Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter – 05/06/2004


APRIL 30 – MAY 6, 2004













On May 3 in Yerevan “Partnership for Open Society” initiative that unites
around 50 public organizations of Armenia, held a round table meeting on the
World Press Freedom Day.

Ambassador of Germany in Armenia Hans-Wulf Bartels who opened the meeting
congratulated the journalists on the international professional day. He
stressed that the European Union closely follows the situation of freedom of
expression in Armenia.

The Country Manager of World Bank Armenia Office Roger Robinson mentioned as
a positive example of cooperation with the journalistic community the book
“The Right to Tell. Role of Mass Media in Economic Development”, published
by Yerevan Press Club with the assistance of the WB and the Open Society
Institute (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, April 2-8, 2004). In his speech Mr.
Robinson referred to the recently published article of the World Bank
President James Wolfenson “Press Freedom Helps Fight Poverty”. Basing on the
researches showing that the freer the press is, the less corruption there is
in the country, the WB President believes: “As we mark World Press Freedom
Day on May 3, this year’s campaign theme, ‘Press Freedom Pays’, provides an
excellent opportunity to reflect on the catalytic role that an open and free
media can play in economic development and particularly in the fight against
global poverty.”

The effective cooperation of the legislative and the “fourth” estates of the
country is illustrated by the work on the improvement and adoption of the RA
Law “On Mass Communication”, the Chairwoman of the Standing Committee on
Science, Education, Culture and Youth Issues of the RA National Assembly
Hranush Hakobian said.

The representative of the UN Department of Public Information Valeri
Tkatchouk read out the message of the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in
which the United Nations, that proclaimed May 3 the World Press Freedom Day
in 1993, reaffirms its “commitment to the freedom and independence of the
media as an essential requirement for building a better and fairer world”
and states its readiness to do its utmost for the journalists to be able “to
do their vital work in safety and without fear”.

The possibility to perform the professional duty without caution is becoming
all the more important in Armenia due to the frequent and unpunished
displays of violence towards media representatives. The Chairwoman of the
Journalists Union of Armenia Astghik Gevorgian familiarized the participants
of the round table with the statement of the “Partnership for Open Society”
initiative for May 3.

The statement says:

“‘Partnership for Civil Society’ initiative congratulates all the media on
the World Press Freedom Day.

Having analyzed the media situation in Armenia, we state:

1. In 2003 the RA National Assembly passed two laws that directly relate to
the media sphere – “On Freedom of Information” and “On Mass Communication”.
The two documents were adopted as a result of public dialogue and are mainly
compliant with international standards. At the same time it is a source of
much concern that amendments to the RA Law “On Television and Radio”,
criticized by the journalistic community and international organizations,
were shallow and inessential, failed to solve the main problem – ensuring
the independence of the two regulatory bodies, the National Commission on
Television and Radio and the Council of the Public Television and Radio
Company. In the legislation another concern-provoking fact is that the
implementation of the RA Law “On Freedom of Information” is in fact delayed,
as the government to this day has not fulfilled the provision of the law: it
has not defined the procedure for provision of information or its duplicate
(copy) by the state structures and local self-governance bodies, state
institutions and organizations. And, finally, having adopted legislation
containing rather progressive clauses that regulate the media activities,
the authorities must amend other laws to make them correspond to
international standards and the newly passed bills. This calls, in
particular, for the removal of libel and insult provisions from the Criminal
Code passed in 2003 (Articles 135, 136, 318) that endanger the freedom of
expression and can induce media to exercise self-censorship.

2. The consistent refusal to provide license to “A1+” TV company by the
results of the broadcast licensing competitions in 2003 came to reconfirm
that the National Commission on Television and Radio is not guided by the
principles of objectivity and impartiality. Moreover, the National
Commission declined the proposal of non-governmental organizations to
involve independent experts with a right to consultative vote at least in
one of the competitions, although this procedure is provided for by the law
and the presence of experts would have ensured the transparency of the

3. The Public Television of Armenia remains an addendum to the executive
power and serves as its rostrum. This TV company has adopted the policy of
praising the authorities and relegating the opposition, does not provide
objective and impartial information, diversity of opinion.

4. The press mostly fulfils its function of disseminating diverse
information, however, the newspapers circulations are small, they are mostly
sold out in the capital and the regional centers. The press remains
polarized and entangled in the controversy of authorities and opposition.

5. On April 5 and in the early morning of April 13, 2004 violence was exerte
d on the journalists covering the opposition rallies. If in the former case
those who beat the journalists and broke their photo and video cameras were
people dressed in civilian clothes, on the latter occasion the attackers
were policemen. These offenders have not as yet been found and punished, and
the damages to the media have not been compensated.

6. The reputable international organization “Freedom House” qualified the
Armenian media in 2003 as not free.

We, the representatives of non-governmental organizations of “Partnership
for Open Society” again demand the law enforcement bodies to find and punish
the individuals who violently attacked journalists on April 5 and April 13
as strictly as the law stipulates.

We demand that Armenian authorities ensure the free and unimpeded activity
of media and journalists, remove Articles 135,136 and 318 from the Criminal
Code as being dangerous for the freedom of expression, refraining from their
application till this is accomplished.

