On February 28 the US Department of State released its annual report on human
rights practices in 2004 in different countries of the world, prepared by the
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
Referring to the situation on freedom of speech and press in Armenia, the US
Department of State noted that while the Constitution provides for freedom of
speech and of the press, “the Government partially limited freedom of speech,
and there were several incidents of violence, intimidation and self-censorship”.
The report notes that the majority of the newspapers of the country, with the
exception of “Hayastani Hanrapetutiun” and “Respublika Armenia”, are privately
owned, and the state printing house and the distribution agency functioned as
commercial enterprises – “with no apparent government intervention”. “No
newspaper was completely independent of patronage from economic or political
interest groups or individuals”, the report noted.
Because of low newspaper circulation, most persons in the country rely on broadcast
media for information, which are mostly privately owned. The news coverage of
the private TV companies in the capital and other cities of the country, is
generally independent and of good technical quality. However, in the opinion
of the report authors, the substantive quality of news reporting varied due
to self-censorship by journalists and the stations’ dependence on patronage.
As to the Public Television of Armenia, by the assessment of the US Department
of State, its news coverage continued to be significantly influenced by senior
officials within the office of the President of the country; while its news
reporting was mostly factual, it avoided editorial commentary or criticism of
the Government: “For example, it provided little coverage of the April 12 and
13 political demonstrations in the capital.” The report also noted that “A1+”,
“one of the countries last independent television stations”, did not get a broadcast
license in 2002 “because of sharp critical coverage of the President Kocharian’s
administration”. The report also mentioned the refusal of “Kentron” TV company
in October 2004 to continue broadcasting the program of Radio Free Europe/Radio
The statement that “major media outlets in the country were generally pro-government”
was illustrated by the report authors with the 2003 presidential election campaign,
when “the majority of the media, including Public TV of Armenia, most private
television stations, and the major state-funded newspaper, all provided heavily
biased news coverage that favored incumbent President Kocharian”.
The situation of freedom of speech and press in 2004 is also defined in the
report in the context with the cases of “harassment of journalists”. Among the
specific examples the incidents at the opposition rallies of April 5 and on
April 12-13. It was noted in particular that during the rally of April 5 men
in civilian clothing caused material and physical damage to journalists, and
by eyewitness accounts the police stood up and did not intervene to stop the
attacks. On April 13 the police themselves exerted violence against journalists,
although, as the latter maintained, they had identified themselves to the police
as reporters covering the rally. The report also mentions the violence against
the photojournalist in Tsaghkadzor on August 24. “There also were unconfirmed
reports of incidents of harassment and intimidation of journalists outside the
capital”, the report of the Department of State mentions.
Despite the absence of official censorship, in the opinion of the US Department
of State, some print journalists “continue to practice self-censorship to avoid
problems with the Government and because of pressure from official sources”.
The report also noted the adoption of amendments to the RA Criminal Code, in
particular, the certain mildening of the punishment stipulated for the libel
and insult of an official. However, it is stressed that the libel and insult
remain criminal offences.
When evaluating the freedom of speech situation, the report authors also used
the information of Yerevan Press Club.
In the section of the US Department of State’s report on the freedom of religion
in Armenia it was noted also that the head of “ALM” TV company “frequently made
anti-Semitic remarks on the air”.