JOURNALISTIC ASSOCIATIONS BELIEVE DRAFT LAW ON “FAKE ACCOUNTS” WILL CAUSE NEW PROBLEMS
On March 14, Yerevan Press Club, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Media Initiatives Center (formerly, Internews Armenia), Freedom of Information Center, “Asparez” Journalists’ Club, Public Journalism Club, Media Ethics Observatory and Information Disputes Council made a statement regarding the amendments to the Article 1087․1 “Order and Conditions of Compensation of Damage to the Honor, Dignity and/or Business Reputation” of the RA Civil Code.
As we have reported, on March 4 the draft law on establishing responsibility for dissemination publications and comments taken from fake accounts was put in circulation at Armenian National Assembly (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 4-10, 2014).
“The initiative of a group of deputies of the RA National Assembly to amend Article 1087.1 of the RA Civil Code, aimed at countering the so-called “fake accounts” (i.e., anonymous users or users hiding under falsified names) have raised serious concerns among the media and active Internet users. We believe that this initiative will cause new problems, rather than solve existing ones.
Most of those conflicts, which legislative changes mentioned above are intended to settle down, may be solved within the framework of the current legislation, judicial precedents and relevant comments of the RA Court of Cassation, as well as through mechanisms of appealing, which exist in social networks.
At the same time this legislative initiative is fraught with serious risks for freedom of speech, the right of citizens to receive and disseminate information, and the protection of personal data. It cannot have a significant impact on the flow of information that contains libel, insult and invasion to privacy. However, amendments to the law will have a chilling effect on honest participants of the information process, and Armenian Internet users will be forced to “migrate” to the segments of the virtual space, which are inaccessible to national jurisdiction. They will also create conditions for selective application of the law and persecution of citizens for subjective reasons.
Despite the fact that the draft law makes certain specification in regulating the behavior of users of social networks, its possible positive effect commensurate with the threats that are evident not only for freedom of speech, but also for development of communication technologies in Armenia, business in the areas of web hosting services, national domain space and e-commerce, which is one of the most dynamic fields of modern business.
We call on:
– Authors of the amendments to withdraw the draft law from circulation;
– RA National Assembly to dedicate the upcoming March 31 parliamentary hearings to conceptual approaches to the regulation of the Internet, without which certain legislative initiatives cannot be effective;
– The legislative and executive branches of Armenian government to prepare legislation covering the scope of modern communications, solely in the context of full compliance with the standards developed and adopted by the European institutions;
– All interested individuals and organizations to realize the importance of self-regulation in the field of information and contribute to the development of its mechanisms in Armenia”, says the statement of the nine journalistic associations.
BAN ON ALCOHOL ADVERTISING ABOLISHED TO TAKE CARE OF MEDIA, OR..?
On March 12, the National Assembly of Armenia adopted in the first reading amendments to the RA Law “On Advertising”, abolishing the ban on advertising strong alcohol beverages on television and radio.
If these amendments adopted, TV and radio channels will be eligible to broadcast commercials of strong spirits (with an alcohol content of more than 20 units) from 10.00 p.m. to 06.00 a.m. The ban on advertising alcohol beverages (except Armenian brandy) and tobacco in broadcasting media, as well as restriction of such advertising in the print media (only in the first and last pages of newspapers, on the cover and in the first and last pages of magazines) was legally introduced on June 26, 2002 and entered into force on January 1, 2003. Then journalistic community noted that this ban had already affected broadcasters’ finances, who had to search for scarce advertising opportunities. At the same time, MPs’ claims that broadcasters’ losses would be compensated with the help of the World Health Organization, intending to facilitate placement of anti-tobacco and anti-alcohol commercials in the Armenian air (by the way, nothing like this has happened in the future), were treated with suspicion. Besides, quite an appropriate question was made then: why the ban on advertising strong alcohol beverages bypass Armenian brandy, if MPs were so concerned with the health of the nation? The answer was obvious: someone badly needed to protect someone’s interests then (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, June 22-28, 2002).
12 years later interests appear to have changed. Now the authors of the draft law (by the way, including MPs from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia) justify their initiative with a desire to help strengthen financial position of TV channels. Legal background of the draft law includes the figure in 1 billion drams (about 1.74 million euros): according to the authors of the amendments, broadcasters will be able to make this sum of money annually on advertising strong spirits.
The authors appear to believe that the proposed time limits are enough to protect minors from the harmful effects of such advertising, counting on the fact that teenagers are asleep after 10.00 p.m. Still, there is an assumption that Armenian teenagers don’t like Armenian brandy, and therefore it is still possible to broadcast its commercials without any restrictions, thus, as stated in legal background to the amendments, “legally imposing public policies in the advertising market to encourage local production of brandy”.
The same question arises, just like 12 years ago: who benefits from it? It should be mentioned that opposition parliamentary factions did not participate in voting for adoption of amendments in the first reading. Their representatives have expressed the view that abolishing the ban on alcohol advertising works oligarchs’ favor, who are almost monopoly importers and producers of spirits in the country.
AMENDMENTS PROHIBITING COMMERCIALS ON PUBLIC TV PASSED THE FIRST READING
On March 12, the National Assembly of Armenia adopted in the first reading the amendments to the RA Laws “On Television and Radio” and “On Advertising”. These amendments introduce a ban on commercial advertising on the Public Television of Armenia (PTA).
As we have reported, this legislative initiative was put forth and approved by the Government of Armenia at its December 26, 2013 session. In particular, it is proposed to introduce a ban on commercial advertising on PTA, however retaining social ads, as well as acknowledgements of the sponsors in cultural, educational, scientific, and sports programs only once throughout the program. At that, the total duration of the above-mentioned advertising should not exceed 90 seconds within an air hour. The Government substantiated its legislative initiative by the fact that the cancellation of commercials in public broadcasting will free time for higher value programs (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, January 17-23, 2014 ).
During the debates on the amendments at the parliament, Nikol Pashinian, a MP from the opposition Armenian National Congress faction, noted that the released 1.5 billion drams (more than 2 million 600 thousand euros) from the annual amount of advertising at the public broadcaster will “enrich the media Empire” of the son-in-law of the President of Armenia. In particular, “Armenia” TV company with its satellite channels and “Shant” TV company will obtain the released advertising contracts.
Should the amendments be approved, they would become effective on September 1, 2014.
ARMENIAN PRIME MINISTER’S RELATIVES SUED “ARAVOT” DAILY
The Court of General Jurisdiction of Arabkir and Kanaker-Zeitun Administrative Districts of Yerevan accepted a lawsuit, filed by Narineh Sargsian and Hrant Suvarian against the conjoints Susanna Davtian and Lemberik Khachatrian; the founder of the “Aravot” daily, “Aravot Oratert” LLC, is involved in the case as a third party.
The piece headlined “Prime Minister’s Daughter and Her Father-in-Law Seized My Property”, posted in “Aravot” on February 7, 2014, became the reason for suing. The conjoints, in particular, stated in the article that relatives of the Prime Minister Tigran Sargsian misappropriated their “building of stone”. A comment of Hrant Suvarian, the head of Financial Control Department of RA Central Bank, denying any offences on their part against someone’s property, was published as well.
In the lawsuit on protection of honor and dignity, the Prime Minister’s daughter and her father-in-law demand from the respondents a refutation and compensation of damage, caused by libel, in the amount of 300,000 AMD (about 540 euros) for each of the plaintiffs, as well as to pay 250,000 AMD each for attorney’s fees.