“PRESS CLUB” SUPPLEMENT ON THE AIR OF “YERKIR MEDIA”
On December 22 and 29, 2007 on the air of “Yerkir Media” TV company two first supplements to “Press Club” program cycle were aired. The supplements deal with the problems of media coverage of election campaign. In the supplements journalists and public took part. The program is produced under the project of Media Diversity Institute with the financial assistance of the US Department of State Public Affairs Section.
MEDIA SELF-REGULATION DISCUSSED IN JERMUK
On December 22-23, 2007 in Jermuk, Vayots Dzor region, a seminar “Ways of Enhancing Media Role in Armenia” was held. The event was organized by Yerevan Press Club with the financial support of Open Society Institute. The representatives of media and journalistic associations discussed the current projects aiming at strengthening free expression and improving professionalism. The presentations on the seminar were dealing with such issues as YPC initiatives on self-regulation institute formation in Armenia, the role of self-regulation at election time, the linkage between monitoring the election coverage in media and self-regulation projects, enhancing the role of media in Armenia in the context of international cooperation.
ARMENIAN OFFICIALS DO NOT AGREE WITH THE ASSESSMENT OF MEDIA SITUATION AHEAD OF ELECTIONS
On December 18, 2007 the web-site of the Armenian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty published the interview of the Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis to the New York correspondent of RFE/RL. In the interview Terry Davis disclosed some details of his meeting with the RA Prime Minister Serge Sargsian, held during the visit of the Armenian delegation to Brussels and Strasbourg on December 9-11. During the meeting the upcoming presidential elections in Armenia were discussed, in particular, the media activities, including the positive coverage of Serge Sargsian and the negative – of his opponents. “Of course, I agree that any acting Prime Minister (…) will receive much more publicity than people who are not prime minister. You have to take that into account. As I was explaining to the Prime Minister of Armenia, it’s not the number of references to him or to his political opponents that matters; it was the overwhelming analysis which showed that the comments were favorable to the Prime Minister and unfavorable for his opponents. And that’s wrong, that’s biased, and that’s what’s wrong in a democracy”, Terry Davis noted. Summing up his impressions about the meeting with the Armenian Prime Minister, the CoE Secretary General made the following assessment: “I think the situation, as it is analyzed today with the media in Armenia, does not meet the standards of the Council of Europe to a large extent. There is evidence, done not by the Council of Europe, but by people on the ground there, in Yerevan. There’s a very good nongovernmental organization called the Press Club of Yerevan – they have done the analysis and I referred to their analysis when I was talking to the Prime Minister.”
On December 20 the statement of the co-rapporteur of the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Georges Colombier on the visit to Armenia on December 3-5, 2007, was published. As regards the role of media, Georges Colombier noted that according to the Armenian law and the assurances received from the Armenian authorities, there should be equal coverage of the presidential candidates during the official electoral campaign of Armenia, that is only as of 21 January, 2008. However, at present, according to media monitoring conducted by the Yerevan Press Club, there is excessive coverage of the Prime Minister, who accumulates this capacity with that of presidential candidate, and very negative coverage of another candidate, Levon Ter-Petrosian. “I insisted that a more balanced access to the public television should be guaranteed for all 9 presidential candidates, at least as of 7 December 2007, when all of them officially submitted their nomination documents to the CEC”, the statement of co-rapporteur of PACE Monitoring Committee noted.
On his behalf, on December 19 the RA Prime Minister Serge Sargsian spoke about the media situation during the meeting in Yerevan with the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Peter Semneby. “When a European official expresses an opinion on the partial media coverage, it should be born in mind that this opinion is based on unobjective materials presented to him. If this structure or representative is interested in real situation, they can contract a specialized organization that would undertake a complete monitoring, including both electronic and print media. In that case no one would have any objections regarding impartiality”, Serge Sargsian said, noting that “today it is necessary to have negotiations with a reputable international organization to ensure a full-scale monitoring of media coverage of elections with high professional quality” (quoted by the communication of December 19, 2007, placed on the RA Government’s web-site).
On December 26 Yerevan Press Club and “TEAM” Research Center disseminated the following statement.
“During the meeting with Peter Semneby, the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, the Prime Minister of Armenia Serge Sargsian qualified the information about the situation in Armenian media ahead of presidential elections 20008 that “some European officials” take into account as not objective, as well as proposed that a “specialized organization” should undertake a “complete monitoring” that includes both broadcast and print media.
