protested the new media law.
A controversial bill on Mass Media adopted by the National Assembly
in the first reading on September 24 roused a hot protest by a group of Armenian
The journalists claimed that the law adopted by a vote of 69 deputies
for, 10 against and one abstention is to deadlock the journalists freedom in Armenia.
The bill drafted by the Justice Ministry last April was rejected by the
previous Parliament. The law caused aggressive protests of most of the local journalists,
and lawmakers preferred not to conflict with the journalists before the parliamentary
elections in May of this year.
The author of the bill, Deputy Justice Minister
Ashot Abovyan believed the new bill underwent serious changes comparing to its
first draft, and corresponds to European standards of freedom of speech and press.
acting law of 1991 was not corresponding to present realities. Besides with the
country's admission to the Council of Europe there aroused a necessity to bring
the law in conformity with European standards," Abovyan said.
He noted among the positive changes that the
document provides for liquidating the institute
of mass media registration. Instead it demands
only that mass media publish information about
its location and the quantity of issues.
Media circulation can be
limited only in conditions of a military situation and in case of a threat to
the national security. Also, regarding confidentiality of sources, a journalist
is required to reveal the source of information only in a legal way in case it
threatens the public interests.
says its up to publications to protect their
However some journalists have another opinion and contrary to bill's
authors considers the law unacceptable.
A group of journalists mostly from
the National Press Club, (NPC) which campaigns for media freedom, organized a
picket in front of the National Assembly September 23 and 24, shouting "No
The journalists protested in particular the bill's
provision demanding to disclose the sources of financing and sponsorship, which
they consider had a political motivation.
According to the provision of
financial transparency of the law, the media outlet is obliged to publish an annual
report, including names of individuals and organization who sponsor them, before
March of each year.
Further the journalists are unsatisfied that the law
regulates only the duties and obligations of journalists and there are no provision
on journalists' rights and protection.
Abovyan argued the protest, saying
that it was not a subject of the law to protect journalists' rights, but rather
the obligation of their publications.
Nicol Pashinyan, editor of Haikakan
Jhamanak newspaper said that the bill contained many defects and could lead the
Armenian mass media to a deadlock.
The NPC stated that an alternative draft
drawn by the organization was ignored by the lawmakers. In their turn the legislators
said they received the alternative draft on the eve of the voting and had no time
to get through details. They also noted that the draft proposed by journalists
could hardly be called a law because of its format and other shortcomings which
they said were obvious even from the first glance.
Commenting on the journalists
protest the Speaker of the National Assembly Arthur Baghdasaryan expressed his
readiness to discuss the bill with all interested media organizations and amend
it in two months before the next readings.
However the protesting journalists
doubt if the changes are possible.
"If they were ready to make more
changes why did they not make them before the bill entered Parliament," questioned
Vardan Vardanyan from NPC.
" . . . not for journalists."
Further Vardanyan considers inadmissible the provision allowing criminal
prosecution against a journalist for slander. According to the law a person or
organization can refute information regarded as slander within a three-month period.
a person close to Government and President is unhappy with the information published
about him he can easily make things different within three months to refute it,"
The protesting journalists said that, for example, an official
could sell property within the three-month period, and then later accuse media
The journalists think that authorities, under the pretense
of law, aim to persecute the press.
"This draft is not for journalists
but rather for those who want to oppress the freedom of speech in Armenia,"
said Hmayak Hovanisyan from the oppositional National Unity Party, who joined
Some journalists say that whatever the law is the authorities
always can find a loophole to press the unwanted media as it happened when they
banned the A1+TV company
However the deputies who voted for the bill call
Hranush Hakobyan, the chairwoman of the parliament committee
on science, education and media noted that the Armenian law on media is multiple
times more liberal than that of in Russia.
The protesters issued a statement
saying they will continue to promote the alternative bill and will organize more