On April 11 in Yerevan a round table meeting titled “Professional Ethics of Journalists and Media Self-Regulation” was held. The meeting was organized by Yerevan Press Club, International Federation of Journalists and the Journalists Union of Armenia. The discussion brought together representatives of Armenian media and professional associations as well as a free-lance journalist from Ireland Ronan Brady, who arrived in Armenia on the commission of Council of Europe and IFJ to study the media situation in the country.
The urgent need for the modern Armenian media to have professional codes of conduct and the importance of establishing a single self-regulation body were the central subjects for the discussion at the round table. Thus, a press council, founded by the efforts of the whole journalistic community, will help the representatives of the fourth estate to remember both the rights presented by the freedom of speech, and the responsibility it entails.
If you do not want “to be regulated”, “regulate” yourself. After the recent events (the restrictive draft law “On Mass Communication”, the absurd legal actions and criminal prosecution of journalists, the notorious broadcast licensing process, etc.), tending to intensify, as the elections draw nearer, this advice is of great use to Armenian media.
“THE CASE OF IMBECILES” STOPPED
On April 11 the Prosecutor’s Office of Center and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan stopped the criminal proceedings instituted on February 13, 2002, against the Chief Editor of “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily Nikol Pashinian.
As it has already been reported, the criminal proceedings against Nikol Pashinian were instituted through the appeal of the Head of RA Main Civil Aviation Department (RA MCAD) Hovhannes Eritsian who found one of the publications of “Haikakan Zhamanak” (November 6, 2001) to be personally insulting for himself. The publication told that as a response to the order of Hovhannes Eritsian to his deputy calling “to study and report to the MCAD Head how, despite the regime zones, airplanes happen to carry aboard such periodicals that present authorities in a distorted manner”, the Chief Editor of “Haikakan Zhamanak” commissioned the journalists “to find out and report how imbeciles find their way to the state administration system” (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 23 – March 1, 2002).
The decision on the discontinuation of the proceedings is substantiated by Item 4 of Article 18 (unconfirmed suspicions are interpreted to the benefit of the defendant) and Item 2 of Article 35 (the participation of the defendant in the crime is unproved and the possibilities to obtain other evidence exhausted) of the RA Criminal Procedures Code.
In this manner the legal action that had been instituted contrary to all common sense was stopped. It took the law and order bodies two months to understand that the suspicions of the MCAD Head of being personally insulted were groundless. Yet, the law still allows the institution of criminal charges against journalists and media for their professional activities. Consequently, the actions of intimidating the fourth estate have all the chances to be continued. The elections are coming.
NINE OTHER FREQUENCIES ASSIGNED
On April 6, 8 and 10 the National Commission on Television and Radio announced the results of the competitions for broadcast licensing on 10 frequencies. Previously the results of competitions for other vacant and vacated frequencies were publicized (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 23-29, 2002 and March 30 – April 5, 2002).
The winners of the competitions for the two UHFs in Armavir (Armavir region) were “ALT-TV” and “Noy Hayastan” TV companies, which will go on broadcasting on the 22nd and 32nd UHFs, respectively. The 23rd UHF of Vanadzor (Lori region) will still be occupied by “Lori” TV company. The tender for another Vanadzor frequency (32nd) was annulled by the National Commission: the broadcast concept, submitted by the applicant, “Interkap” TV company, did not meet the requirements of the competition. Until the announcement of a new competition, “Interkap” will remain on this frequency. “Zangak” TV, previously aired on 25th UHF of Martuni (Gegharkunik region) retained on its channel. Finally, the programs of “Shant” TV company will continue to be broadcast on the 41st UHF of Yerevan.
Similarly to the TV companies, four FM radio stations of Yerevan were able to keep their “old” frequencies. Thus, “ArRadioIntercontinental” will remain on FM 102; “Van” will go on broadcasting on FM 103; Radio “HAY” – on FM 104.1 and “Dynamite” – on FM 107.
All the broadcasters above have had no competitors, apart from “ALT-TV” and “Shant”, the rivals of which, having submitted applications, did not take part in the competition itself.
THE 37TH FREQUENCY REMAINS THE FOCUS OF ATTENTION OF MEDIA AND PUBLIC
The decision of the National Commission on Television and Radio to grant the 37th frequency to “Sharm” company, having actually deprived one of the first independent broadcasters, “A1+” TV company, of its air, remains a subject for a close attention of media, political and public figures of the country (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 30 – April 5, 2002).
On April 5 “A1+” declined the invitation of the RA President Robert Kocharian to meet the staff of the TV company. Having thanked the President, the staff of “A1+” motivated the refusal with the circumstance that, according to the statements made by Robert Kocharian, the parties have not as yet determined the issues to be discussed. “We believe the meeting to be more productive after the issue is settled judicially”, the reply of the TV company to the President says.
On the same day “A1+” rejected the offer of the Public Television of Armenia to give air to the “A1+” newscast, “Ayb-Feh”, once a day during a month. “We want to preserve our face on our frequency”, the Director of “A1+” Mesrop Movsesian said.
At a meeting called on April 5 at the Freedom Square in Yerevan to protect “A1+” and “Noyan Tapan” TV companies, its organizers (representatives of 14 opposition parties of Armenia) introduced a number of demands to the supreme administration of the country: to resume the broadcasts of “A1+” on the 37th frequency; annul the competitions held by the National Commission on Television and Radio; dismiss the National Commission; remove from circulation the draft law “On Mass Communication”; cancel the decision of a number of ministries and governmental agencies about not giving session rooms to the political parties; provide a free tribune for political debate on the Public Television of Armenia. In the opinion of President Robert Kocharian, if the meeting organizers were familiar with the Constitution and the RA legislation, they would understand these issues are beyond his mandate.
