Media Expert Alarmed by ‘Self-Censorship Prospect’

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A recognized media law expert in Armenia believes the government is laying the groundwork for rigging the next parliamentary polls by seeking legislation that will seriously restrict the activities of local media.

Mesrop Harutiunian, an expert with the Committee for the Protection of Freedom of Speech, shares the latest criticism voiced by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists regarding physical violence and attacks against journalists in Armenia. Yet, he describes as more alarming “the policy on media adopted by the government ahead of the 2012 parliamentary elections.”

Talking to RFE/RL on Wednesday, Harutiunian singled out government-proposed amendments in the civil and penal codes, which, he claimed, will facilitate “the government’s job of vote rigging.”

“They are going to rig the upcoming elections as they have in the past,” Harutiunian asserted. “If these amendments are adopted, the print media will gradually have to either close or become what today’s television is. If amendments are moved into the law on NGOs, these organizations will become more controllable. And I always say ironically that we will have brilliant elections in 2012, because there will be no one to report violations.”

In the expert’s opinion, heavy fines proposed for libel and ‘disparaging’ reporting will cause media to exercise self-censorship.

“Journalists will no longer be beaten, but will be summoned to court. And all know that courts [in Armenia] are subordinate to the authorities today. The imposition of several heavy fines on a newspaper will make it go out of business,” said Harutiunian.  
Anna Hakobian, who manages the pro-opposition “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, also shares the concern voiced in the report by international experts. She says that pressures on their paper have increased in the past two years.

“We have experienced all that from day one – be its violence against our journalists or a legal action against the paper,” said Hakobian.

Chairman of the Yerevan Press Club Boris Navasardian, meanwhile, regretted that authorities in Armenia usually show little interest in the estimations of international human rights organizations unless these estimations influence the estimations of larger international structures, such as the Council of Europe or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“But even in these cases our authorities are more inclined to seek means to influence the estimations of these organizations than try to improve the situation and create conditions for mass media and journalists,” said Navasardian.


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