We state that we will continue to advocate the improvement of the
media-related legislation, the establishment of real freedom of expression
and truly independent media.”

During his presentation at the round table the President of Yerevan Press
Club Boris Navasardian quoted the address of the UNESCO Director General
Koiichiro Matsuura: “The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is the
media in conflict and post-conflict zones and in countries in transition. In
such situations, the media’s work to provide independent and trustworthy
information can contribute significantly to processes of reconstruction and
reconciliation.” In this regard the YPC President noted that the Armenian
media, using the freedom that the authorities must guarantee, are to ensure
the free information flow and by this contribute to the establishment of a
dialogue both in the country and on the regional level to arrive at
consensus of the parties.

Among those speaking at the event were the UNDP Resident Representative in
Armenia Lise Grande, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States in
Armenia Vivian Walker, the Executive Director of the OSI Assistance
Foundation-Armenia Larisa Minasian.

At the round table the statement of “Article 19” international organization
was disseminated on the incidents of violence against journalists. “Article
19” in particular called upon the authorities of Armenia “to respect the
international standards in the field of freedom of expression, to conduct an
immediate and full investigation of the reported assaults of journalists and
human rights activists, and to undertake all necessary measures to ensure
the safety of journalists in the future”.


On April 28 the international human rights organization “Freedom House”
published the annual global survey of media independence in 2003.

“Press freedom suffered a substantial worldwide decline in 2003” is the main
conclusion of the researchers who evaluated the media situation in 193
countries of the world. Legal harassment, political pressure and violence
against journalists combined to worsen conditions in many countries,
resulting in the second consecutive year of global decline in freedom for
news media, “Freedom House” stressed.

The situation with the media was evaluated using the numerical scale from 1
to 100 based on the following criteria: free (1-30 points), partly free
(31-60), not free (61-100) – the lower the score the higher the degree of
freedom. The freedom of press was evaluated along three dimensions:
legislation influencing media; political pressure, control and violence
towards media; economic pressure and control over media. The sum of the
scores along the three dimensions yielded the aggregate rating of the
condition of media in a country.

In 2003 the rating of Armenia made 64 points. In other words, the Armenian
media remain in “not free” category where they found themselves in 2002,
having scored 65 points. The insignificant difference in the evaluation of
the press freedom situation in Armenia in 2003 versus 2002 is due to the
somewhat improved legislation.

As to the CIS overall, “other than in Georgia, the situation remained deeply
troubled”. Having scored 54 points, similarly to 2002, the Georgian media
retain the characteristics of partly free ones, while the Moldova was unable
to do it and entered the category of “not free” press (63). The somewhat
improved situation in Azerbaijan (71 points versus 73 in 2002) did not
impact the general picture of the media in this country as they remain not
free. The media of other CIS countries also remain in this category. The
most unfavorable ones are the ratings of Turkmenistan (95), Uzbekistan and
Belarus (84 each).


On May 3 in Yerevan a demonstration and rally to support “A1+” TV company
were held. About 150 participants of the action passed from the House of
Press to Charles Aznavour Square. At the meeting on the World Press Freedom
Day the demands of the journalistic community to the authorities of the
country were voiced again: to hold broadcast licensing competitions for the
vacant frequencies and involve the representatives of public organizations
into the process of rating evaluation of the bids.


On May 3 the National Press Club (NPC) once again announced the names of
“enemies of press” in 2003. For the third year already the main media-enemy
has been named to be the Armenian President Robert Kocharian. This time the
title was conferred on him in particular for signing the RA Law “On Mass
Communication” and not punishing those who obstructed the professional
activities of journalists during the opposition rallies. Another “press
enemy” was named to be the Chairwoman of the Parliament Committee on
Science, Education, Culture and Youth Issues Hranush Hakobian that assisted
the adoption of the Law “On Mass Communication”, by, as NPC thinks,
concealing the conclusions of the international experts from the deputies
and thus disorienting them.

Notably, another three of the nine candidates were nominated by NPC to this
title because of the same Law “On Mass Communication” – the author of the
draft law himself, the RA Deputy Minister of Justice Ashot Abovian, the
Speaker of the RA National Assembly Artur Baghdasarian, who, as NPC alleges,
held the voting on the draft with violations, and the President of Yerevan
Press Club Boris Navasardian, who assisted the adoption of the law.

Meanwhile, Yerevan Press Club continues to think that the RA Law “On Mass
Communication”, passed in December 2003, is generally progressive and
complies with international standards. This opinion as well as the reasons
for the unhealthy climate around the draft were given a detailed analysis
and argumentation in the article of YPC President Boris Navasardian “Going
towards Liberal Legislation through the Self-Elimination War”, published in
the YPC Weekly Newsletter (see the issue of December 12-18, 2003).

As to the attitude of the National Press Club to this law, it is prompted by
the fact that this organization on its behalf had proposed an alternative
draft law on media, evaluated very negatively both by the Government and the
NA, as well as by the media experts, and NPC cannot forgive everyone whose
lawmaking proved to be more effective.