The support to “A1+” is voiced not only by Armenian public. Thus, the New York TV company “Erebuni-Yerevan” and a group of representatives of the Armenian community of Los Angeles expressed their solidarity. A well-known Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner wished the company luck in their further undertakings and noted that in case of an unfavorable outcome, he will consider the possibilities for giving “A1+” airtime during his authorship program ”Vremena” on ORT.
On April 8 the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed its concern over the loss of the frequency by “A1+”. The Executive Director of this reputable U.S. organization Ann Cooper stated: “The Kocharian Government is blatantly abusing the frequency licensing in an attempt to silence a critical media voice.” CPJ expressed its hope that “the Economic Court will reverse this unjust decision”. As it has already been reported, the suit of “A1+” founder, “Meltex” LLC, will be heard on April 16 (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 30 – April 5, 2002).
The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) added “its voice to those of other organizations that have protested the closure of two independent TV stations – ‘A1+’ and ‘Noyan Tapan’”. In the open letter to the President Robert Kocharian dated April 10, the IHF Executive Director Aaron Rhodes assessed the situation with the TV companies “as the Armenian government’s attempt to silence free media ahead of presidential elections”. Stressing that being a member of the Council of Europe Armenia assumed the obligations “to provide its citizens with fundamental rights and freedoms, such as the freedom of expression”, the IHF Director reminded “the Government of Armenia of its obligations” and asked it “to review the licensing process”.
On April 10 a statement by seven broadcasters, seven newspapers and three news agencies of Armenia was published. The parties to the statement expressed their regret over the competition failure of “A1+”, which “took and will take a merited place in the information filed” of the country, and noted the importance to solve the problem “along a legal dimension only”. The authors of the statement evaluated the meetings and protest actions organized by “certain political forces” as “an attempt to shift the media problems of purely legal nature to a political plane, entangle them in the pre-election games and present Armenia to the world community as an undemocratic country to reach their own political targets”. Having emphasized that the “freedom of speech in Armenia is not violated, and proper conditions are in place for the media to operate”, the media representatives advised “all political forces” not to speak “on our behalf”, not to politicize “our problems” and not to use them “for their own purposes”.
This statement (initiated by the Chief Editor of “Hayots Ashkhar” daily Gagik Mkrtchian) shows that the watershed between the media who give differing assessments to the situation with “A1+” grows.
THE RA COURT OF CASSATION STARTED REVIEWING THE DECISION ON THE SUIT OF HSBC-ARMENIA VERSUS “GOLOS ARMENII” AND “YERKIR” NEWSPAPERS
On April 5 the Chamber of Civil and Commercial Cases of the RA Court of Cassation started the review of the decision of the RA Commercial Court on the suit of HSBC-Armenia bank versus “Golos Armenii” and “Yerkir” newspapers. The publications challenged the decision of the Commercial Court of March 4 with the supreme judicial authority of the country. As it has already been reported, the court had satisfied the suit of HSBC-Armenia bank and required the editions to refute the information disseminated on October 29, 2001 by “Noyan Tapan” news agency and published by them the next day (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 2-8, 2002). According to “Noyan Tapan” piece, Ruben Hakobian, the author of the fonts, accused the bank of computer piracy and filed a suit against it (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 16-22, 2002 and February 9-15, 2002).
During the hearings at the RA Court of Cassation the HSBC-Armenia bank accepted the offer of the attorney of the newspapers of reaching an agreement. The court determined the timeframe for the parties to discuss the issue and appointed the next session on April 19.
THE COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS DISSEMINATED AN ANNUAL SURVEY ON ATTACKS ON PRESS
The well-known American organization, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) disseminated the annual worldwide survey “Attacks on the Press” in 2001.
The section on Armenia noted, in particular, that last year dire economic conditions, minuscule print runs and the underdeveloped advertising market proved to be the greatest obstacle for the independent media. In the opinion of CPJ, this resulted in self-censorship exercise by journalists and slanted reporting “in exchange for the financial support of wealthy patrons”. The survey mentions that the polarized politics, flawed legislation as well as the criminal prosecution for libel impede the establishment of independent media in Armenia. The President of the country and his supporters, according to CPJ survey, retain control of leading media outlets, including the only nationally broadcast channel, while the political opponents of Robert Kocharian control only a few publications. The situation around the RA Law “On Television and Radio” is quoted as an example of imperfect legislation: the 45-minute broadcast stoppage by the Armenian TV and radio stations, the recognition of some of the provisions of the Law unconstitutional, the submission of proposed amendments by Yerevan Press Club, Internews-Armenia and Journalists Union of Armenia to the Parliament, etc.
Among the negative incidents that happened to the Armenian journalists and media in 2001, the report mentions the demand of the National Scout Movement to start a legal action against “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily, the harassment of “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” newspaper, the arson of a bus-workshop of a free-lance journalist Vahagn Ghukasian, as well as the interruption of broadcasts of “Ashtarak TV”.
“VEM” RADIO STATION OFFICIALLY OPENED
On April 7 the opening ceremony of “Vem” radio station, broadcasting on FM 101.6, was held. The founders of the radio station are the non-governmental charity organization “Vem” and Tufenkian Foundation. The Executive Director is Manuk Hergnian, and the Chief Editor of the station is the clergyman of Armenian Apostolic Church Father Mesrop Aramian. The station broadcasts classic and clerical music, programs of cultural, clerical, education, social and economic nature, as well as programs for children. According to the heads of the station, “Vem” is expected to start broadcasting on-line too.
EDITION ON MIGRATION PROBLEMS ISSUED
The first issue of information and analysis edition “External Labor Migration” has been released. The edition is founded by the Department of Refugee Issues and Population Migration at the RA Government and will be issued once a quarter.