Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter – 03/25/2004


MARCH 19-25, 2004










On March 20-21 in Yerevan a round table meeting “Reforms of Armenian Media
Legislation and Their Compliance With European Standards” was held. It was
organized by Yerevan Press Club and “Article 19” Global Campaign for Freedom
of Expression. Representatives of executive, legislative, judicial power,
NGOs and media of Armenia, international organizations, foreign experts
participated in the meeting. RA Minister of Justice David Harutyunyan and
Head of OSCE Office in Yerevan, Ambassador Vladimir Pryakhin opened the
round table.

The meeting participants discussed the whole spectrum of legislative
initiatives regulating media sphere and adopted by the Parliament in the
recent year: RA Law “On Mass Communication” (Deputy Minister of Justice
Ashot Abovian made a presentation on this issue), amendments to RA Law “On
Television and Radio” (presentation by RA National Assembly deputy Vazgen
Khachikian). Particular attention was paid to the amendments to RA Law “On
Freedom of Information” recently adopted by the Government (presentation by
“Article 19” Legal Officer Peter Noorlander). Other no less urgent topics
were devoted to Armenia’s honoring of the commitments to the Council of
Europe in freedom of expression (presentation by YPC Expert Mesrop
Harutyunyan), necessity for decriminalization of libel and insult
(presentation by International Expert Ireneusz Cezary Kaminski), Polish
experience in public broadcasting (presentation by Member of Polish
Journalists’ Association Board of Directors Agnieszka Romaszewska).

At the round table, Article 19 publicized its statement on the situation
with media legislation in Armenia. Emphasizing a certain progress in
developing legal guarantees for freedom of expression and media diversity
achieved by Armenia in the past four years – since its accession to CE, the
organization expressed its concern over a number of problems demanding
urgent solution. In particular, “Article 19” statement notes that regular
refusal of the National Commission on Television and Radio of broadcast
license to “A1+” TV Company testifies to “lack of political independence” of
this body regulating private broadcasters’ activity.

On March 21, the last working day of the round table, one more statement was
adopted – this time by its participants. The statement runs,

“We, the participants in the “Round Table on Reforms of Armenian Media
Legislation and their Compliance with European Standards”, organized by
Yerevan Press Club and “Article 19″ Global Campaign for Freedom of
Expression, meeting on 20-21 March 2004,

Emphasizing the crucial importance of freedom of expression and information
as an individual human right, as a cornerstone of democracy and as a means
of ensuring respect for all human rights and freedoms;

Concerned that while some important steps have been taken to bring Armenia’s
media laws into line with European standards on the right to freedom of
expression, much remains to be done;

Call on the Government of the Republic of Armenia to take urgent action to
address the following concerns:

Criminal Defamation

The current harsh criminal provisions on defamation and insult should be
abolished and replaced with appropriate civil defamation laws, incorporating
the following standards:

– Actual damages awarded for defamation must be proportionate to the harm
caused and take into account whether or not alternative remedies, such as
the right to reply, have been accessed. Moral damages or any other punitive
awards should be limited and take into account their likely impact on the
wider exercise of the right to freedom of expression;

– Public officials, because of their status as servants of the people,
should enjoy less protection than ordinary citizens;

– No one should be held liable for the expression of an honestly held
opinion; and

– The burden of proof of the falsity of an allegation in a matter of public
of concern should be on the plaintiff.

Broadcasting Legislation

The independence of the National Commission of Television and Radio must be
strengthened. The entire process for appointing members should be open and
democratic, include full public participation and consultation and should
not be dominated by any particular political or commercial interest.
Membership overall should be required to be reasonably representative of
society as a whole. The independence of the Council of the Public Television
and Radio Company must be strengthened likewise.

The licensing procedures included in the Broadcasting Law of 2000 must also
be made more transparent. In particular, the Commission should provide full
and complete written reasons for the grant or refusal of any broadcasting
license application.

