YEREVAN PRESS CLUB WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

OCTOBER 29 - NOVEMBER 4, 2004

HIGHLIGHTS:

WHAT SHOULD MEDIA OF ARMENIA AND SOUTH CAUCASUS DO?
Interrelations of Politics, Society and Media in Armenia
The Tbilisi Declaration on Libel and Freedom of Information

THIRD "PRESS CLUB" SHOW

JOURNALISTIC ASSOCIATIONS CONDEMN THE ATTACK ON "ARAGATS ASHKHAR" NEWSPAPER

"INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS" STILL HAVE A CHANCE TO WIN THE SUIT AGAINST
YEREVAN MUNICIPALITY

LEGAL CONTRADICTION CAN RESULT IN IMPRISONMENT

"RESPUBLIKA ARMENIA" RENEWED ITS PUBLICATION

"AREVATSAGHIK" IS FIVE YEARS OLD


WHAT SHOULD MEDIA OF ARMENIA AND SOUTH CAUCASUS DO?

In the previous issue (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, October 22-28, 2004) we
informed about the conference held on October 25-26 in Tbilisi "21st Century
Challenges for the Media of South Caucasus: Dealing with Libel and Freedom
of Information", which was organized by the OSCE Representative on Freedom
of the Media and the OSCE Mission to Georgia.

Below the report of the President of Yerevan Press Club Boris Navasardian
"Interrelations of Politics, Society and Media in Armenia" is presented, as
made on the first day of the conference, followed by the Declaration on
Libel and Freedom of Information, adopted by the results of the conference
on October 26 by its participants.

INTERRELATIONS OF POLITICS, SOCIETY AND MEDIA IN ARMENIA

The ordinary people in Armenia regard the press and journalists just like
they do in any normal country - namely, as the well-behaved children feel
about the cod-liver oil: they are not very fond of it, but they do realize
that it is a useful thing and should be consumed with moderate dosage.
However, there are categories of population - let them conventionally be
called "the bad guys" - who, while not liking this "cod-liver oil", are
trying to change its nature according to their own tastes and to get instead
Coke, vodka or some other liquid. Unfortunately, it is these categories that
keep all the main resources of the country, also those that determine the
media situation.

Once the Armenian press of the early 1990s somewhat departed from the
selectionist experiments it had suffered for seventy years of the Soviet
era, the politicians of the new generation undertook the breeding of the
type of mass media convenient for themselves, - rather these were the
political parties of the independent republic, possessing the resources for
decision-making. It is they that made up the decision-making elite during
the first years of independence. By mid-90s the country had practically no
news media; they were replaced by propaganda media. Each newspaper attempted
to prove that the party or the political group that was behind it was the
only one protecting the national interests, and all its opponents were
leading the people to disaster. The effort of protecting the narrow party
and group interests was led by the state-owned propaganda media. And when
the power structures did not manage to gain an overwhelming advantage on the
purely ideological front, they moved the dispute into a sphere, where their
arguments proved to be irreversible: bans and demolitions of opposition
press, creation of economic, bureaucratic and legal obstacles for the latter
not to be able to overcome. The utmost example in this regard is the
simultaneous closure of over a dozen opposition media in early 1995.

This abuse of freedom of expression could not leave the attitude of the
audience to the press unchanged. If in 1991-1992 queues that lasted for
hours stood in front of the newspaper stalls, and the print runs of the
newly appearing publications reached 50-70 thousand, during the subsequent
years the readers' demand for print periodicals started to go down. For some
time the ordinary people, trying to get the "cod-liver oil" they needed,
were deceived by taking some kinds of Coke or other liquids instead. Then,
having realized they were deceived, they arrived at their aims by mixing
everything offered: having gone through the coverage of the same event or
the problem in publications of different stances, one could try and get an
objective picture. However it was getting increasingly difficult to filter
out the real information out of the intensified flow of propaganda "Coke"
and called for titanic intellectual effort, moreover, was associated with
expenses too high for an ordinary Armenian wallet.

Thus the newspapers became increasingly adequate to the tastes of "the bad
guys" and were becoming elite reading, accessible only to professionals that
synthesize "cod-liver oil" out of any "liquid". The ordinary reader is
getting all the farther from the press, trying to replenish the information
vitamin reserve out of other sources. By the findings of a sociological
survey, conducted in the end of the last millennium, "conversations with
acquaintances" were rated as third information source in Armenia. A popular
satirist of Soviet times Semion Nariniani would have called this source "AAS
('An Auntie Said') news agency". The reasons for the popularity of AAS in
the Communist past are well-known to us, but its persistent survival during
the epoch of freedom of expression and plurality says nothing good about our
society.

