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Closed doors for the mass media. Safeguards of freedom of information should be ensured by law

The previous government, when preparing for the premiership of Serzh Sargsyan, on February 1 approved the RA draft law on “The structure and activity of the Government”. The initiative of restraining the media outlets through legal changes, ungrounded limitation of their freedom was successful, and on March 23, it was adopted by the NA. So, according to the law, the government sessions should be behind the doors; without the permission by the Prime Minister, the ministers are not allowed to public any information about any issue tackled upon at the sessions.

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Security or a Veil for Corruption?

Since 2017, information about the procurement related to the top three leaders of the state, is confidential. This was enshrined in December of 2016, with the changes made in the RA “Law on procurement”.
The very controversial changes made in the “Law on procurement” made the information about almost half a billion Drams allocated annually from the state budget inaccessible to the journalists and to the public. Whereas it is impossible to combat corruption and demand accountability of the authorities while leaving out the top three officials of the state.

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The TV and Radio Commission is distorting the reality

On August 7, the TVRC spread a message with which it tried to respond to the article under heading “No reform, just maintaining the status quo” published on July 31 by the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression. In fact, we tackled upon two topics in our publication: the problem of private broadcasting network, i.e. tender for licensing the operation of the multiplex, and related to it legislative change, which the previous authorities (quite possibly together with the TVRC) made secretly from the media organizations, without engaging them or at least without public discussions.  

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Journalists were banned to enter the conference hall of the government: what was the reason?

on August 9, on the successive day of the government session, the journalists were forbidden to enter the conference hall. They were surprised. Moreover, the representatives of the media outlets, one after another, started live streaming over Facebook and leaving comments: “Arman Yeghoyan, the Prime Minister’s press secretary forbids the journalists to move around the government building”, “artificial impediment by the new government: welcome to new Armenia”, “there are new customs, new impediments in the Government; the Prime Minister’s press secretary does not allow to go up to the conference hall: why? By which law?” Some even went further up to “…what about the revolution…?” 
The Prime Minister’s Press secretary Arman Yeghoyan explained the decision on the ban as follows: “The security regime is being violated. It is hard to control who is going where in the building.”

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No reform, just maintain status quo

Another change made in the “Law on TV and Radio” turned up, which was passed under strict secrecy.

The unknown to us legislative change was found out quite unexpectedly. When recently we were getting familiar with the terms and conditions of the tender for licensing the digital broadcasting private network (multiplex) announced by the TV and Radio Commission, we noticed that unlike the previous cases, this time the applications will be received not within three, but six months. We tried to find out what it is conditioned by. Armen Mkrtchyan, member of the TVRC said, “It is a requirement of the law.”

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“Digital democracy”: advantages and concerns

New Armenia, new situation, also in the field of freedom of expression. The new government has adopted “digital democracy” modus operandi. The high rank officials, starting with the head of the Government, in on-line regime tell about their activities and decisions made, thus reporting to the society; they refer to issues, which are the focal point of the public discussions. Attaching importance to this tendency as a new precondition for the development of the freedom of expression, however, we will state several worrying facts.

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Domestic instances have been exhausted: the person who insulted and exerted pressure on the journalist, remained unpunished

On May 25, the Court of Cassation refused to take over a proceeding the complaint by Hripsime Jebejyan, reporter from “Aravot.am”, against the decisions of the court of first instance and the Appellate court, which relate to the impeding of the journalist’s professional activity.

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Why the TVRC does not announce a tender for private multiplexor?

The TV and Radio commission is violating the law: this year no tender has been announced for the private multiplexor, i.e. for the licensing of the operation of digital broadcasting network.

Since 2015, the RA Law on TV and Radio obliges to announce the first tender for the licensing of the operation of the private multiplexor by May 1, 2016: Afterwards, if the tender fails or if there is no winner, one year after its announcement, it is required that a new tender is announced.

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“GALA” vs tax inspection: 11-year-old case will be tried in the criminal domain

The administrative court made a decision to start a new trial of the case “CHAP” LLC, founder of “GALA” TV company vs. Gyumri tax inspection. This case has a history of 11 years. The decision to try the case at the RA administrative court was made after the decision by the ECHR on May 4, 2017 and the quashing the decision at the RA court of Cassation on April 7, 2018.

With a counter-claim, “CHAP” LLC representative Karen Toumanyan claims to invalidate the decision about the fine of AMD 25212700 made by the tax bodies in 2007 (in fact AMD 25.116.700 was levied from the founder of the TV company). The court should find out whether the administrative fine is founded or not. Moreover, the dispute should be tried in the criminal domain, as the matter is about abuse of a huge amount of money, which was not taken into consideration when the case went through three RA judicial instances, starting 2007, something that the European Court of Human Rights drew attention to. 

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In whose hands is the salvation of the drowning press?

It is a global trend – in parallel with increase of the online media, the newspapers circulation is falling, financial resources are diminishing, and many editorial offices are closed. In the digital age, when the information and news are appearing more quickly on the screens of the computers, iPad, or mobile phone than оnto the pages of newspapers, the print media is facing serious challenges. Naturally, Armenia is not an exception. But besides the objective difficulties, there are many other problems in the Armenian market of newspapers.

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