Because the day before this meeting critical remarks on Armenian media with a reference to Yerevan Press Club were made by the Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis in his interview to Radio Liberty, we think it reasonable to take that the RA Prime Minister implied the reports of “TEAM” Research Center and Yerevan Press Club about the monitoring of 8 broadcast channels in October and November 2007 to be the “unobjective information”. At least this was the interpretation that a number of media gave to the words of the head of the Government.
Assessments similar to the one made by the Prime Minister were also voiced by some other high-ranked officials; however, it is unclear what the basis for their statements is. If relevant research had been undertaken, it would be of public value to know what their findings are and what methodology was used. If the accusations of our “unobjectiveness” are not substantiated by specific facts we urge to abstain from such categorical statements.
With all due responsibility we announce that the doubts of our objectiveness are completely groundless. “TEAM” has been engaged in media research since 1996, and Yerevan Press Club since the same time monitored the coverage of all national elections or took part in similar researches in partnership with other local and foreign organizations. The technology of these researches was constantly improved and is currently as valid as possible. It is based on the methodology, developed by the leading international organizations, on our many-year experience, as well as profound knowledge of the subject due to our permanent focus on Armenian media. What else is necessary to be considered a “specialized organization”?
YPC and “TEAM” never gave any reason to be suspected of political bias. Being independent non-governmental organizations with mission to support the free expression, we repeatedly criticized the official structures of Armenia, but in all cases this criticism followed from principled stance, commitments to democratic values, but not from bias. Neither through activities nor through public statements did our organizations ever support a certain candidate or political force. Unfortunately, in modern Armenia the responsible professional stance is not viewed as an advantage.
In this regard we on our behalf suggest that European structures, within their observation of RA presidential elections, make an assessment of the methodology and the findings of the monitoring implemented by “TEAM” and Yerevan Press Club. Our work has always been transparent, and its principles have invariably been explained to public at length: all reports are presented at press-conferences and are accompanied by a detailed description of the methodology of the study. Any independent expert, proposed by international organizations observing the elections, can step into the monitoring we implement and be convinced of the impartiality of our data and analysis.
We also support the idea of parallel media monitoring by a specialized international organization, selected by the structures, invited to observe the elections. Similar research was undertaken at all RA elections, starting from 1995, and their data never ran contrary to ours. If anything could have created certain technical difficulties of media monitoring this time, it is the rather belated – only a month before the start of the official pre-election promotion – invitation of the international observation missions by the RA National Assembly. If our authorities were truly interested in monitoring, it would have been reasonable to attend to the matter in advance, not waiting to be criticized by high-ranked international officials. The involvement of competent foreign partners in this work will allow eliminating all doubt regarding the objectiveness of this or that study.
The broader the coverage of media monitoring is, the fuller the picture to be obtained. In this regard the suggestion of the RA Prime Minister to include print media in monitoring effort is quite justified. At this stage “TEAM” and YPC restricted the scope of media studied by 8 broadcasters for several reasons: firstly, due to the limited resource and the appropriateness of focus on those media that pay the greatest attention to political process in the country and have the broadest audience; secondly, due to the need to guarantee the high quality of research that calls for availability of sufficient number of competent monitors; thirdly – and most importantly – due to the obvious circumstance that broadcast media, using a public resource, the frequency, have a certain commitment to the public to have impartial reporting. The approach lies at the heart of international documents and the national legislation of Armenia.
The appropriate principles of the Council of Europe are reflected in Recommendation No.R (99)15 of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on Measures Concerning Media Coverage of Election Campaigns. “(…) Aware of the need to take account of the significant differences which exist between the print and the broadcast media”, the Committee of Ministers recommends: “(…) Regulatory frameworks on media coverage of elections should not interfere with the editorial independence of newspapers or magazines or with their right to express any political preference (…).” At the same time, “(…) with due respect for the editorial independence of broadcasters, regulatory frameworks should also provide for the obligation to cover electoral campaigns in a fair, balanced and impartial manner in the overall programme services of broadcasters. Such an obligation should apply to both public service broadcasters as well as private broadcasters in their relevant transmission areas”.