Certainly, the journalists themselves have tried to comply with their
professional mission and still are: to provide up-to-date and objective
information on all the most important events to the audience. But they
succeed in these attempts only occasionally, and mostly, contrary to what
their masters expect them to do. A very typical example is the situation
after the terrorist attack on the Armenian Parliament five years ago, when
the country was almost completely beheaded. While the masters of the
Armenian press (and not only) were at a loss and were trying to get a sense
of direction in the drastically changed political environment, the media
behaved as their journalistic conscience told them, and the public got
everything that it should have got from news media during this short period
of one or two days. But as soon as the new political priorities were
defined, the journalists and the media - both the print and electronic
ones - were again divided into confronting camps, and the natural
media-product was again replaced by a surrogate.

The very common phenomenon in the post-Soviet Armenia is the accusations of
the education system, allegedly failing to meet the needs of media in
promising young journalists. Some colleagues are trying to explain all the
problems of the Armenian journalism by this very circumstance. The issue, in
reality, is not that, although the journalistic education system certainly
does call for much improvement. The professional skills of journalists
corresponds to the demand that is formed by the Armenian press of today. The
nature of the work in it, unfortunately, is not always stimulating the
aspiration towards heights of professionalism, towards standards defined by
the leading media of the world.

The problems, primarily, are centered around the sources of the media
existence, the traditional question of who pays the piper. The rough
analysis of the market yields the following picture: the first place in
terms of material resources of media, at a huge distance from other sources,
belongs to various sponsorship, investments of financial and business groups
(the lion share making the subsidies from several oligarchic groups); the
second place is taken by advertising revenues, that are almost fully
absorbed by the television, other media types get only the leftovers from
the "king's dinner"; the third place is taken by direct subsidies from state
budget, and here the unrivaled consumer is the Public TV and Radio Company
of Armenia, whose line in the budget is more significant than that of the
National Academy of Science; the fourth place is taken by funding that comes
directly or indirectly from parties and political blocs; the fifth is the
revenues generated by marketing the media production; the sixth is the
assistance of international organizations and foundations. If one tries to
differentiate the sources as to which of them demand quality, "good"
journalism (returning to the terminology used in the beginning of the
presentation, "the cod-liver oil"), and which call for "bad" journalism (all
other liquids), the resources of "the bad guys", that is, the ordered of
"bad" journalism, will be obviously more powerful: these are the first, the
third and the fourth lines in the rating of main sources.

It goes without saying that the differentiation proposed is very
conventional: the Public Television and Radio, by the funding from state
budget occasionally do air some quality programs, and on the other hand, the
payment for advertising services is often a disguised form of political
sponsorship. But the general situation is not changed because of that: the
media revenue, generated due to an order of certain political, oligarchic
circles, is significantly higher than the revenue, generated by meeting the
broad consumers' demand for up-to-date and impartial information. What we
have as a result is the broad gap between the supply, imposed by the main
ordered, and the mass demand. By the findings of repeated researches, the
first lines among the subjects covered by the press were taken by various
issues of inner politics. Yet, the public was primarily interested in
international affairs and social issues that took the 6th and 11th places,
respectively, among other subjects that received media attention. And
however eager the media professionals are, they do not often get the chance
to correspond to the best standards of journalism and the expectations of
the society.

The attentive reader noticed that, as compared to the period described by me
at the beginning of this presentation, today the stance of Armenian media is
determined not by the political parties but by the oligarchic circles. This,
to a certain extent, changes the nature of journalism, and one can argue
whether it is for better or for worse. In mid-1990s we all felt bad about
the polarization of print media (propaganda media) by their party
preferences. But in that case the attitude, the approaches of the press to
certain matters were, in general understandable and clear at least to a part
of the audience. While the purposes, the interests of oligarchic clans, the
clashes of which are reflected in media and increasingly determine the
content of the publication, are not recorded in any statutes, programs,
manifests, and the public is much less aware of them than of party
platforms. Thus, getting tired of the exchange with mysterious messages
through media between the various groups of oligarchic super-elite, the
audience has to resort to entertaining reading and viewing and confines
itself to TV news, including Russian TV news, to satiate its information
hunger. And this is despite the fact that in the person of Armenian public
such media would have had a grateful reader. The turbulent developments of
the recent years, the existence of numerous problems both within the country
and on the regional level, the traditionally high literacy rate condition
the active interest of people to the processes underway. However, the
information hunger is not being satiated, because of which the print media
suffer too, losing circulation, and so does the country in general, not
using the civil potential of the nation. A certain vicious circle is thus
created: the press needs a broad readership to gain financial independence
from political sponsors, and the mass consumer is only ready to pay the
press that is up to his interests, and not to the interests of a narrow
group of the rich. Apparently, the media should break through this circle,
but up to now the rare attempts to refuse the guaranteed feeding-rack and to
go into the open sea of civilized information market were unsuccessful.

