The third quarter of 2019 has been marked by an unprecedented stream of new lawsuits with the involvement of journalists and the media. Within the monitoring period, 33 cases took proceedings in different courts. Out of the abovementioned cases 30 were based on insult and slander under article 1087.1 of the RA Civil Code, 2 cases were on violations of the right to receive and disseminate information and one was a lawsuit of a media outlet against a politician. The number of new lawsuits against media and journalists based on insult and slander in the first and second quarters of this year was 28 and 25, respectively. So, during the 9 months of 2019, 83 such cases were recorded indicating a number higher than the total of the previous two years combined.
In 13 out of the abovementioned 30 cases the lawsuits were filed by incumbent and former officials, 9 by ordinary citizens, 5 by businessmen, 1 by a politician, 1 by a show business representative and 1 case by a journalist against the media. This unprecedented rise in lawsuits is due to the fact that most media outlets continue to be plagued by hate speech, fake news, biased comments and manipulations. In the post-revolutionary period, when the polarization and division of the media into political and financial camps became more acute, many media outlets turned into propaganda machines primarily serving the interests of their political sponsors and ignoring the public interest. A striking example was the news published by “Hayeli.am” and “Armlur.am” about the circumstances of former police chief Hayk Harutyunyan’s suicide, which will be presented in detail in the “Media Activities Environment” section.
This situation compels people of different social groups to file lawsuits against the content of media outlets. In 13 out of the abovementioned 30 cases the plaintiffs are former and incumbent officials and their associates, 9 ordinary citizens, 5 businessmen, 1 politician, 1 show business representative and 1 journalist.
The tendency of high-ranking officials, politicians, businessmen and other public figures going spare, getting offended or displaying contempt for the journalists, when asked annoying questions, continued throughout the third quarter as well. 5 such cases were recorded in July-September. In particular, Hrayr Tovmasyan, President of the Constitutional Court, Lena Nazaryan, Vice Speaker of the National Assembly, as well as the participants of the action in support of Robert Kocharyan were notable for showing disrespect towards journalists.
In general, within the monitoring period, the CPFE recorded 35 cases of repression against mass media and their representatives. As for the other types of violations of journalists and media rights, in the third quarter only one case of physical violence was recorded, perpetrated by the bodyguard of former Director of National Security Service Arthur Vanetsyan, and 11 violations of the right to receive and disseminate information, which is twice as small as the indicator for the same period of the previous year. However, state authorities still abuse their right to provide the answer within 30 days, which makes the publication of the required information chronologically inconsistent.
The third quarter of 2019 was marked by the active discussion of several bills drafted by the CPFE on the activities of the media outlets. One of the documents, the bill “On Amending the Law On Local Self-Government System of Yerevan”, was fully adopted by the National Assembly at the second reading on September 10. Now, journalists have proper access to the Municipality premises, can attend elders’ council meetings, and cover them without restraint.
Earlier, on July 11, a new bill “On Television and Radio”, drafted by the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Yerevan Press Club and Media Initiatives Center, was presented to the RA NA Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture, Diaspora, Youth and Sport. The Parliamentary Committee has set up a working group to organize discussions and improve the bill. Through ongoing discussions on three other CPFE bills, new amendments to the RA Laws “On Procurement”, “On Protection of Personal Data”, “On the Mass Media” are proposed.
Within the monitoring period, some of the bills, drafted by the Ministry of Justice, caused dissatisfaction among journalists. Thus, on June 28, the Ministry uploaded a legislative package, containing the Law “On Mass Media” and bills envisaging amendments to three other RA Laws on e-draft.am website, according to which, in order to get free information from the State Register, the media outlet should be registered there, too. On this occasion, on July 1 media organizations issued a statement, expressing concern over the threat to freedom of speech, demanding the government to withdraw the provisions on media registration from the abovementioned package and not to link it with the provision of free information from the State Register.
Media organizations were also concerned over the bill “On Amendments to the Criminal Code”, prescribing liability for public calls for acts of violence threatening people’s lives and health, public justification or propaganda of violence threatening people’s lives and health. This document, according to media organizations, is devoid of legal certainty, which leads to an unjustified limitation to the right to freedom of expression.
In the third quarter of 2019, the CPFE continued to keep a close eye on two criminal cases, “Electric Yerevan” and “Sari Tagh”, during which over 40 journalists and cameramen were identified as victims. If in the case of “Sari Tagh” it was possible to overturn the suspension decision by the Special Investigation Service and reopen the investigation (partly through the efforts of the CPFE), a similar decision by SIS regarding “Electric Yerevan” case is still pending in court.