The second quarter of 2022 was notable for the increase in the number of physical violence cases against media employees: 11 cases with 12 victims were registered, 10 out of which (11 victims) occurred during the coverage of the disobedience actions organized by the opposition forces. It is noteworthy that the number of such cases is 3 more than those recorded in the same period of the previous year, when a hot post-war and pre-election political struggle was going on in the country, which in turn was accompanied by the activation of attacks on journalists and cameramen.
During the quarter, both local journalistic organizations and international organizations issued statements condemning the obstacles to the professional activities of the media and their employees, calling on the law enforcement agencies not to use disproportionate force and not to violate the rights of media representatives performing their duties.
During the period under review, reputable international organizations also published their annual reports, in which there were evaluations on Armenian media. In particular, in the “Nations in Transit – 2022” report of Freedom House, Armenia was ranked among partially free countries, and the press, in general, was once again described as polarized. In the report of the Reporters Without Borders organization, compared to the previous year, Armenia has improved its positions in terms of press freedom, from 63rd to 51st place. However, both reports express concern about new changes in media legislation, which do not promote press freedom and often contradict European norms.
In this regard, the criminalization of the so-called “serious insult”, the tripling of caps for pecuniary compensation for insult and slander stipulated in the Civil Code, the introduction of the possibility of depriving journalists of accreditation in public administration bodies, as well as the package of recommendations for amendments and addenda to the Law on Audiovisual Media and related laws were particularly problematic, the adoption of which would further complicate the situation in the field of broadcasting, would create a wide field of subjectivity and arbitrariness in the process of its regulation.
In order to prevent these regressive tendencies, 11 local journalistic organizations came up with an initiative that involves the cooperation of the legislative and executive authorities and civil society institutions, aimed at developing a concept of the development of the information sector in Armenia and the reforms of legislation related to the media. The result was that the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, having been authorized by 10 partner organizations, signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Chairman of the NA Profile Committee and the RA Deputy Minister of Justice on April 19. Accordingly, the development of the above-mentioned concept launched, which will serve as the basis for future legislative changes.
One of the positive developments in the period under review is that as a result of interdepartmental discussions, the authorities did not find it expedient to include in the new Criminal Code the article providing punishment for “serious insult”, which came into force in August last year. On June 10, 2022, RA Minister of Justice Karen Andreasyan issued a statement, stating that the existing civil liability regulations are preferable for this impermissible phenomenon.
Another notable change was establishing stricter liability for employees of public administration bodies in case of violations of the right of citizens, including journalists, to receive official information and increasing the amount of possible fines, which was adopted by the National Assembly on June 9 in its second reading and in its entirety.
In general, during the second quarter, CPFE recorded 24 violations of the right to receive and disseminate information, 11 cases of various pressures (without physical violence) on media and their employees. The flow of lawsuits filed against the media outlets and journalists also continued: 8 new such cases were registered, one more than in the previous quarter.