The RA legislation, even though not fully, reflects the provisions of this and other recommendations of the CoE Committee of Ministers, but also imposes on broadcast media far greater responsibility than on print press. Firstly and foremostly, this refers to the public broadcaster, in the programs of which, according to the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, “it is prohibited to have a predominant political stance”. This prohibition is valid for all activities of the Public TV and Radio Company, and not only for the period has that preceded the elections. The specifics of broadcast media and importance of overseeing their compliance with laws and license terms are emphasized by a setup of a special regulatory body, the National Commission on Television and Radio, whereas our legislation stipulates no licensing or special regulation of print media activities.
Hence, should monitoring of print – and hopefully also the online – media be undertaken, it is necessary to make a clear distinction between its results and the findings for broadcast media. The work of television and radio during elections, the level of their objectiveness are a direct characteristic of how compliant the state is with its political commitments to international partners. Apparently, this very circumstance shaped the opinion of the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Peter Semneby about the responsibility of the authorities for the pre-election tone of media that caused another dissatisfied comment from the official Yerevan.
In this regard we urge the RA authorities not to seek reasons of the criticism by international organizations in the monitoring we implement, which is purely a mirror, reflecting the extremely unfavorable media situation, but to take measures to improve it instead. Our distress with statements that negatively tell on the international image of Armenia is in no way inferior to that of the country authorities. Yet we are convinced that the best way of not having “one’s dirty linen washed in public” is to keep it clean”, the statement of “TEAM” Research Center and YPC said.
“Haikakan Zhamanak” daily on December 22, 2007 informed that, in the opinion of the RA Central Election Commission Chairman Garegin Azarian, the report of the Need Assessment Mission of the OSCE/ODIHR on the visit to Armenia on December 4-5 and published on December 13, 2007 is partial. The newspaper went further to say that “the report presents the climate existing on the Armenian TV air, in which the TV companies keep endorsing one presidency candidate, Serge Sargsian”, while an opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian is constantly criticized by the same broadcasters. According to “Haikakan Zhamanak”, Garegin Azarian answered negatively the question of whether the CEC Chairman is aware of the findings of the media monitoring, conducted by Yerevan Press Club, noting at the same time he has no desire to see them, either.
On December 24 the YPC President Boris Navasardian addressed a letter to the Chairman of the RA CEC Garegin Azarian. “You have not refuted the report by ‘Haikakan Zhamanak’ daily, so we have every ground to believe that you really qualify the mentioned report of OSCE/ODIHR as partial”, the letter said in particular. Noting that the statement by OSCE/ODIHR observers about the bias of the TV companies was supported also by the findings of the monitoring, implemented by “TEAM” Research Center and Yerevan Press Club for two months and a half, and that the CEC Chairman has not expressed a wish to see the results of this study, Boris Navasardian assumed that CEC itself had administered monitoring and has facts at its disposal, proving the partiality of OSCE/ODIHR report. In this regard the letter author asked to explain: whether CEC or – upon its commission – any other organization has monitored TV air and has come up with different findings; if such study has been undertaken, what its methodology was, how many TV companies and how much airtime were studied. Besides, the letter contained a request to present the results of the monitoring if such has been implemented.
As of the day the YPC Weekly Newsletter was issued, no response from CEC was received.
NEW YPC PUBLICATIONS
In late 2007 three publications were produced by Yerevan Press Club: “Karabagh Issue and Armenian-Turkish Relations in the Pre-Election Rhetoric of Armenian Political Figures”, “Media and Elections”, “Media Self-Regulation: First Steps in Armenia”.
“Karabagh Issue and Armenian-Turkish Relations in the Pre-Election Rhetoric of Armenian Political Figures” book analyzes the findings of monitoring on coverage of the Mountainous Karabagh problem and Armenian-Turkish relations in 7 print media of Armenia during the election campaign for the RA National Assembly (April-May 2007). One of the main tasks of the research was to determine the completeness and adequacy of the press reflection of the stances of parties, running for seats in the parliament, on the two important issues on the foreign policy agenda of Armenia. Besides, a number of adjacent issues were studied: the specifics of the press coverage of Armenian-Azerbaijani and Armenian-Turkish relations; the accuracy and reliability of the information published; the existence of ideas and proposals regarding the normalization of Armenia’s relations with the neighbor countries in the statements of the politicians and in articles, etc. The book is published in Armenian, English and Russian languages (within one cover) with the support of Friedrich Ebert Foundation.
