The “Asparez” Journalists’ Club of Gyumri has presented the results of its monitoring on volumes of commercial advertising on six national TV channels of the country. Levon BARSEGHIAN, Board Chairman of “Asparez”, talked about the research.
“Our survey, held in August 2013 and in the New Year’s days (from December 27, 2013 to January 2, 2014), was aimed at determining the degree of adherence to the RA Laws “On Advertising” and “On Television and Radio” by national TV channels. The monitoring covered the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia (PTA), “Armenia”, “Shant”, “Kentron”, “Yerkir Media” and the Second Armenian TV Channel. One knows that at New Year’s time the amount of advertising on television begins to exceed the limit. But we informed the management of the TV channels in early December that the monitoring will take place exactly in this period. In general, the monitoring revealed various legislative violations at all the TV channels studied”, the head of “Asparez” noted.
– How are the things going at the Public Television of Armenia?
– The Law “On Television and Radio” stipulates the 7% limit on the amount of advertising in the total airtime of the public broadcaster. According to our monitoring, on December 27, 28, 29 and 30, 2013, PTA First Channel exceeded the specified limit on average on 2-3% from the total amount of TV programs. On December 31 and on January 1 and 2, 2014, the public broadcaster met the limit, the figures were even less than 7%.
I have to note that the legislative requirement of 7% threshold applies only to the public broadcaster. Another provision applies to all broadcasters, both public and private: the Law “On Advertising” establishes a 14-minute advertising ceiling within every broadcast hour. This provision was violated, but only by three TV channels: PTA First Channel, “Shant” and “Kentron”. We were pleasantly surprised by the Second Armenian TV Channel, which did not commit any violations neither in August 2013, nor during the holiday week.
– For the several recent years the “Asparez” and you personally have consistently advocated the abolition of commercial advertising on the Public Television of Armenia. Do you feel that you have succeeded in this, taking into account the recent debate at the parliament on amendments to prohibit commercial advertising at the PTA?
– As one knows, the ban has not yet become effective. The amendments passed only the first reading on March 12. If they are finally adopted, they will enter into force not earlier than on September 1, 2014.
Yes, there is logic of market that prescribes how long a particular channel can allocate for advertising. The stream of advertising, which was put on the air at PTA, in annual terms amounted to almost a month, or to put it more precisely, 27 days (!) or 648 hours. We received this data in 2011, while monitoring the advertising on the PTA throughout the year. Now, if the amendments pass, this advertising will flow to the airtime of private TV companies. However, it is likely to take place purposefully, and not based on the rating of a particular TV company. Therefore there is a risk of monopolization: advertisers will “tell”, where their ads go.
As for the PTA, funded from the state budget and which, probably, will receive additional funding, in case of adoption of amendments, the public broadcaster will be able to free the airtime from advertising, which, as I have already said, takes nearly a month per year.
– Now the government would state that it has made advances to you…
– It will not. We are not so naive to believe that the government has finally heard our arguments and banned the broadcasting of commercial advertisements at the PTA. When we telling that the amount of broadcasting time allocated to advertising at the PTA was over-the-top, we were reproached that these were only mere assertions, and if we had evidence, facts, we were to produce them! Of course, we used to answer that we did not monitor all the advertising, as it was annoying and tedious work. Eventually, in 2011 we had to do such monitoring: we recorded and analyzed all the 365 days of the year to present real evidence. Of course, if one asks the representatives of authorities, they, most likely, would put down the decision to ban advertising on the PTA to some extent to our study. However, I repeat, we are not so naive to believe it. We understand that this decision is taken to protect private interests.
WOULD THE SHORTCOMINGS IN THE LAW “ON FREEDOM OF INFORMATION” BE IMPROVED?
The amendments’ package to several laws, including the RA Law “On Freedom of Information”, was put in circulation at Armenian National Assembly.
The package of amendments and supplements to the RA Laws “On Freedom of Information”, “On State Duty”, “On Local Duties and Payments” and to the Code on Administrative Offences was submitted by the Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport. The parliamentary Committee put this initiative down to the need to eliminate the drawbacks, which have exposed during the 10 years of existence of the Law “On Freedom of Information”.
