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“Rapidly changing and evolving political context of Armenia contributed to the rise of the instances of hate speech”: expert of ECHR

” Politicians and activist public figures should be aware that by bringing themselves into the spotlight they open themselves to harsh criticism and that they are expected to tolerate it,” said Vasily Lukashevich, a Senior Lawyer at the European Court of Human Rights, in his recommendations on combatting hate speech in Armenia, sent to the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression.

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NO ADDRESSEE, NO RESPONSIBLE PERSON: the law has created difficulties not only in public authorities, but also in the work of the media

In searching ways to get information from pubic authorities a journalist often faces a problem: who turn to – the press secretary or to the public relations office. How to get operative information!
“When you send an inquiry to the Information department or to the relevant unit, the answer to which you should receive at minimum five or maximum 30 days, you receive it 2-3 months later, or there happen cases that those inquiries are lost in the Staff of the Government”, Narek Kirakosyan, journalist from “Haikakan zhamanak” newspaper expresses his concerns.

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Steps against “fake” news: what the journalists recommend

During the post-revolution period only the lazy do not talk about false, or as they call it “fake” news. They spread like a virus, with attractive titles. Today, there are already the so-called “factories of fakes”, which organize targeted attack over the social networks on this or that official or political power, later their notes/posts happen to be in on this or that site, or the vice versa: from an unknown (or not that much) sites this news spreads over the social networks through the same “factory of fakes”. 

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WHAT IS THE MUNICIPALITY HIDING FROM THE JOURNALIST? Legislative bans for media operation

When on February 13, samples of openly flowing sewage waters from Noubarashen residential area happened in the municipality by the members of the “Yerkir tsirani” faction in Yerevan City Council, and later with the efforts of the same faction, the journalists witnessed the permissiveness dominating in this body, former Mayor of Yerevan Taron Margaryan decided to “settle up” all these. Changes and amendments were made in the RA Law on “Local self-government in Yerevan city”. Minister of Justice Davit Haroutyunyan’s disposition about sessions of the municipality to be pubic and transparent did not impede the parliament to approve Margaryan and his supporter’s initiative to ban journalist’s free entry to the municipality.

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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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