Quarterly report of CPFE on the Situation with Freedom of Expression and Violations of Rights of Journalists and Media in Armenia (January-March, 2017)

The first quarter of 2017 was an intense period for the Armenian media outlets connected with the campaign and political struggle preceding the parliamentary elections on April 2. Coverage of that important process requires great efforts from the mass media, however the work of the editorials has become even more complicated when the heated pre-election fervors, according to the established faulty tradition, have been aimed against the journalists and cameramen.

So, during the official campaign three cases of physical violence and 18 cases of pressure on the media representatives took place, and by the data for the quarter 32 various cases of pressure and five violations of the right to receive and disseminate information have been recorded. This period also became known with abundance of new court cases against the mass media. Their number is 19, of which 15 are against the “Union of Informed Citizens” NGO, founder of “Sut.am” news website, and its coordinator Daniel Ioannisyan, and all of them refer to the sensational publication on that website on March 24, in which they disclose the enrollment of votes by 30 school directors during the pre-election period, via using the administrative resource in favor of the RPA. Each lawsuit claims refuting the information considered slander and payment of AMD 2mln as reimbursement. Besides these 15, at the beginning of April, another 15 lawsuits with similar contents were brought to court by other school-directors, and the CPFE will refer to them in the report for the second quarter of this year.

During the January-March, CPFE continued to follow the criminal cases related to events that took place on June 23 on Baghramyan Avenue, Yerevan, coupled with large-scale violence against journalists and cameramen (#ElectricYerevan), and events in Khorenatsi street and Sari Tagh in Yerevan, during the second half of July in 2016, and recorded that there was no marked progress in them: there are no new defendants or event suspects.

Whereas international instances, i.e. European court and UN Human Rights Commission, have registered the complaints by three journalists recognized as victims in the case related to #ElectricYerevan (Tehmine Yenokyan, correspondent from “Lragir.am”, Hakob Karapetyan correspondent from “iLur.am” and free photojournalist Gevorg Ghazaryan) considering their arguments about the inefficiency of the pre-investigation as substantiated. This is an extremely important precedent for the field of legal protection.

During the observed period, the new draft “Law on freedom of information” developed by the RA Ministry of Justice, with which an attempt is being made to update the homonymic law functioning since 2003. However, the CPFE and the partner media organizations have a number of serious objections and recommendations about the bill: they will be sent to the ministry in written form.

Another change related to the law on media activity created serious concerns: on January 9 of this year, Article 1(3) of the RA “Law on protection of personal information” was revoked, according to which processing of personal data is not subject to restrictions, if it is conducted exclusively for the purpose of journalism, literature and arts. With the change of the mentioned law, the restrictions already cover the mass media and their staff.

In the first quarter of 2017, the problem of more than 10 local TV companies in RA provinces remained unsolved, which, because of short-sighted policy in this field, continue operating in analogue mode in the digital era, and happened to be in an extremely complicated situation.

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