“Media and Elections” book is a certain manual for journalists covering election campaigns. It, in particular, presents the provisions of the RA Constitution on freedom of expression and clauses of RA legislation on pre-election promotion; Recommendation R (99)15 of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers of September 9, 1999, on Measures concerning Media Coverage of Election Campaigns and its Appendix; fragments from the final reports of the OSCE/ODIHR observation missions concerning the media activities during the Armenian parliament and presidential elections of 2003 and parliament elections of 2007; reports of Yerevan Press Club on monitoring the Armenian media coverage during the election campaigns for the RA National Assembly and the elections of the RA President in 2003, as well as the report of the “TEAM” Research Center and YPC on monitoring the Armenian media coverage of the parliamentary elections of 2007.
“Media Self-Regulation: First Steps in Armenia” contains materials on the activities of the Media Ethics Observatory since its foundation on March 10, 2007. The brochure includes the Code of Conduct of Media Representatives and its appendix, the Declaration on Election and Referendum Coverage Principles; the list of media who signed the documents; the composition of the MEO and its judgments.
Both books mentioned are published in Armenian language with the support of the Open Society Institute.
All three publications will soon be placed on YPC web-site www.ypc.am
OSCE REPRESENTATIVE ON FREEDOM OF THE MEDIA CONCERNED ABOUT THE INCIDENTS WITH ARMENIAN MEDIA
On December 24, 2007 the cameraman of “GALA” TV company Grigor Shaghoyan challenged with the RA General Prosecutor’s Office the resolution of the investigative department of Shirak Region of the Chief Investigative Department of the RA Police about the discontinuation of the investigation on impeding the legitimate professional activities of the journalist.
As it has been reported, on October 22 the owner of “CHAP” LLC, founding company of “GALA”, Vahan Khachatrian issued a statement regarding the attempts of various power agencies to exert pressure on the TV channel. The document stressed the infallibility of the TV channel’s stance and the readiness to prevent any attempt of intervention into its editorial policy. One week after the statement a tax audit started at “CHAP”, after which the RA State Tax Service reported the violations revealed. In particular, this referred to concealed amounts of TV advertising and illegal use of the city tower owned by the Gyumri municipality. The Gyumri Tax Inspection and the city administration filed respective suits, and the RA Commercial Court started hearing both suits. The process of the tax audit itself was covered by “GALA” TV company. On November 6 an incident occurred between the TV company cameraman Grigor Shaghoyan and a representative of the RA State Tax Service. The latter attacked the cameraman, took him by the throat and tried to take the camera away. On the same day Grigor Shaghoyan addressed the Gyumri Police Department with an appeal of his legitimate professional activities being impeded. On December 12 the Head of the OSCE Office in Yerevan, Ambassador Sergey Kapinos addressed a letter to the Head of the RA Police Haik Harutiunian, the Head of the Gyumri Police Department Hakob Ghevondian and the Governor of Shirak region Lidia Nanian, requesting to inform the OSCE Office whether a criminal case had been filed on the incident. The Ambassador also stressed the need for proper investigation into the matter. On December 18 Grigor Shaghoyan was notified that criminal proceedings will not be instituted due to absence of corpus delicti (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, December 14-20, 2007).
On December 21 the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Miklos Haraszti announced he was concerned that “GALA” TV company may cease broadcasting as a result of pressure by authorities. “The recent cases of harassment and violence against independent and opposition media have contributed to an atmosphere of intimidation and fear in the journalistic community of Armenia”, said the letter of Miklos Haraszti to the Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vardan Oskanian. In his letter Miklos Haraszti expressed hope that “the local authorities will not make arbitrary decisions and demonstrate goodwill for a compromise settlement, so that ‘GALA’ TV can continue broadcasting”.
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media also expressed his concern regarding the explosion at the entrance of “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” newspaper that occurred in the early morning of December 13 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, December 7-13, 2007). “I urge Armenia’s law enforcement bodies to punish the perpetrators not just for the sake of justice, but also to give support to freedom of expression in the country”, Miklos Haraszti stated, expressing hope that the Government of Armenia will fulfill its OSCE commitments to ensure safe and favorable working conditions for the media, so that the media can contribute to a fair election campaign.
CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS INSTITUTED VERSUS “HAIKAKAN ZHAMANAK” DAILY
On December 20, 2007 the RA General Prosecutor’s Office instituted criminal proceedings on Articles 135 (“Libel”) and 136 (“Insult”) of the RA Criminal Code versus “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily. The case investigation is assumed by the Police of the Center community of Yerevan. According to the RA General Prosecutor’s Office, the criminal proceedings were instituted upon an appeal by the leader of the National Democratic Union Vazgen Manukian. As it has been reported, the statement that Vazgen Manukian released on December 19 said that on December 15, 2007 “Haikakan Zhamanak” had published an article “Mein Kampf – ‘My Struggle’ of Vazgen Manukian”. In the beginning of the publication the newspaper stated that its quotes fragments from a manuscript titled “How to Do”, authored by Vazgen Manukian and discovered on September 27, 1996 during the search at the office of the National Democratic Union. According to “Haikakan” Zhamanak”, the manuscript narrates a series of steps necessary to implement for Vazgen Manukian to become the President of Armenia. Vazgen Manukian announced he was not the author of this manuscript and explained his appeal to the Prosecutor’s Office by “the urgency of the issue as well as the cynicism, with which the newspaper attempted to insult, libel” him. “I would not have gone to the Prosecutor’s Office, had the Editor of the newspaper taken my offer – to send the document for an expert assessment jointly with my representative”, the statement of Vazgen Manukian stressed (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, December 14-20, 2007).
With regard to the publication in “Haikakan Zhamanak” “Aravot” daily on December 27, 2007 quoted the interview of the Chief Editor of “Hayastani Hanrapetutiun” daily Tigran Farmanian to the Armenian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In particular, Tigran Farmanian said that the fragments of manuscript, allegedly authored by Vazgen Manukian, were published in “02” newspaper on October 17 and 31, 1996. The newspaper was the print organ of the RA Ministry of Interior and at that time was headed by Tigran Farmanian. In the lead to the first publication, Tigran Farmanian noted, it was mentioned that the manuscript was found on the table of Vazgen Manukian during the search, however, it was not maintained that he was the author.
A TRIBUTE TO TIGRAN NAGHDALIAN AND GARNIK ANANIAN
On December 28, 2007 at Journalism Department of Yerevan State University a lecture room was inaugurated, named after the Chairman of the Council of the Public TV and Radio Company of Armenia Tigran Naghdalian, assassinated this day five years ago. The Tigran Naghdalian lecture room was set up with the assistance of Public TV and Radio Company. During the ceremony it was announced the PTRC has also established a special Tigran Naghdalian Scholarship for YSU journalism students.
On the same day the Center of Multimedia Journalism at YSU Journalism Department was given the name of one of its founder, the corresponding member of the RA National Science Academy, Professor Garnik Ananian, the many-year dean of journalism school, who passed away in November 2007.
SUIT OF ARMENIAN NATIONAL MOVEMENT VERSUS “SHANT” TV REFUSED
On January 9, 2008 the court of primary jurisdiction of Arabkir and Kanaker-Zeytun communities of Yerevan announced the ruling on the suit of Armenian National Movement (ANM) versus “Shant” TV company. As it has been reported, the plaintiff demanded that the TV company refute the information discrediting to the party that was communicated on November 30, 2007 on the evening “Horizon” newscast of “Shant” TV channel. The newscast reported an anonymous phone call to the newsroom with threats to explode the TV company if it aired libel on the First President of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosian once again. The information had also a comment from the program host: “We condemn any terrorist step, any threat – whether from ANM or any other political force.” In the opinion of the plaintiff, in “Shant” communication the anonymous phone threat was unduly linked to ANM, which discredited the reputation and dignity of the party and its members. The court hearing started on December 13, 2007 (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, December 14-20, 2007).
At the session of January 9 the suit of ANM was refused. In the opinion of the court, the communication of “Shant” TV company contained no elements discrediting to ANM.
“YERKIR” WEEKLY TEMPORARILY BECOMES A DAILY
On January 8, 2008 “Yerkir” newspaper, the official organ of the Supreme Body of “Dashnaktsutiun” party of Armenia, started to be published five times a week. As YPC was told by the editorial staff of the newspaper, the transition from weekly publication to daily is related to the upcoming presidential elections, after which “Yerkir” will become a weekly again.
“ZHAMANAK-YEREVAN”: A NEW EDITOR IN THE NEW YEAR
Starting since 2008 the executive editor of “Zhamanak-Yerevan” daily is Aydin Morikian, previously the head of “Hayastani Hanrapetutiun”, “Orran”, “Avangard” newspapers, “Hayatsk Yerevanits” magazine.