between CSF and NGOs in the media domain were presented by YPC President Boris Navasardian.
RA Court of Cassation rendered two precedent judgments on two defamation suits that involve media. The rulings provide commentaries on Article 1087.1 of RA Civil Code (“Order and Conditions of Compensation of Damage to the Honor, Dignity or Business Reputation”) and definitions of the notions of the Article. Pursuant to the Court of Cassation’s mission, these commentaries will contribute to the uniform court interpretation of the Civil Code provisions prescribing liability for libel and insult. This issue gained currency, since the court practice on defamation cases manifests the absence of such uniformity.
Particularly, the Court of Cassation defined the notions of “libel” and “insult”. “Libel” is a statement of fact that are false, publicly spoken and harm the honor, dignity and business reputation of a person. “Insult” is a public statement (wording, image, sound, etc.) that is made with fault and is harmful to someone’s honor, dignity and business reputation.
According to the Court of Cassation, in case of absence of one of the abovementioned criteria, there can be no libel and insult and subsequently no damage compensation.
At the same time, the Court of Cassation mentioned that even in presence of all the abovementioned criteria, the statement cannot be assessed as “insult” if it is based on facts or there is a pressing public interest.
Facts are considered to be those which are proved either immediately in the communication, or are common truths and are not subject to proof. Referring to the practice of the European Court of Human Rights, the Court of Cassation stressed the need of making clear distinction between statement of fact and value judgments: proving the latter is “an impossible task and such a requirement is a restriction of freedom of expression” (July 8, 1986 ECHR ruling on the case Lingens vs. Austria). At the same time, if the statement is qualified as a value judgment it needs a certain factual basis (December 17, 2004 ECHR ruling on the case Pedersen and Baadsgaard vs. Denmark), otherwise it will be assessed as excessive (July 1, 1997 ECHR ruling on the case Oberschlick vs. Austria) or not permissible (May 27, 2004 ECHR ruling on the case Rizos and Daskas vs. Greece).
Under each court litigation and preceding from the specific circumstances and the content of information the courts should define to what extent the information is conditioned by the pressing public interest, taking into account the mission of media - to inform about issues of pubic importance and disseminate opinions and ideas.
In presence of all the abovementioned criteria, a statement of fact is not qualified as “libel”, if: it regards the circumstances of a case that is pending at court or is at a pre-court stage; it is conditioned by the pressing public interest; it derives from the public speech of a person who is subject to critics. At the same time, the Court of Cassation stressed that, unlike in case of insult, there should be a factual basis for holding a pressing public interest in case of libel. Particularly, the person who has released the information should prove that before this he/she had took measures for defining the public significance of information and its possible truth. Besides, this information should be presented with bona fide and in a balanced way. The Court of Cassation also defined these two notions, as well as the notion of “publicity” of statement of fact.
The Court of Cassation also provided commentaries on the issue of exemption from liability for libel and insult. The matter of the dispute is settled, if the party subjected to libel/insult has requested and received a refutation/a right to reply in line with the RA Law “On Mass Communication”. The person is exempted from liability if simultaneously two conditions are observed: the statement fact is a verbatim or bona fide quotation of public speeches, official documents, works of authors, media publications; the disseminated information contains a reference to a source. At the same time, the Court of Cassation stressed that even in presence of these circumstances the person is not exempted from liability if his/her malicious intention is proved during the litigation. The Court of Cassation interpreted the notions of “source of information” and “media outlet” (for the latter it referred to Article 10 of the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as well as to the ECHR rulings on the cases of Muller and Others vs. Switzerland, May 24, 1988, and Autronic AG vs. Switzerland, May 22, 1990).
As for the critics of public figures, the acceptable limits of criticism as regards the government are wider than towards private individuals, or even politicians, stated the Court of Cassation referring to the ECHR case law. In a democratic society, the actions or omissions of the government must be subject to the close scrutiny not only of the legislative and judicial authorities but also of press and public opinion (June 9, 1999 ECHR ruling on the case Incal vs. Turkey).