Freedom of Information

The proposed amendments to the Law on Freedom of Information threaten
seriously to undermine the right of access to information. These amendments
should be abandoned and the current law must be implemented with immediate
effect. In particular, the implementing rules and regulations necessary to
make the Law operational must be prepared immediately, in an open and
consultative process.

Any future amendments to the Law must promote rather than restrict the right
to access to information, for example by limiting fees and reducing
restrictions, and be adopted in a consultative process fully involving civil
society, as supported by the OSCE Office in Yerevan. We welcome the
statement of intent made by the Minister of Justice in this regard and we
ask that before any further discussions take place, a report is published in
which the concerns of the Ministry of Justice with regard to the September
2003 Law are clearly set out.

Mass Media Legislation

We welcome steps taken in the Law on Mass Communication to protect
journalists’ sources, and we also welcome the statement made by the Deputy
Minister of Justice regarding further work to bring criminal procedure laws
in line with this. At the same time, we are highly concerned at the
restriction the law places on the dissemination by journalists of classified
information. This restriction violates international standards and must be

We are also concerned that the accreditation procedures currently being
prepared should promote, not restrict, the right of journalists to report on
the activities of state bodies. They should be fair, transparent and
independently administered, and not create yet another bureaucratic hurdle
for journalists to overcome.


We request that a permanent group be set up with the Ministry of Justice to
involve fully civil society representatives in any discussion of present or
future laws and regulations that affect the exercise of the right to freedom
of expression, including the implementation of these laws. This group should
collaborate and consult with the Working Group under the parliamentary
Commission on Science, Education, Culture and Youth Issues.”


On March 23, RA Ministry of Justice, Internews Armenia and “Article 19”
Global Campaign for Freedom of Expression adopted a joint communique as a
result of two days’ discussions (March 22-23) on amendments to RA Law “On
Freedom of Information”, approved by Armenian Government on February 12,

The sides agreed that the discussion on introducing amendments to Law “On
Freedom of Information”, adopted in September 2003, should not impede
implementation of the existing Law. “The Ministry of Justice welcomes any
proposals that would facilitate the implementation of the existing Freedom
of Information Law and will consider them seriously”, the communique notes.
Any amendments to the Law will aim to strengthen and clarify protection of
the right to freedom of information as recognized in this Law, the RA
Constitution and international agreements, as further mentioned.

Besides, the communique emphasizes that “in the process of drafting and
adopting amendments to the Freedom of Information Law there will be full
consultation with civil society, including the Freedom of Information Civic
Initiative, Internews Armenia, the Yerevan Press Club and others, and
international organizations”.

The communique also contains accorded commentary on several articles of the
Law “On Freedom of Information”.


On March 4 RA Government approved the Model Procedure for Accrediting
Journalists in the State Administration (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, March
5-11, 2004). After our repeated addresses to the author of the Model
Procedure, RA Ministry of Justice, the text of the ratified document was
finally provided. The draft of this sublegislative act was subject of
detailed and constructive discussion with a number of journalistic
associations and media. In particular, Yerevan Press Club, Journalists Union
of Armenia, Internews Armenia and the Committee to Protect Freedom of
Expression made their suggestions to the Ministry of Justice on amending
several provisions of the Procedure.

Thus the mentioned organizations proposed to introduce in the Procedure a
provision on prohibiting any form of censorship of accredited journalist’s
professional activity by a state institution. This suggestion was introduced
in the ratified text of the document.

According to the journalistic associations, the draft of the Model Procedure
presented extra obstacles for accreditation. The latter ones were removed,
similarly to the point providing for the cases in which the journalist is
not eligible for accreditation. Alongside this, the professional
organizations proposed to stipulate for the ban on filing any claims except
the ones specified in the point determining the accreditation procedure.
This suggestion was not included in the official document ratified by the

The journalistic organizations also suggested that accreditation limitations
be purely technical, in particular, be conditioned, for instance, by the
absence of proper venues at the disposal of a state administration body,
etc. However, the final version of the Procedure preserved the quantitative
limitation as well: no more than two journalists and two photo
correspondents/two cameramen from each media.

