The itch for filing claims against media outlets and demanding financial compensations because of considering honor, dignity and business reputation as stained, is not a novelty in our reality. “Investigative journalists” NGO has been dealing with this issue on several occasions for a long time. One of the most prolonged disputes started in 2008 when Hetq Daily published the article “To whose pocket goes the money of the sand pit?” by Voskan Sargsyan (The article was republished in AZG Daily’s inset of May 20, 2008 issue). Two months later, on July 7, 2008, it became known that the Mayor and Municipality of Ijevan city, considering as slander the information investigated and published by the journalist, filed a claim demanding a disclaimer and compensation for legal expenses in the amount of AMD 930,000.
It is worth noting that the decriminalization of slandering and libel was not even in the process then (2009 – May 18, 2010), but the fever of financially pressing media outlets was, in fact, visible. The remuneration of legal services is included in the court expenses defined in Article 68 of the RA Civil Procedure Code as “reasonable attorney fee.” Therefore, the logic of calculations and level of reasonability of the demanded compensation are not clear.
Following the events on this case, we come across even more illogical node points. On July 2, 2008, “Investigative journalists” requested copies of minutes and decisions of Ijevan City May 23, 2008 council meeting on paying the legal expenses of AMD 930,000 from the city’s budget. Since Ijevan Mayor refused to provide the requested information before the completion of the judicial procedure, “Investigative journalists” filed a claim to the RA Administrative Court against Ijevan Municipality on the basis of violating the RA Law “On Freedom of Information.” The plaintiff demanded to make the Municipality staff provide the requested information and compensate legal expenses in the amount of AMD 114,000.
It is interesting that the court partly satisfied the claim, according to which Ijevan Municipality was obliged to provide the requested information to the NGO; as for the compensation of legal expenses, it was satisfied only in the amount of AMD 8,000.
Neither AMD 930,000 nor AMD 114,000 were grounded as legal expenses, and the issue remained unsolved even after similar cases, when plaintiffs demanded from media outlets not several hundred thousands but AMD 3 million as compensation for legal expenses. For example, the claims of Armenia’s second president and other members of Kocharyan family against Hraparak and Zhamanak dailies, where the demanded amount was AMD 3 million for attorney costs.
Perhaps this was one of the most unacceptable and obvious circumstances out of 10 new cases against media outlets that the CPFE recorded in the first quarter of the current year. The council of the Chamber of Advocates decided to review the reasonable limits of legal expenses in cases referring to honor, dignity and business reputation.
On April 15, as a result of discussions the decision made on this issue was publicized. Despite its advisory nature, it makes obvious the tendency of whimsy and dangerous demands, thus inspiring hope that in our reality there still exist institutions that act in favor of reasonable approaches … Whereas future decisions on the case “Investigative journalists” vs. Ijevan Municipality cast doubt even on flickers of optimism. On July 10, 2009, the court of general jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash administrative districts of Yerevan rejected the claim of Ijevan Municipality because of its ungrounded demand. But after the plaintiff’s appeal, the Court of Appeal disaffirmed the verdict and sent it for additional trial.
In this case, the plaintiff can be said to weigh heavier, since after the decision had been made at the new trial by the RA Court of Appeal, “Investigative journalists” NGO became an appellant. The appeal was satisfied partly and the journalistic organization was obliged to compensate the legal expenses in the amount of AMD 450,000 instead of AMD 930,000. Investigative journalists’ appeal of the decision to the Court of Cassation gave no results. On April 18, 2011, the decision of the latter to return the appeal of the NGO became known. “Investigative journalists” NGO intends to turn to the European Court of Human Rights.
It turns out that the court reviews of claims against media outlets appear in a closed circle of the Armenian judiciary, where despite the review, both the financial and moral victim is the media outlet…