While the media market has this specifics, there are, unfortunately,
representatives of our profession that have relaxed and are trying to get as
much pleasure as possible. Those who are satisfied with the remuneration
received, manage to look quite respectable. Those, who think themselves to
be at a disadvantage and deserving a greater piece of oligarchic pie, resort
to various forms of journalistic blackmail, being insistent in their work
with the paying object until he is mature enough to understand that one must
share what he has... Yet, this task is a very delicate and risky one. Not
all the potential sponsors respect the criminal code, and, not having the
necessary skills, arguments, patience, the media blackmailer, instead of the
piece expected runs the risk of getting a brain concussion and advice to
never practice journalism (if what has been described has a right to be
called journalism).

There is also an optimistic view at the situation. It proceeds from a thesis
that there is no complete independence of media, and one should only speak
about the independence of media from the state. If the share of the state in
media ownership and expenses reduces, and that is the trend now present in
Armenia, this already signifies some progress. In reality, the existence of
60 private broadcasters is impressive, but this apparently must refer not
only to the legal status but also to who stands behind them and how it is
reflected in the content of the programs. And the important thing is the
television, since it, as noted above, dominates the news dissemination, and
therefore, plays an enormous role in the formation of public opinion. The
statement "who controls the TV air, owns the power" is truly justified in
case of Armenia. The owners of the majority of private national and
metropolitan TV channels, at least among those that have political
influence, are major businessmen, who are in some way related to power. Add
to this the most powerful, in terms of its coverage, Armenian medium, the
Public TV and Radio Company, headed by a Council, appointed personally and
solely by the President of the country. Also, take into account the fact
that among the advertisers and the advertising agencies the prevailing
position is again taken by entrepreneurs who are sympathetic to the
authorities. And it will be clear to you, that the status of "private" and
"public" do not at all coincide with the concepts of "independent" and
"politically neutral".

The authorities, naturally, do not rely on the abstract sympathy of the
broadcasters, it needs institutionalized guarantees. The main control
function is performed by the National Commission on Television and Radio,
the members of which, similarly to the members of the Council of Public TV
and Radio Company, are appointed personally and solely by the President of
the country. This body that distributes the frequencies by competition and
is to control the compliance of the private broadcasters with their license
terms and the RA legislation. It is to account for the loss of 8 broadcast
licensing competitions by one of the oldest and most popular Armenian
channels, "A1+", which has been out of air for two years and a half already
simply because its work could not be controlled from above. The practical
impossibility to follow all the provisions of the legislation for the
broadcasting companies allows the Commission to punish or forgive them at
its own discretion. Owing to the well-constructed system, the authorities
manage not only to influence the content of the TV programs but also the
change of ownership of the companies. That is, without the "highest"
approval, no TV companies can be bought or sold.

Certainly, this all occurs with no verbalization and most often looks quite
decent, as the civilized legal norms require. But not everyone believes it.
In case of "A1+", for some reason, the various local and international
organizations are addressing the President of the country, and he has to
explain that this very National Commission on Television and Radio that he
has formed is an independent structure and he, however fond he is of the TV
channel that has lost air, cannot influence the decisions of NCTR. There was
even more puzzlement in the response of the presidential administration to
the recent address of the President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Thomas Dine with a request to assist the TV program cycle, produced by the
radio company by a preliminary agreement with a private TV company, yet
suspended, to get back on air. The Spokesman of the RA President was very
explicit in telling Mr. Dine that "the RA Law "On Mass Communication",
adopted in 2003, excludes the possibility of any intervention of the
government into the professional activities of the press..."

