Regarding the adoption in the first reading of the Draft Law proposing to increase the maximum amount of monetary compensation for libel and insult
On 11 February, 2021, the RA National Assembly adopted in the first reading a draft law authored by Alen Simonyan, Vice-Speaker of the parliament, according to which by the Article 1087.1 of the RA Civil Code the maximum amount of monetary compensation for libel and insult must be multiplied fivefold to reach 10 million and 5 million AMD, respectively. We hereby note that yet another time the National Assembly is adopting a law related to media, which is not based on profound research and advice of competent expert groups.
This said, on September 16, 2020, when the above draft was first circulated we made a statement, noting that drastic increase of the amount of compensation for libel and insult may pose serious threats for the whole media field to the detriment of not only indecent platforms but also journalists respecting the law and professional ethics, especially if we take into consideration that very often it is the substantiated criticism of the media that is perceived as defamation or insult and result in judicial disputes.
We hereby reassert that the proposed amendment undermines the balance between the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention and the right to reputation as an element of the right to privacy guaranteed by Article 8 of the same Convention. Apart from this, it undermines the important principle reflected in the Decision No. 997 of the RA Constitutional Court dated November 15, 2011, according to which when awarding damages in libel and insult cases it is necessary to consider the financial situation of media in order for such liability not to destroy them.
This draft that has passed its first reading is even more alarming in light of the facts that solution to the problems in media field is being sought by means of repressive legislative amendments and their enforcement. A vivid example of the aforesaid is the package of amendments to the Law “On Mass Communication” and the Code on Administrative Offences, which envisage banning references to anonymous sources in publications and a fine in the amount of 500,000 AMD for breaching this ban and in the amount of 1 million AMD in case of repetitive violations.
In the circumstances of such regressive initiatives any step of the authorities in the field of the media is willingly or unwillingly perceived as another pressure on freedom of speech conditioned by narrow personal interests and priorities, as is the case of restrictions imposed by the RA National Security Service in respect of the media work in some areas in Syunik. The statements and clarifications made in this respect, as well as the actions taken create a lot of uncertainty, are controversial and inspire search for hidden agendas behind them.
Taking into consideration the ongoing unacceptable processes, as well as the likely negative implications of the legislative amendments on libel and insult in case of their adoption, we, the undersigned organizations, demand that:
– The RA National Assembly postpones the second reading and adoption of the above draft, and initiates public discussions on the problem of libel and insult imparted by the media and the possible countermeasures to this;
– The RA President refuses to sign the law in case it is adopted by the NA, expressing his clear position on this regressive initiative;
– The state institutions ensure the fulfilment of the rights to freedom of information and access to information when building their relations with the media;
– The international organizations discuss the problems of adoption of legislation concerning the media by the Armenian parliament in blatant neglect of the related international norms, as well as take measures to rectify the situation.
COMMITTEE TO PROTECT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
YEREVAN PRESS CLUB
MEDIA INITIATIVES CENTER
JOURNALISTS’ CLUB “ASPAREZ”
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION CENTER
MEDIA DIVERSITY INSTITUTE-ARMENIA
PUBLIC JOURNALISM CLUB
“JOURNALISTS FOR THE FUTURE” NGO
“JOURNALISTS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS” NGO
GORIS PRESS CLUB