Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter – 07/01/2004


JUNE 25 – JULY 1, 2004





On June 29 in Yerevan a seminar “Political Developments in Armenia and Their
Media Coverage” was held. The seminar was organized by Yerevan Press Club
with the assistance of Friedrich Naumann Foundation. Representatives of
media, public, also journalistic organizations of Armenia, international
structures took part in the event.

The subject matter of the seminar was pre-conditioned by the events that had
occurred over the past few months with regard to the activities of Armenian
media. These are in particular the opposition rallies, accompanied by
violence against journalists (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, April
2-8, 2004 and April 9-15, 2004), the change of the owner of “Kentron” TV
company, presently called “Aravot TV” (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, April
23-29, 2004), the amendments to the RA Criminal Code provisions on libel and
insult adopted by the parliament recently (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, June
4-10, 2004) and, finally, the speech that the President of Armenia Robert
Kocharian made at the PACE session in Strasbourg on June 23, where the
problems of Armenian media were touched upon too.

The seminar was opened by Asparuh Panov, the deputy head of programs of
Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Romania, Bulgaria and South Caucasus. The
presentation of the Chairman of “Asparez” Journalist’s Club of Gyumri Levon
Barseghian was devoted to the Armenian media reflection of the political
situation in 2004, and the Chairman of the Committee to Protect Freedom of
Expression Ashot Melikyan presented the cases of journalist and media rights
violations through the lens of the inner political developments.

At the seminar the joint statement of Yerevan Press Club, the Journalists
Union of Armenia, Internews Armenia public organization and the Committee to
Protect Freedom of Expression war released, adopted with regard to the June
trial of the case on the attack on journalists on April 5 (see YPC Weekly
Newsletter, June 4-10, 2004) and the lack of progress in the investigation
on other cases of violence against journalists.

“On June 10, 2004 the court of primary jurisdiction of Center and
Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan sentenced two people, who engaged in
violent actions against journalists during the rally of April 5, to a fine
of 100,000 drams each. The process became a comedy show. We cannot call it
otherwise, because both the preliminary investigation and the court
proceedings and the sentence cause doubt and frustration. The proceedings
were only instituted on Part 1 of Article 185 of the RA Criminal Code
(“Premeditated destruction or spoilage of property”), whereas the charges
should have also been introduced on Article 164 (“Obstruction of legitimate
professional activities of journalist”): the violent actions, committed on
April 5 with regard to journalists, contain the signs of crimes, stipulated
by these two Articles of the RA Criminal Code. Therefore, Article 20 of the
RA Criminal Code (“Cumulative offences”) should have been applied which was
not done by the structure implementing the preliminary investigation. The
court on its behalf did not correct the mistake of the preliminary
investigation and did not send the case to additional investigation.

Neither the bodies of preliminary investigation, nor the court displayed any
wish to protect the right of journalists to gather and disseminate
information, to say nothing of the fact that the punishment defined is not
adequate to the misdeed. Moreover, the supporters of those who committed the
crime obstructed the entry of journalists to the courtroom and exerted
pressure on the course of the trial.

We expected more disclosures and trials to come, however nothing was done to
find those guilty of other violent acts.

Up to day no measures have been taken to punish the policemen who were
impartially observing those who interfered with the work of media
representatives and broke their equipment on April 5.

The policemen who gave a beating to journalists on Baghramian Avenue in the
early morning of April 13 were not revealed and punished either. Not even a
condemnation of their actions was made. Instead from the highest power
levels statements were made that it had been impossible to tell journalists
from the demonstration participants.

We once more demand that the right of the public to receive and the right of
the journalists to impart information be respected that any attempt to
infringe these rights be prevented.

We call on all the media and journalists be more united and consistent when
it comes to professional solidarity, when the right to free gathering and
dissemination of information is violated”, the statement by four
journalistic organizations says.

The seminar participants noted the disputability of the answers that RA
President Robert Kocharian gave in Strasbourg to the questions of the PACE
deputies and journalists with regard to the media situation. In particular,
the statement of the President that the Law “On Television and Radio” was
proposed by the opposition was incorrect (apparently Kocharian meant to say
that the discontent about the work of the National Commission on Television
and Radio should be addressed by the opposition to itself). The appropriate
official draft law was developed by the present RA Minister of Education and
Science and at that time deputy Sergo Yeritsian, who has never had anything
to do with opposition. Since the draft law of Yeritsian was supported by the
specialized parliament committee, it was presented by Shavarsh Kocharian as
a disciplined Chairman of the committee. However, the circumstance that the
latter at the same time heads one of the opposition parties does not
constitute sufficient ground to ascribe the authorship of the law to the
opposition. The proposal of the President to hold a media monitoring in
Armenia and remove the problem of “A1+” TV company from the agenda, should
it reveal plurality on TV air and access of opposition to it, also has
little ground. Firstly, there are reasons to maintain that the failure to
provide a license to the TV channel has political motivation, that the
number of competitions seemingly lost by “A1+” were conducted with legal
violations and the appropriate suit is currently being considered by the
European Court of Human Rights, and it is hardly fair to link this problem
with the monitoring results. Secondly, during the presidential and
parliamentary elections of 2003 (i.e., after the loss of air by “A1+”) both
the OSCE observation mission and a number of local non-governmental
organizations held monitoring and recorded a generally inobjective coverage
of the elections by Armenian media. It is the elections and political
tensions that allow determining the existence of freedom of expression and
diversity of opinion in the country. During the periods when the political
developments are proceeding relatively calmly, the count of the air access
of certain parties cannot be illustrative enough. Monitoring can of course
be conducted – the media situation analysis and how adequate their coverage
of public and political life is, the degree of satisfaction of information
demands of the citizens are always useful. But regardless of its results,
the problem of “A1+” will remain.

As the only example of positive changes in the sphere of media recently the
seminar participants noted the mildened punishments for libel and insult in
the Criminal Code.


On June 26 the first issue of “Yerrord Uj” weekly was published. The
newspaper has 16/A3 pp. and a print run of 3,000 copies. The founder of
“Yerrord Uj” is “Mission L”, the Chief Editor is Vahram Aghajanian.

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
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