While I do have my own vision of the recent incident, I will not be
commenting on it. I will only indulge myself to say a few words about the
Radio Liberty, or, rather, its Armenian Service. Four years ago here, in
Georgia, in Gudauri, a major conference, organized by Radio Liberty was
held. I was invited along with my colleagues from Azerbaijan and Georgia to
tell the conference participants from different countries what the media of
our region are. The request to present first my organization was answered by
me to the effect that the mission of Yerevan Press Club is to create
conditions when there would be no need in Radio Liberty. In other words, for
our own media to get to a level, when the foreign radio voices are unable to
compete. But I also calmed down my colleagues, noting that it looks like we
will not arrive at this goal soon. At least, even now, the programs of the
Radio Liberty Armenian Service are notable for their professionalism,
objectivity and are permanently popular with the listeners. (Actually, the
radio station is also very convincing in denying the opinion that the
problems of Armenian media stem from the lack of good journalists. Almost
all our young colleagues who come to Radio Liberty progress very soon and
prove that in a creative climate, when their work is valued and they are
only required to perform their professional duty well, they are quite
capable of working on the level of their western peers.) Unlike the
audience, the authorities of Armenia are not very fond of this radio
station. In 1995-1996, during the rule of the previous RA President, the
re-broadcasting of Radio Liberty Armenian Service on the state radio was
temporarily prohibited. Further, all attempts of Radio Liberty to initiate
TV projects on various channels failed. This is another illustration of how
the authorities regard the media out of their control, particularly, when
the latter ones are able to exercise obvious influence on the public
opinion.

In my presentation I deliberately stressed the problems that the media
development in the country stumbles across. The representatives of Armenia
press, similarly, I think, to their colleagues in Georgia and Azerbaijan,
cannot as yet report accomplishments with regard to freedom of expression.
This is done by the leaders of our countries, and they hardly need our help.
Moreover, the accomplishments are still fragile and the problems are
fundamental. Since Armenia has found itself a bit ahead of its neighbors in
South Caucasus in the reformation of media legislation in compliance with
commitments to the Council of Europe (I mean not the qualitative aspect, in
terms of actual freedom of expression we are probably behind Georgia, but
the quantitative aspect of the reforms), I do recommend my colleagues to
study not only the experience of advanced European countries, but also ours,
so as to avoid at least some of the "traps" that can transform the most
liberal procedures into mechanisms of restricting the freedom of expression.
This recommendation refers primarily to the European experts that help our
countries to improve the laws: they find it even harder, than we, in our
countries, to determine these "traps" in the drafts submitted for expert
evaluation. And the acquaintance with the practical effect of certain legal
provisions on the specific post-Soviet South Caucasus soil is particularly
important for them.

My speech would have been incomplete without proposing solutions to the
problems raised. The situation analysis presented above shows that the main
threat for the freedom of expression in Armenia today is the state and
oligarchic monopoly of media, based not so much on power, but on
pseudo-market and pseudo-legal mechanisms, that I tried to describe. And it
is the formation of certain alternatives to this monopoly that the strategy
of independent media development should build on.

Firstly, these are measures on relieving the economical burden that the
press shoulders. Armenian media are the only sphere that received nothing
from the privatization of enterprises related to information and publication
industries. Today the only unsold property is the state premises that the
editorial offices rent. And the media should at least receive these
facilities as property on advantageous terms. (The allusions to the need to
replenish the budget through privatization are unsuitable here: if the
enterprises with a real value of millions of dollars have been privatized
for thousands of dollars, the budget can survive the not very big losses of
privileges to the press.) The real estate ownership is an important basis
for independent business. Moreover, annually, the RA state budget calls for
a certain amount to support the independent media; however, it is
distributed by some unclear principles. Meanwhile, the media community has
long ago proposed to use these sums for the proportionate compensation of a
part of the taxes paid by the press. This would stimulate the transparency
of the financial management of media, the refusal of at least some of them
to have "black" deals.

Secondly, it is the encouragement of quality, objective journalism, the kind
that the Radio Liberty programs are. It will find it difficult to change the
information climate in the country alone, but if there are more positive
examples, the situation will no longer look as hopeless. Thus, the $ 7.5
mln, allocated by the USAID for the support of independent media during the
coming 4-5 years, could have made a significant contribution to the
implementation of this idea. This is quite a big amount of money for
Armenian media market, and it could serve an effective counterbalance to the
sources spent on "bad" journalism. However, the conditions of implementing
this project as they have been defined by the USAID will hardly allow
changing the media landscape in Armenia. Unfortunately, the examples of
resource waste with good intentions, but with no adequate understanding of
the needs of a specific county, are numerous. At the same time it may mean
that there is an idle resource that can be made more active.

