Statement on Package of Draft Amendments to Broadcast Legislation

Statement on the Package of Draft Amendments to Broadcast Legislation

2009/04/10 | 09:24 ]
society

The agenda of the RA National Assembly includes the second hearing of
the package of draft amendments to the RA Laws `On Television and
Radio’, `Regulations of the National Commission on Television and
Radio’, `Regulations of the RA National Assembly’, `On State
Duty’. Despite the few improvements against the previous version of
the package strongly criticized by our organizations in the statement
of February 3, 2009, the document, as we see it, remains far from the
demands of the time.

Any legislative initiative on television and radio must today be
assessed from the perspective of solving the four cornerstone problems
of the Armenian broadcast sphere:

– ensuring the independence of the National Commission on Television
and Radio – the body that regulates the activities of TV and radio
companies;

– real reformation of the Public TV and Radio Company, inclusion of
– PTRC in the field of legal regulation, creation of mechanisms of its
– responsibility and accountability to the society; formation of new
– legal conditions of impartial and transparent broadcast licensing
– competitions; revocation of the ban on allocation of frequencies.

The legislative changes that do not entail basic solutions to the
problems above can be only seen as cosmetic. In this regard the
improvement of certain provisions of the draft law package on
broadcasting, proposed for the second hearing by the RA National
Assembly, are nothing but a reform imitation and do not in any way
contribute to overcoming the total control of the authorities over the
TV and radio air in Armenia.

As a main argument to support the package its authors refer to the
positive assessment of the Council of Europe expert. Meanwhile, the CE
assessment, while phrased in a very polite and cautious manner,
contains criticism of a number of important clauses of the drafts. In
particular, this document clearly states the absence of due guarantees
to the independence of the National Commission on Television and Radio
and the Council of Public TV and Radio Company, as well as about the
incompliance of the PTRC structure to the internationally accepted
standards of good governance.

Even if one shares the satisfaction of the CE expert with most of the
remaining provisions of the package, the two mentioned shortcomings,
referring to the cornerstone issues of the broadcasting legislation,
render the voting of the RA NA deputies for the package
questionable. What is the value of amendments to the RA Law `On
Television and Radio’, if they do not call for a basic review of the
mechanisms permanently criticized over the past 12 years, ever since
the debate of the broadcast legislation started?

It is quite surprising that the Council of Europe expert, assessing
the package of the draft law on regulating the broadcasting,
overlooked the recommendations of the Resolutions of the Parliamentary
Assembly of the Council of Europe 1532 (2007), 1609 (2008), 1620
(2008) and 1643 (2009). Addressing the issues of Armenia’s compliance
with its commitments to the Council of Europe and functioning of
democratic institutions in the country, these Resolutions, proceeding
from the political situation in the country, define the agenda of
reforms, also with regard to media. The recommendations raise the
issues of independence of the regulatory body, the transparency of
broadcast licensing competitions, and the possibility of `A1+’ TV
company taking part in them, the ban on frequency
allocation. Considering the draft package without taking into account
the four most recent PACE recommendations on Armenia, the Council of
Europe expert, on the one hand, actually overlooked some questionable
provisions of the legislation in force (first of all, the ban on
frequency allocation), and on the other – assessed a whole number of
legislative innovations without taking into account the problematic
practices of late (transparency and impartiality of broadcast
licensing competitions).

The expert welcomes the expansion of Article 50 of the RA Law `On
Television and Radio’ that call for the provision of `full reasons’ to
the applicants that were refused a license. A reference is made here
to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights of June 17, 2008
on the case of `A1+’ TV company founder, `Meltex’ LLC. Yet, in
essence, the new draft law proposes nothing new with regard to
justification of license refusal, the mechanisms of defining criteria
that NCTR members should be guided with during the assessment of the
applications are still not prescribed.

One could have quoted a number of other examples of the insufficiently
thorough analysis of the draft law package by CE expert. Yet the
problem lies not with the particularities, but with the technique that
the media legislation is being shaped with in Armenia. Despite the
fact that a working group of local experts is set up adjacently to the
specialized standing committee of the National Assembly, the recent
drafts have not been discussed with this working group. The
international experts meet and discuss drafts only with their authors
or MPs interested in the draft promotion. Objections, comments,
clarifications as to the problems of practical applications of certain
clauses that the representatives of Armenian media community could
share, public debate – all this is of no interest to any one for a
long time already. Such closed process of legislation formation cannot
yield other results than the ones we have today.

Meanwhile, when the authorities are interested to promote certain
initiative, even if extremely unprofessional in its development, it is
immediately in the limelight of attention, debate is raised about it
on all TV channels. A vivid example of this is the draft law on
introducing new provisions to the Civil Code, stipulating moral damage
compensation, that has made so much noise lately. The vehement
endorsement of this initiative can be hardly regarded as anything
other than an attempt to divert the public attention from real
problems in media, obstruction of efforts of journalistic
organizations in legislation and media self-regulation.

Unfortunately, such red herrings have been used more than once and run
contrary to the policy of strengthening civil society as declared by
the RA authorities.

Proceeding from this, we call on the RA National Assembly:

1. To revoke from circulation the package of draft laws on
broadcasting and to come back to it after thorough review and
improvement in accordance with the international commitments of
Armenia and the suggestions of the working group at the RA National
Assembly Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture, Youth
and Sport Issues. Otherwise we see no point in further
participation in the working group and shall call back our
representatives from it;

2. To immediately include a draft law on abolishing the ban on holding
broadcast licensing competitions in the agenda of the National
Assembly. To refuse from the idea of digitalization at the expense
of free competition and media plurality. To hold open debate of the
TV and radio broadcast digitalization program;

3. To delay the initiatives related to new forms of journalistic
liability for defamation until the completion of processes aimed at
improving the broadcast legislation, guaranteeing true public
service broadcasting, pluralistic private TV and radio, media
accountability system formation. The attempts of prioritizing the
issue of legal liability of journalists damaging the development of
civilized media market will be viewed by us to be directed at the
restriction of free expression in Armenia.

April 9, 2009
Yerevan Press Club,
`Internews’ Media Support NGO,
Media Diversity Institute-Armenia,
Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression,
`Asparez’ Journalist’s Club,
Vanadzor Press Club

http://hetq.am/en/society/statment

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