Newspapers and electronic media rank low on
Freedom House's survey.
Citing intensifying government efforts to stifle
dissent, a major U.S. human rights organization
has downgraded Armenia to the ranks of 68 mainly
Asian and African nations where it believes mass
media are "not free."
"Armenia's rating declined from Partly Free
to Not Free as a result of the government's repeated
use of security or criminal libel laws to stifle
criticism, as well as the forced closing of the
country's leading independent television station,"
Freedom House concluded in an annual report released
on Wednesday. The report scrutinizes the state
of press freedoms around the world.
The New York-based group rated 193 countries
on a 100-point negative scale gauging economic
and political pressures on the media as well as
the legal environment in which they operate. Armenia,
which was previously judged to have "partly
free" media, slumped to 65 points this year,
entering Freedom House's "not free"
category of nations.
The rankings put Armenia on a par with Jordan,
Djibouti and the Gambia. According to Freedom
House, it is now lagging behind countries like
Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau and Lesotho in terms
of press freedom. Neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia
scored 73 and 54 points respectively. Georgia
is thus the only South Caucasus state with a "partly
The Armenian authorities' decision in April 2002
to pull the plug on the A1+ television station,
the only major network often critical of President
Robert Kocharyan, seems to have been instrumental
in Freedom House's decision to lower Armenia's
rating. Kocharyan and the Armenian broadcasting
authority have repeatedly denied any political
motives for the closure of A1+ in the face of
strong domestic and international criticism.
"National security legislation and criminal
libel laws allow the state to prosecute journalists
for any perceived infraction. Journalists frequently
experience physical assaults and other forms of
intimidation in relation to their work,"
the Freedom House report says, pointing to last
year's grenade attack on an independent Armenian
The report's conclusions reflect growing Western
criticism of the Armenian government's policies
toward the media. The New York-based Committee
to Protect Journalists, for example, accused Kocharyan
last month of "muzzling dissenting voices
in the press" in the run-up to the 2003 presidential
The Armenian media's coverage of the vote was
strongly criticized by election observers from
the Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe. They were particularly concerned about
the fact that the opposition presidential candidates
had little access to the TV air.
"Virtually all public TV coverage of the
incumbent was positive or neutral, while opposition
candidates received approximately equal proportions
of negative and positive primetime news and analytical
coverage," the OSCE said in its final election
report made public on Wednesday. "Private
broadcasters were even more biased in favor of
the incumbent, largely ignoring opposition candidates."
"In general, the media's coverage of the
election demonstrated that Armenia still lacks
a strong and independent media able to provide
balanced information to enable the electorate
to make a well-informed decision," the OSCE