Thirdly, it is the greater consistency of international structures that have
an obvious influence on the processes in our countries. I mean, primarily,
the Council of Europe and the OSCE. In 2000, a few months before joining the
CE, the Armenian Parliament passed the Law "On Television and Radio" that is
most bluntly contradicting several fundamental standards stipulated by the
recommendations of the CE Committee of Ministers. Yet, this did not cause a
very negative response of Strasbourg. And during the subsequent four years
our Parliament, despite the numerous documents, demanding to improve the
Law, not only failed to do so, but even made a number of amendments enabling
the authorities to strengthen the control of the authorities over the
broadcasting. However, judging from the last PACE Resolution on Armenia's
honoring of its commitments, this sabotage is of little concern to
Strasbourg. Such tolerance is hardly contributing to the implementation of
true reforms.

Fourthly, it is the introduction of the principles of self-regulation in the
activities of Armenian media. The leading Armenian journalists are
increasingly aware that they are unable to confront the dictate of
oligarchic ethics alone, that they need self-protection from the laws and
judicial practice that restrict the freedom of expression. To save their own
industry from complete discrimination in the eyes of the society they are
ready to propose their corporate ethics, their system of solving
informational conflicts as an alternative. Overcoming the political
dissociation of journalists is not a simple task, but the instinct of
self-preservation of the profession, should there be competent intervention
and stimulating on behalf of non-governmental organizations and
international institutions, should work.

As it can be seen from this incomplete list of measures to improve the
situation of Armenian media, joint effort is necessary to consolidate state
structures, the media community and international organizations. This work
could be coordinated by a group, similar to the one created on the
initiative of OSCE Office in Yerevan. Let us hope that it will not lose the
momentum, gained in 2003.

Boris NAVASARDIAN, YPC President
Tbilisi, October 25, 2004

THE TBILISI DECLARATION ON LIBEL AND FREEDOM OF INFORMATION

On Defamation:

- Executive and legislative authorities at all levels should systematically
review all legal norms including laws, regulations, decrees and other legal
instruments, that impose criminal and civil sanctions for defamation. This
review should be in consultation with the judiciary, media and civil society
organizations. The changes should include:

- In Armenia and Azerbaijan, criminal defamation laws should be eliminated
and replaced with appropriate and narrowly defined civil defamation laws. As
a first step, at least prison sentences should be abolished including
suspended ones. If decriminalization is not possible in the short term, all
current cases should be stopped and a moratorium on further cases should be
imposed. All persons imprisoned for these offences should be released and
rehabilitated.

- Public bodies should not be eligible to use defamation laws. Under the
law, public officials and elected representatives should be prohibited from
using defamation laws to suppress legitimate criticism of their activities
or limit political debate.

- Specific criminal and civil laws for insulting heads of state should be
abolished.

- Civil defamation laws should be revised based on established international
standards and best practices. The burden of proving falsehood should always
be placed on the person who is complaining. Even in cases of factual
inaccuracies, there should be a defence of 'reasonable publication'
available.

- In parallel to decriminalisation, civil damages should be limited to what
is clearly necessary only to repair the harm done by the defamatory
statement and take into account the effect of the award on the ability of
the defendant to continue to exercise their profession. Laws should define
an upper limit for damages.

- Media should develop, promote and observe professional and ethical
standards. Governments should not obstruct efforts by media to establish
professional bodies and create self-regulatory mechanisms.

- Specialised non-governmental organisations should conduct ongoing
monitoring and regularly report on the use of these laws. They should
provide training to media on their legal rights and obligations.

On Freedom of Information:

Executive and legislative authorities at all levels should systematically
review all legal norms including laws, regulations, decrees and other legal
instruments, that affect access to information held by public bodies. This
review should be in consultation with the judiciary, media and civil society
organisations. The changes should include:

Regarding Freedom of Information and Related Laws:

- The adoption of a comprehensive law on Free Access to Information based on
international standards should be finalised in Azerbaijan.

- All three countries should develop a strategy jointly with the media and
NGOs and a comprehensive strategy for the implementation of the laws.

- All public institutions and government departments should establish
procedures and mechanisms (training, public hours, appointment of
information officers, setting up information management systems, creating
and maintaining official web sites) to effectively enable the media and the
public to access information held by the institution.