While determining the size of pecuniary compensation of the damage caused by libel and insult, the courts should take into account the financial situation of the respondent (demanding respective documents), as well as the means, tools and scope of the dissemination of information, say the print run of a newspaper.
According to the Law “On Mass Communication”, the demand for refutation/right to reply can be made not later than a month after the dissemination of information. Article 1087.1 of Civil Code prescribes a term for filing a suit on libel or/and insult, which should be not later than 6 months. According to the Court of Cassation, the 6-months term is reasonable and after it is expired, it should be regarded as defaulted.
As noted above, the precedent rulings of the Court of Cassation were made on April 27, 2012 upon two defamation cases: Dr. Tatul Manaserian, former Advisor to RA National Assembly Chairman, versus the founder of “Zhamanak” daily, “Skizb Media Kentron” LLC, and Vano Eghiazarian, Elder of Lernapat village, versus co-villager Boris Ashrafian, in which the “Zhamanak” daily founder appeared as a third party.
As it has been reported, on October 29, 2010 Tatul Manaserian contested at the court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash administrative districts of Yerevan the piece “Criminal Proceedings versus the Advisor to NA Chairman?” published in “Zhamanak” on September 29, 2010. The plaintiff demanded to publish a refutation and pay off 2,5 million AMD (about $ 6,800), from which 2 million - as a compensation for the damage caused by libel, while the 500,000 - court expenses. On September 20, 2011 the court partially secured the suit, binding the founder of “Zhamanak” to publish a refutation and pay off the plaintiff 510,000 AMD (300,000 -compensation for moral loss, 200,000 - court expenses, and 10,000 - state duty for filing the court). The founder of “Zhamanak” appealed this decision at RA Civil Court of Appeal, which upheld it on December 15, 2011 (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, December 16-22, 2011). On January 18, 2012 “Zhamanak” founder addressed the RA Court of Cassation, which on April 27 upheld the rulings of the lower court instances.
The hearings on the suit of Lernapat Elder Vano Eghiazarian versus his co-villager Boris Ashrafian started at court of general jurisdiction of Lori region on February 9, 2011. The matter of the suit was the interview of Boris Ashrafian published in “Zhamanak” daily on September 1, 2010. The piece contained critics about the village Elder. The plaintiff demanded to apologize in “Zhamanak” and compensate the moral damage of 3 mln AMD (about $ 8,100). On July 22, 2011 the court partially secured the suit binding Boris Ashrafian to publish apologies in “Zhamanak” and compensate the damage of 300,000 AMD. Both of the parties had contested the ruling at the RA Civil Court of Appeal. On October 5, 2011 the complaints were revoked, and Boris Ashrafian addressed the RA Court of Cassation. On April 27, 2012 the Court of Cassation cancelled the rulings of the courts of first and second instances, holding to finally revoke the suit of Lernapat Elder Vano Eghiazarian.
On May 30 Information Disputes Council released a conclusion regarding the March 7, 2012 court ruling on the suit of the advocate Artur Grigorian versus “Hraparak” daily founder, “Hraparak Oratert” LLC. The missions of the Council, established on May 1, 2011, list preparation and release of advisory expert conclusions on court litigations regarding libel and insult, protection of private life and freedom of information, as well as providing consultations to the Armenian legislative and executive authorities, local self-government bodies and citizens (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, April 29 - May 5, 2011).
On October 20, 2011 the court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash administrative districts of Yerevan took into consideration the suit of Artur Grigorian, who had contested the readers’ comments to “Hraparak” article, “Citizens, Are They Victims of Disloyal Advocates?”, published on August 10, 2011 and stored on www.hraparak.am. In the readers’ comments Artur Grigorian had counted six wordings that discredited his honor and dignity, and evaluated the moral damage for each of them by 3 million AMD. Thus, the overall amount of financial claims to the newspaper made 18 mln AMD (about $ 47,000). The hearings on the case started on January 13, 2012. On March 7, 2012 the court revoked the suit as unjustified, resolving to bind Artur Grigorian of paying off the state duty of 360,000 AMD - in proportion to the financial claims. The court decision particularly stressed that “Hraparak” had no intentions to slander and insult Artur Grigorian; the comments were made by the readers, moreover they were deleted from the daily’s website upon the plaintiff’s demand (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 2-8, 2012).
