On the Situation of Freedom of Speech and
Violations of Rights of Journalists and Media in Armenia
The Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression is concerned with the conditions, events and objectives of the Armenian mass media and their employees and publishes quarterly and annual reports on the state of freedom of expression in Armenia and violations of the rights of the mass media and their workers. The reports refer to the amendments to the legislation regulating that sphere, the recommendations and processes concerning them, as well as the impact of political factors and the economic environment on the mass media.
2012 was a year of elections to the parliament and local self-government. Therefore, various electoral campaign-related problems and events on the voting day (6 May, 9 and 23 of September and 2 December) were in the focus of public attention.
In previous years, one regularity that the CPFE had observed was that in the course of serious events affecting the internal political life in the country, especially the election-related tensions, pressure on the mass media and reporters, as well as the violations threatening freedom of expression increased. In this regard 2012 was not an exception.
Although the situation in 2012 was more tolerable compared with the periods encompassing the elections of previous years, it was evident that the operational conditions of the mass media became more complicated on election days.
In particular, during the elections to the RA NA on 6 May 2012, 7 incidents were registered, of which 3 were incidents of physical violence and 4 – violations of the right to receive and impart information. As regards the elections to the local self-government in September 2012, 5 incidents were registered, of which 1 was an incident of physical violence and 4 – violations of the right to receive and impart information. On 2 December, the date of ad hoc elections under the majoritarian system the CPFE recorded one more violation of the right to receive and impart information.
In connection with the elections, mention has to be made of the procedure for the accreditation of journalists with the Central Electoral Commission, which was approved by its Decision No 18-N dated 31 January 2012. On 15 March, in view of the concerns voiced by the media community in its regular sitting the CEC amended the aforementioned pocedure.
Where the events occurring in the legal framework related to the mass media are concerned, mention should be made of the fact that on 19 March the Standing Committee of the RA National Assembly for Science, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport circulated the draft of amendments to the RA Law on Television and Radio developed by three media organizations – Yerevan Press Club, Internews, and Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression. On 25 April, the Government submitted their conclusion on the draft to the Chairman of the RA National Assembly. The draft was adopted as a basis for subsequent amendments.
A landmark event for the legal framework regulating the activities of the mass media was the decision of the RA Cassation Court dated 27 April, whereby the Court regulated the application of the provision of Article 1087.1 of the RA Civil Code (on the procedure and terms of compensating for the damage to the honour, dignity and professional reputation). However, there are two points of concern in the reasoning of this decision regarding the definition of the notion of ‘the source of information’ and the underestimation of the extrajudicial settlement of media disputes.
Note should be taken of the fact that in the whole course of 2012 the number of civil defamation and insult complaints decreased: the courts admitted 16 complaints, whereas in 2011 they were 36.
On 22 June, a number of non-governmental organizations and some intellectuals addressed an open letter to the RA President on the Anti-Social Broadcasting Policy of the Television Companies. The President gave instructions to Vazgen Manoukyan, Chairman of the Public Council. On 8 October and 3 November, the Public Council adopted a package of recommendations, which foresaw the creation of a taskforce to determine the broadcasting standards and a monitoring component within the structure of the National Television and Radio Commission. It also foresaw legislative amendments on imposing sanctions on television companies.
Although the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression shares the concern reflected in the aforementiobed open letter, we are categorically against the predominant part of the offered solutions and assess them as an attemtp at covert censorship.
It is noteworthy that since 10 September the informational-analytical programme ’Ayb-Fe’ of the television company ’A1+’ has been aired through 20-minute broadcasts. However, according to the CPFE, this does not yet mean that the problem of the return of the ’A1+’ to the air has been resolved.
The dire financial conditions of the print media became more striking at the beginning of 2012 when the weekly ‘Hetq’ and later the daily ‘Yerkir’ stopped being published while the daily ‘Haykakan Zhamanak’ continues to apply to the readers of its online version in Armenia and abroad for financial support.
In 2012, compared with 2011 the number of incidents of physical violence against journalists reduced, whereas the violations of the right to receive and impart information increased considerably, especially during elections. Over the entire year the CPFE recorded 4 incidents of violence against journalists, 37 cases of various pressures, and 23 facts of violations of the right to receive and impart information.
Note should be taken of the fact that none of the perpetrators of physical violence and other obstructors of the activities of journalists has been detected or punished.
Below are the details of these violations.