- Official web sites should be established, maintained and regularly
updated.

- Oversight over the observation of these laws and standards should be
ensured and carried out by parliaments, parliamentary commissions open to
the public, commissions of public hearings and an independent information
commission.

- Laws should be developed to create an independent review mechanism to
provide protection for 'whistleblowers'.

Regarding State Secrets:

- The State Secrets Acts and regulations should be amended in order to limit
their applicability only to that information whose disclosure would
significantly threaten the national security or territorial integrity of a
nation.

- Rules by which information is classified should be made public.
Information should be classified within a short period of being created.
Information classified as secret should be reviewed periodically and be
declassified no later than 20 years after it was classified. Independent
bodies which review classification decisions should be created, such as
ombudsmen or information commissioners.

- Criminal liability connected with the disclosure of state secrets should
be limited in cases of public interest. Journalists should not be required
to disclose their sources.

The Judiciary:

- The independence of the judiciary has to be strengthened in order to
effectively enforce the right to freedom of information.

The Media and NGOs:

- Should promote awareness of access to information laws and monitor their
use.

- Investigate all illegal restrictions on freedom of information, attacks on
journalists, cases of punishment of journalists for seeking and publishing
information regarded to be of public interest.

- The media should know their rights to access information under existing
legislation and use those rights. Unlawful denials should be challenged and
publicized.

Tbilisi, 26 October 2004

THIRD "PRESS CLUB" SHOW

On November 1 on the evening air of the Second Armenian TV Channel the third
"Press Club" show was issued. The cycle is organized by Yerevan Press Club
under "Strengthening Democracy in South Caucasus by Free Expression",
implemented jointly with "Article 19" international organization with the
support of Open Society Institute.

The head of leading media and journalistic associations of Armenia discussed
problems related to access to information. The second central topic was the
relations of European Union and Turkey, particularly, the issue of the
possible start of negotiations on Turkey's accession to EU, recently at the
focus of Armenian media attention. The program participants also spoke about
the US presidential elections of November 2 - as an important world event
that will most probably give rise to numerous comments in Armenian press.

JOURNALISTIC ASSOCIATIONS CONDEMN THE ATTACK ON "ARAGATS ASHKHAR" NEWSPAPER

On October 29 Yerevan Press Club, Journalists Union of Armenia and Committee
to Protect Freedom of Expression issued a statement condemning the attack on
the Chief Editor of "Aragats Ashkhar" newspaper Vardevan Grigorian (see YPC
Weekly Newsletter, October 22-28, 2004).

"On October 27, 2004 at Tsaghkahovit village of Aragatsotn region the Chief
Editor of "Aragats Ashkhar" newspaper Vardevan Grigorian was beaten by the
head of the Aragats Fire Prevention Department and his deputy for a piece
published. The case is particularly out of the ordinary as the same person
(the head of the fire prevention department) had also exercised violence
against Vardevan Grigorian five years ago and received an administrative
punishment for that.

This is already the second case of violence against regional media
representatives in the course of October and comes to prove the point of our
previous statements - that the lack of punishment gives rise to new crimes,
and their wave has now started to cover the regions of Armenia.

Yerevan Press Club, Journalists Union of Armenia and the Committee to
Protect Freedom of Expression condemn the incident with Chief Editor of
"Aragats Ashkhar" and demand the law enforcement bodies to conduct an
objective investigation and to punish those responsible", the statement of
the three journalistic associations says.

"INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS" STILL HAVE A CHANCE TO WIN THE SUIT AGAINST
YEREVAN MUNICIPALITY

On October 29 the RA Court of Cassation secured the suit of "Investigative
Journalists" NGO versus the municipality of Yerevan. On September 23 the
organization challenged with the supreme jurisdiction body of the country
the ruling of the RA Court of Appeals of September 16, 2004, that had left
the decision of the court of primary jurisdiction of Center and Nork-Marash
communities of Yerevan of June 21 unchanged. As it has been reported, the
courts of primary and secondary jurisdiction did not secure the demand of
the plaintiff to the Yerevan administration to provide it with documents
necessary for journalistic investigation: the resolutions of the
municipality of 1997-2003 on the constructions in the public green zone
around the National Opera and Ballet Theater (see details in YPC Weekly
Newsletter, September 17-23, 2004).