According to the Council, the court’s ruling contains legal positions on a number of issues, which concern the journalistic community worldwide. This regards the protection of information in case of the rapid advance of media technologies, social networks and online media.
Welcoming the court’s ruling, which has significantly enlarged the scope of protection of online media, the Council also reminded about the responsibility of such media for the contents of readers’ comments. In this regard, the Council finds that the November 15, 2011 ruling of the Constitutional Court, which contain recommendations on the application of Article 1087.1 of RA Civil Code (“Order and Conditions of Compensation of Damage to the Honor, Dignity or Business Reputation”) by judges, are equally applicable for the readers’ comments disseminated by online media.
The Council called upon online media: to moderate readers’ comments, in light of the common principles of the right to freedom of expression; to develop and place on their websites rules of moderation, to ensure their visibility for readers and provide for their clear and transparent application.
The full conclusion of the Information Disputes Council is available in Armenian at http://www.ypc.am/expert/ln/eng.
On May 29 Vanadzor court of general jurisdiction of Lori region released the ruling on the suit of Vano Eghiazarian, Elder of Lernapat village, versus Adrineh Torosian, Vanadzor correspondent of “Hetq” online publication (“Hetq” was involved in the case as a third party). As it has been reported, Vano Eghiazarian contested the piece by Adrineh Torosian, “The Word “Graze” in Address of Village Elder Worth 1 Mln”, published in “Hetq” on August 23, 2011. Initially, besides the demands to publish a refutation and to bring apologies, the suit on the protection of honor, dignity and business reputation of the village Elder claimed for a compensation of moral damage of 1 million AMD (about $ 2,600). Later, the plaintiff virtually abandoned his financial claims versus the respondent and demanded only 1 Luma (the smallest Armenian currency) as compensation for moral damage (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, January 12-19, 2012).
At the session of May 29 the court revoked the suit of Vano Eghiazarian and obliged him to pay off the court expenses of the respondent in the amount of 150,000 AMD.
On May 24 the US Department of State released the report on human rights practices in different countries of the world in 2011, prepared by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
One of the sections of the country report on Armenia describes the situation with freedom of speech and press. Highlighting the decrease in instances of violence against journalists in 2011, US State Department however noted that “free speech was limited by a surge of libel and defamation lawsuits in which members of the politically connected business elite were awarded large monetary damages against opposition newspapers and journalists”.
The media, especially TV companies, continued to lack diversity of political opinion and objective reporting, stressed the report. The switchover process from analog to digital broadcasts further restricted the number of TV channels; meanwhile the government did not release the audit of the broadcasting frequencies that provided the technical basis for limiting the number of digital broadcast licenses.
The State Department’s report also mentioned some court litigations dealing with media: particularly, the legal disputes between Gyumri Municipality and founder of the local “GALA” TV company regarding the right to use the city TV tower; the suit of “A1+” TV company founder versus National Commission on Television and Radio, which had contested the results of the digital broadcast licensing competitions.
The full report of US Department of State on human rights practices in Armenia in 2011 is available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?dynamic_load_id=186326.
On the Republic Day, May 28, RA President Serzh Sargsian awarded honorary titles to science, arts and culture figures. The title of “Journalist Emeritus” was conferred to Gagik Hovhanissian, Chief Editor of “Shakhmatayin Hayastan” magazine.Tweet
On May 31 another issue of the online newsletter of “Alternative Resources in Media” project was released. The program is jointly implemented by Internews Network (USA), Eurasia Partnership Foundation, Yerevan Press Club and Internews Media Support public organization with the assistance of USAID. Launched in 2010, the four-year project aims at enhancing and improving access to pluralistic and unbiased information in Armenia through traditional and alternative media using new information technologies.
The eight issue of the newsletter introduces to the current activities administered within the “Alternative Resources in Media” project (http://us2.campaign-archive1.com/?u=600ec7ed0da688d1d76de4d79&id=d74a33da32&e=78f2e5eada).
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Editor of YPC Newsletter - Elina POGHOSBEKIAN