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 (see at http://ombuds.am/ in the section “Annual Report”).
One of the chapters of the report is 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 mentions deficient pluralism in broadcast media, with “obviously insufficient oversight” by NCTR over the compliance of TV channels with this requirement.
The report contains a separate chapter on freedom of speech in Armenia. In particular, it cites 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 stresses 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 mentions reduction in damage compensations awarded by courts in defamation cases against mass media. At the same time, new problems are 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 (Ed.Note: the latter so far have passed the first parliamentary reading in March 2014). 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).