Thursday, January 15, 2004


By David Petrosian

January 12, 2004

The RA National Assembly approved the draft law "On Mass Information", which was prepared by the government, in the third reading in New Year's Eve. The draft aroused unequivocal assessments by the journalistic circles, where an appropriate consensus hasn't been formed. So, the National Press Club (NPC), which represents the interests of acting journalists, was very radical and consistently came up against the draft (the parliament of Armenia of the previous convocation didn't support the proposed draft law in April 2003 due to the protects of the NPC), suggesting its alternative draft law. This draft law was submitted to the Parliament by Victor Dallakian, an MP from the "Ardarutyun" ("Justice") opposition bloc, but it was rejected
by the majority of MPs. In early spring of 2002, RA President Robert Kocharian made a statement that he wpold not sign the law "On Mass Information" until it passes relevant international examination, meaning that of the Council of Europe. It was not unexpected, because adoption of a new law regulating the work of mass media was one of the obligations assumed by Armenia while entering this prestigious international organization.

Before the endorsement of the aforementioned draft law both in the first and second readings RA Deputy Minister of Justice Ashot Abovian, who submitted the draft law on behalf of the government, and MP Hranush Hakobian, the Head of the profile parliamentary commission, made a statement, according to which the act submitted to the RA National Assembly passed corresponding international examination,
including by the experts of the Council of Europe. Deathly silence followed in response to the demand of the journalistic circles not controlled by the authorities to provide them with the texts of the corresponding examination. But in December, the secret became obvious. Members of the National Press Club got the text of the
examination of the draft law "On Mass Information" prepared by the specialists of the Council of Europe. The viewpoint of the experts of the Council of Europe differed from the one which was presented by Ashot Abovian and Hranush Hakobian. Regardless of the fact that the experts of the Council of Europe ascertained some positive amendments in the submitted draft law, nevertheless they expressed their open
fear for the future of the freedom of press in Armenia in case of the approval of the draft law "On Mass Information" by the parliament. On the whole the "Article 19" prestigious international journalistic organization (with the headquarters in London) and the German "JTZ" organization, which renders technical and legal support to the
government of Armenia, also gave negative assessments to the submitted draft law. In December, in one of his interviews RA Deputy Minister of Justice Ashot Abovian had to admit that the experts of the Council of Europe gave a negative assessment to the draft law "On Mass Information". The circle was locked.

Though we don't know how far it was locked before grantors for such public organizations as the Yerevan Press Club, the Journalists' Union of Armenia, "Internews" and some others, which were consistent enough, supporting the above-mentioned draft law "On Mass Information", on the whole negatively estimating its final formulations.

We think that in this situation Robert Kocharian will not remember his statement of about two years' prescription, and he will rather sign the law.

In light of the above-mentioned facts it is unclear how the Council of Europe and its monitoring mission will treat obligations assumed by Armenia while entering this prestigious international organization.

The year was completed with a regular tender for the right for transmission on the 56th decimeter frequency, which was final during the recent two years. Other meter and decimeter frequencies received their masters at this moment. Just as it was expected this time the "A1+" and "Noyan Tapan" disgraced TV companies didn't receive again the right for transmission. The "Husaber" CJSC, whose founder is
"Yerkir Media" ("Country Media"), which is close to ARF Dashnaktsutyun, received the right for broadcast. According to Grigor Amalian, the Chairman of the National Commission on TV & Radio (NCTR), the proposal of "Husaber" turned to be equivocally the best one on its technical resolution. Judging by the proposals presented to the tender, "Husaber" will have an opportunity to broadcast for the whole world
through satellite in several years. We suppose that this opens vast prospects for sponsors and partners of "Husaber" while presenting their viewpoints to the Armenian nation.

As for "A1+" and "Noyan Tapan", these two organizations were likely to hope too much for the might and influence of the Council of Europe, OSCE, the European Union and a number of great powers upon the leadership of Armenia. During the recent two years the international organizations through the lips of their leaders made a number of tough statements on the occasion of the non-allocation of frequencies for
transmission to these two TV companies not controlled by the authorities of Armenia. But official Yerevan experienced these tough statements as successfully as the statements of OSCE/PACE about the results of the presidential and parliamentary elections.

Prestigious international organizations and some western powers are likely have to recognize their defeat or mistake of their politics in the issue of support to the freedom of speech in Armenia. And not only in Armenia. We had an opportunity to observe such defeats in Russia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, etc..

What fate expects these TV companies? It is quite obvious that they don't have any serious means for normal functioning any more. Perhaps they have means for survival, but do they secure it during these two years? During this period they hopelessly fell behind their competitors, who had an opportunity to broadcast and earn funds for development, in technical equipment. The gifted staffs are under the
threat of collapse.

In their time western countries could find a wise resolution (not the best one on its form, but satisfactory enough in its essence) and deprive the "Tigran Mets" typographical complex of monopoly, establishing an alternative printing-house in Yerevan. This brought to fall in prices for typographical services in whole Armenia.

In April 2002, when according to the results of the tender, the "A1+" and "Noyan Tapan" TV companies weren't given frequencies for transmission for the first time, a proposal about the establishment of a cable network, through which all the alternative and other TV companies of Armenia could broadcast, was sounded. To recap, according to the current law, there is no necessity to participate in tenders
held by the National Commission on TV & Radio for the reception of license for transmission through the cable network. That time this proposal was "shelved" by the international organizations and western powers. Perhaps they supposed that they would be able to achieve an opportunity of broadcast for "A1+" and "Noyan Tapan". It is obvious today that the circle was locked and this politics failed. If
international organizations and western democracies are really interested in support of freedom of speech and democracy in Armenia, they have the only way out in the formed situation: to contribute to the establishment of the cable network and to give really alternative TV companies of the country an opportunity to broadcast.

Time will show whether western countries and international organizations make this or some other decision or not.

"The Noyan Tapan Highlights" N1, January, 2004

David Petrosyan is a political analyst in Yerevan, Armenia, and writes a regular weekly column in Noyan Tapan. He also provides weekly analyses to the Armenian service of SBS Radio in Australia, and written for a variety of Russian language political newspapers.

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