On May 5 the press-service of the RA General Prosecutor’s Office reported
that by the order of the General Prosecutor Aghvan Hovsepian the criminal
case on the violent acts against media representatives during the opposition
rally on April 5 is passed to the authority of Yerevan Prosecutor’s Office.
The proceedings were instituted by the RA Police on Article 258 (“Public
Disorder”) of the RA Criminal Code. As it has been reported, on April 5
journalists were assaulted by a group of “strong guys”, when they tried to
shoot them throwing eggs at the rally participants. As a result the media
and their representatives incurred physical, material and moral damage (see
details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, April 2-8, 2004).


On May 4 the representatives of the traffic police of Kotayk region of
Armenia impeded the work of the shooting crew of “Aravot” TV channel. This
was reported on May 5 by “Aravot” daily. On the eve of an opposition rally
in the capital the TV journalists tried to check whether the complaints of
citizens that the policemen restrict their freedom of movement on the main
routes to Yerevan are true. According to “Aravot” daily, at the moment of
shooting the car with the TV channel staff was stopped by the
representatives of the Nairi Division of traffic police who called their
boss to help. Arriving on site, the head of Nairi Division of traffic police
Avetik Abrahamian, as the newspaper writes, first demanded the journalists
to give him the tape and then made them erase the shots on it.

As it has been reported, “Aravot” TV company (previously “Kentron”) has
changed its owner and name quite recently (see details in YPC Weekly
Newsletter, April 23-29, 2004) and has taken a temporary time out till May
10, to go on air with a new image. In other words, “Aravot” TV has not as
yet started its broadcasts, but the problems with law enforcement bodies
already have.


On April 29 RA Central Election Commission, in accordance with the RA Law
“On Mass Communication”, ratified the Procedure for accrediting journalists
at the RA CEC. The document mainly adheres to the provisions of the Law “On
Mass Communication” as well as the Model Procedure for Accrediting
Journalists at the State Administration Bodies approved by the Government on
March 4 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 19-25, 2004). However, some of the
provisions of the Procedure cause concern that they may become an obstacle
for the activities of journalists. Thus, for example, while according to the
Procedure, the CEC accreditation is sufficient for a journalist to enter any
election commission, Item 8 stipulates restrictions on this: not more than
two journalists and two photographers/2cameramen from each medium. It should
be noted here that the number of district and divisional precincts during
elections in Armenia is usually about a thousand. Besides, Item 17 calls for
coordinating each visit to CEC by an accredited journalist with its
Chairman – unless for CEC events, while the permission of a press-secretary
would have sufficed.


On April 28 the Chairman of Helsinki Association of Armenia Mikael Danielian
addressed a letter to the RA General Prosecutor Aghvan Hovsepian demanding
to institute criminal proceedings against the correspondent of “Hayots
Ashkhar” daily Kima Eghiazarian on clauses 2 and 3 of Article 135 of the RA
Criminal Code (“Libel”). The reason for the appeal was the article by Kima
Eghiazarian titled “Mika’s Hullabaloo for the Council of Europe”
(“Hayots Ashkhar”, April 24, 2004) where, in the opinion of the human
rights activist, an “ungrounded conclusion” is made that Mikael Danielian is
“the spy of the Council of Europe in Armenia”.


The London-based Media Diversity Institute (MDI) held two more seminars on
the subject of “Covering Diversity: Making the Difference” under the South
Caucasus project of MDI “Minority Empowerment and Media Development” with
the support of European Commission. The first of the seminars was held on
April 27-29 in Stepanakert for Karabagh journalists with the assistance of
Stepanakert Press Club. The event was interactive and was moderated by
Milica Pesic (MDI Director), Adam James (free-lance journalist, specialized
on the problems of people with mental disorders) and Elina Poghosbekian
(Editor of YPC Weekly Newsletter).

The second seminar was held on May 1-2 in Yerevan with the assistance of
Yerevan Press Club, the MDI Armenian partner. This time the event was
moderated, besides Milica Pesic, by Alistair Crington (media consultant,
Deputy Editor of “Cyprus Mail” newspaper) and Tatul Hakobian (observer of
“Azg” daily).

During the two seminars the principles of diverse coverage of various social
groups were discussed, as well as the editorial approach to pieces on this
issue, the degree of media attention to the minorities, the need for the
media to avoid the formation of negative stereotypes in the society.


On April 28-29 in Tsaghkadzor a seminar “Key Environmental Issues and Their
Coverage by the Media” was held by the OSCE Office in Yerevan and the Public
(Aarhus) Environmental Information Center. A lecture course of the leading
scientists of the country on the basics of ecology and environmental issues,
environmental legislation and seismology was presented to the seminar
participants – the representatives of local and national media of Armenia.

When reprinting or using the information above, reference to the Yerevan
Press Club is required.

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Editor of YPC Newsletter – Elina POGHOSBEKIAN
Yerevan Press Club
9B, Ghazar Parpetsi str.
375007, Yerevan, Armenia
Tel.: (+ 374 1) 53 00 67; 53 35 41; 53 76 62
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