In particular, the initiative suggests supplementing the Law “On Freedom of Information” with provisions, regulating the issues of electronic requests, and also to specify the list of information, which is subject to obligatory publishing, the grounds and procedures of providing information or refusals to provide it.
The authors of the amendments propose to introduce a provision which would allow state-financed organizations and organizations of public importance to set tariffs independently for the provision of information, however, the size of the latter should not exceed the costs, which incurred in providing of the requested information. The authors of the amendments set the amount of state and local duties at the rate of 10 AMD for one printed page and 300 AMD (about 60 eurocents) for information on an electronic device. The norm stipulating the provision of information up to 10 pages free of charge will be preserved.
In case a responsible person fails to carry out his legally stipulated obligation to ensure the accessibility and publicity of the information, they would be fined, according to the amendments, from 10 to 50 thousand AMD (from 18 to 88 euros), and in case of repeated non-fulfillment of the said obligation within one year – from 50,000 to 100,000 AMD (from 88 to 176 euros). Under the current legislation, penalties are imposed only for refusal to provide information.
On March 28, Karen Andreasian, the Human Rights Defender of Armenia, released a statement denouncing threatening and harassment, expressed during the delivering of the verdict on the notorious murder at the restaurant “Harsnakar” to journalists and lawyers of the offended party.
The crime took place in Yerevan at the restaurant “Harsnakar” on the evening of June 17, 2012. The restaurant belongs to Ruben Hayrapetian, big Armenian businessman and member of the RA National Assembly from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia. The kitchen staff and oligarch’s guards started fistfight and severely beat several military doctors, one of whom, Vahe Avetian, Major of the medical service, died later in a hospital. The crime caused massive public outcry and was actively covered by media.
On March 24, the court of general jurisdiction sentenced all the six defendants to 12 years of imprisonment. While the judge was reading out the verdict, relatives of the defendants were sounding off and, after the verdict was announced, started to insulted and threat loudly the judge, lawyers and journalists covering the trial.
Public insults and threats to people present at the courtroom are, first of all, the disrespect for the court, which is criminally punishable, the statement of the ombudsman says, in particular. It also stressed the unacceptability of any pressure on participants of a trial.
On March 26, RA Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the court of general jurisdiction, which secured an appeal, filed by Argishti Kivirian, ARMENIA Today coordinator, due to refusal of the Special Investigative Service to initiate criminal proceedings against the police officers.
On August 1, 2013, at the Yerevan City Hall, Argishti Kivirian was detained and taken to the police during a civic activists’ protest action against the rise in public transport fares. The policemen used violence against the journalist and held him in police department for more than three hours, which is prescribed under the law. Argishti Kivirian addressed the RA Special Investigative Service (SIS) to open a criminal case against the policemen. Having been refused, Kivirian appealed the decision of SIS in the court. Kivirian presented videos and photos as evidence of illegal actions by police. The Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan secured the appeal by requiring SIS to initiate criminal proceedings against the police officers. RA Prosecutor’s Office, in turn, appealed the decision of the court of general jurisdiction in the Criminal Court of Appeal, which dismissed the complaint, as noted above.
When the decision of the Criminal Court of Appeal comes into effect, the SIS is to initiate criminal proceedings against representatives of law enforcement bodies.
On March 25, the Freedom of Speech Day was celebrated in Gyumri. This day was found by “Asparez” Journalists’ Club five years ago and marked annually in the second Armenian largest city.
The Freedom of Speech Day was timed to the settlement of the situation with the local TV company, “GALA”, being on the verge of closing down due to tax liability. On March 25, 2009, fundraising campaign, initiated by “Asparez” for the TV channel, became a success: funds for repaying the debt were donated by individuals and organizations, both in Armenia and abroad. The tax inspections at “CHAP” LLC, founder of “GALA”, and the following lawsuits started as soon as, in October 2007, the “CHAP” owner Vahan Khachatrian announced about the attempts of various power agencies to exert pressure on “GALA”.
On the occasion of the Freedom of Speech Day, “Asparez” traditionally awarded journalists and civic activists, who have contributed to protection of freedom of speech. In particular, the memorable gifts were granted to: “Investigative Journalists” NGO and its website www.hetq.am (for a journalistic investigation on offshore bank accounts registered under the names of senior officials); and Argishti Kivirian, ARMENIA Today news agency coordinator (for consistent civic activism and posting on Facebook).