The Court of Cassation ruled to send the case back to the consideration of
the Court of Appeals with a new composition. Thus, the "Investigative
Journalists" along with the public at large now have a chance to finally get
an answer to the question: what were the legal grounds behind the boost in
construction of entertaining institutions in one of most beautiful and once
the greenest spots of Yerevan?

LEGAL CONTRADICTION CAN RESULT IN IMPRISONMENT

On October 28 the Chairman of "Investigative Journalists" NGO Edik
Baghdasarian made an address to the Head of Investigation Division of the
Police Department of Center community of Yerevan Artavazd Ghazarian. The
address voices a protest against the involvement of Edik Baghdasarian as a
witness on the case of assault on a leader of "Intellectual Forum" Ashot
Manucharian on April 22, 2004. The resolution on this was made on September
15 by the Senior Investigator of this Police Department Arsen Ayvazian.
Having reminded that he is a journalist on professional duty, Edik
Baghdasarian notes in his address that after each publication on the case
Investigator Ayvazian summons him to interrogation and demands to disclose
the information sources. The head of "Investigative Journalists" further
informs the Head of Investigation Division about his refusal to give
testimony and to disclose information sources. "I stated this to the
investigator, too, saying I am not going to disclose any source, primarily
not to endanger the safety of these people", Edik Baghdasarian stressed in
his statement. His refusal to appear as witness was motivated by the
journalist by Article 5 of the RA Law "On Mass Communication", protecting
the right of the journalist to non-identification of information sources.

As YPC was told by Edik Baghdasarian, he is ready to bear responsibility for
a refusal of testimony, since the safety of the information sources is more
important for him. It should be noted that Article 339 of the RA Criminal
Code ("Refusal from Testimony") stipulates a fine of 50-100 minimal salaries
or reformatory labor for up to a year or imprisonment for up to two months.

YPC Comment: The demand of investigative bodies to the journalist to
disclose the information sources reveals a serious legal contradiction.

On the one hand, Part 1 of Article 5 of the RA Law "On Mass Communication"
says: "Those engaged in communications activities and journalists are not
obliged to disclose information sources, but for the cases stipulated by
Part 2 of this Article". In Part 2 of the same Article the possibility of
source identification was only provided for in case of "a court ruling on a
criminal case, so as to disclose a grave or a particularly grave crime, if
the need of criminal and legal protection of the public interests is higher
that the public interest in non-identification of information sources and
the alternative ways of protecting public interests are exhausted. In this
case, upon the motion of a journalist, a closed-door court hearing is made".

On the other hand, Article 86 of the RA Code of Criminal Proceedings ("The
Witness") does not provide for journalists as individuals who cannot be
involved in the case and interrogated as witnesses.

Therefore, the journalist can be imprisoned for the refusal to be a
witness - in this case to disclose the information source, the
confidentiality of which is guaranteed by the Law on the journalistic
profession. This legal contradiction has arisen as the Code of Criminal
Proceedings was adopted by the Parliament in July 1998, while the Law "On
Mass Communication" was passed five years after, in December 2003. To
eliminate it, an appropriate amendment should be made into the Code to
enable the representatives of the "fourth estate" to preserve the
confidentiality of information sources.

"RESPUBLIKA ARMENIA" RENEWED ITS PUBLICATION

Since November 3 "Respublika Armenia" newspaper renewed its publication. The
three-month timeout (since August 1) of the newspaper was due, primarily to
the staff replacements in the editorial team. In particular, on September
24, by the decision of the founder of the newspaper, "Hayastani
Hanrapetutiun-Respublika Armenia" CJSC, Yelena Kurdian was appointed to the
position of the Chief Editor, replacing Vardan Aloyan who assumed a new job
(see YPC Weekly Newsletter, September 24-30, 2004). The volume of the
newspaper remains the same, 8/A3 pp., and so does the periodicity of
issuance - twice a week.

"AREVATSAGHIK" IS FIVE YEARS OLD

On November 2 in Yerevan the fifth anniversary of "Arevatsaghik" monthly
newspaper for children and adolescents was celebrated. The specific of the
newspaper is first of all that its publication process directly involves
children and adolescents, also disabled.

Yerevan Press Club congratulates "Arevatsaghik" and wishes it further
success and prosperity!


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Editor of YPC Newsletter - Elina POGHOSBEKIAN
____________________________________________
Yerevan Press Club
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375007, Yerevan, Armenia
Tel.: (+ 374 1) 53 00 67; 53 35 41; 53 76 62
Fax: (+374 1) 53 56 61
E-mail: [email protected]
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