The suggestion on simplifying the procedure of access of media
representatives in state administration body – by identification card and
list of accredited journalists – was partially accepted.

On the initiative of journalistic organizations, a point was added in the
Model Procedure obligating the ministries no less than twice a month to
provide journalists with a summary report of their activity, as for the
ministers – no less than once in half a year to inform about the work done
at a press conference.

Thus, the ratified document may be the result of a certain compromise
between the Ministry of Justice and journalistic organizations. However, it
is necessary to admit that on the basis of this sublegislative act each
state administration body develops its own accreditation regulations. The
latter ones and their implementation will allow assessing appropriateness
and effectiveness of the Model Procedure.


On March 25, the court of primary jurisdiction of Arabkir and Kanaker-Zeytun
communities of Yerevan rejected the suit of a member of RA State Commission
on Protection of Economic Competition Artashes Bakhshian versus “Delovoy
Express” business weekly. The plaintiff demanded that the editorial office
republish his interview to the weekly since the content of the latter, in
his opinion, was distorted as a result of editorial interference (see detail
in YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 12-18, 2004).


On March 23, RA Commercial Court rejected the suit of “A1+” founder,
“Meltex” LLC, versus the National Commission on Television and Radio. The
litigation was centered on the results of the broadcast licensing
competitions on June 11 and July 18, 2003 at which the bids by “A1+” were
assessed lower than the ones of its rivals (see YPC Weekly Newsletter,
November 7-13, 2003). The plaintiff claimed for obligating the National
Commission to provide grounds for refusing broadcast license on the results
of these competitions.

The hearings on this case started on November 3 last year, and at the
previous session of February 10, the representative of the respondent filed
a petition on challenging the judge that was accepted (see YPC Weekly
Newsletter, February 6-12, 2004). The new judge managed to reject the suit
in just one session.


On March 19, Fund for Speech Freedom Support announced a campaign on April
2, 2004 in support of “A1+” TV company. On this very day, two years ago
“A1+” was deprived of air as a result of refusal by National Commission on
Television and Radio of broadcast license. Since then, the TV company
unsuccessfully participated in seven more license competitions conducted by
National Commission and still more unsuccessfully challenged the decisions
of this regulating body in the courts.

In the course of these two years, numerous international organizations,
journalistic community of the country repeatedly addressed the Armenian
authorities with a claim not to politicize “A1+” issue and to give the
society an opportunity to hear an alternative viewpoint. The recent example
of this was the Final Statement and Recommendations adopted at the Sixth
Session of EU-Armenia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, held on March
15-16 in Yerevan. Among the Recommendations, adopted unanimously and
pursuant to Article 89 of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement,
Parliamentary Cooperation Committee “draws attention to the vital role
played by a free press in ensuring the development of democracy in Armenia
and stresses in particular the importance of pluralism in the electronic

The initiative group on the support of “A1+” TV company calls on everyone
who values freedom of expression to participate on April 2 in the procession
and rally thus supporting the following claims to the Armenian authorities:
to conduct a competition for vacant frequencies and to involve
representatives of public organizations in the process of rating assessments
of the bidders’ competition packages.

The procession will start at 14.00 from “A1+” TV building (15, Grigor
Lusavorich St., Yerevan) and will end in a rally (at 15.00) at Yerevan
Freedom Square.


On March 18, an event devoted to 2000 issue of “Yerevani Hamalsaran”
newspaper was held in Yerevan State University. It was founded in 1920 at a
time with the establishment of the University.

Yerevan Press Club congratulates the colleagues with jubilee and wishes them
future success!

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Editor of YPC Newsletter – Elina POGHOSBEKIAN
Yerevan Press Club
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