In the evening of June 10 at the extraordinary session of RA National Assembly the amendments to the RA Law “On Television and Radio” was passed in second hearing and finally. As it has been reported, the draft law was elaborated by the RA Ministry of Economy and was justified by the need of switching from analog to digital broadcasting. Since the release, the adoption in first hearing (May 20) and during all further discussions, the document has been criticized by journalistic and international organizations. The latter noted that the draft does not solve the crucial issues of broadcast sphere regulation and recommended to introduce some essential changes to it. Thus, the statement of Yerevan Press Club, Internews Media Support NGO, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, “Asparez” Journalist’s Club of Gyumri, Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia (June 6) emphasized that, regardless the assurance of the Ministry of Economy and the interdepartmental commission on the digitalization of TV and radio broadcasts in Armenia about the adoption of the action plan proposed by the NGOs, the draft, submitted for second hearing, reflects only a few, but not the crucial, proposals of journalistic associations and international experts. Five NGOs called the RA National Assembly not to discuss the amendments to the draft until it is presented in the format and with the content as agreed. The statement also urged international organizations not to assist the RA Government in the digitalization process until it presents an amended draft and proves that it can use the assistance effectively (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, June 4-10, 2010).
The adoption of the amendments to the Broadcast Law raised new heavy critics.
On June 10 at the session of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna, Ian Kelly, the US Ambassador to the OSCE, recalled in his speech about the commitments of member States to respect and protect fundamental human rights such as freedom of the media and expression. While acknowledging the ongoing efforts of the Armenian Government to switch from analogue to digital broadcasting, the US Mission to the OSCE noted and shared with others concerns about the recent amendments to the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, and “the likelihood that the amendments will reduce TV media pluralism as well as the Armenian public’s access to diverse information and opinions”.
“We welcomed the legal review conducted by the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFOM) and presented to the Armenian Government on May 25, and its recommendations on how to modify the initial draft legislation. Because transparency and good-faith consultations with affected stakeholders on media reforms are crucial to their ultimate success, we fully supported the RFOM’s key recommendation that Armenia’s National Assembly deputies convene a working group composed of representatives of journalistic non-governmental organizations, opposition parliamentarians, and others to work on a fundamental revision of the draft law, fully taking into account the remarks and suggestions of the working group members, as well as the recommendations of international organizations and their experts. The Government’s willingness to hold public consultations on the draft law is to be commended. However, the rushed legislative process unfortunately did not allow for the thorough public discussion that such important legislation merited.
While we welcome the fact that some changes were made to the legislation in line with the RFOM’s recommendations, we note that a number of concerns and recommendations remain unanswered. For example, we note with concern that the amendments to the law will actually reduce the number of TV media able to broadcast in Armenia for some years, thereby restricting media pluralism.
In light of these concerns, we urge the Armenian Government and National Assembly to further amend the legislation, taking into account the OSCE’s recommendations, in order to make the legislation consonant with international standards and OSCE commitments and to do so in an inclusive and transparent manner,” the statement of Ian Kelly, US Ambassador to the OSCE, says.
In the statement of Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (released on June 15), the amendments to the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, adopted by RA NA, are considered as not promoting broadcast pluralism in the digital era. Among the main shortcomings of the draft Dunja Mijatovic marked the following: the reduction of the number of TV channels; the lack of clear rules for licensing of satellite, mobile and online broadcasting; the placement of all forms of broadcasting under a regime of licensing or permission by the regulatory body; the granting of authority to the courts to terminate broadcast licenses based on provisions in the law that contain undue limitations on freedom of the media; the lack of procedures and terms for the establishment of private digital TV channels.
“Armenia should not lose the opportunity to adopt forward-looking media legislation. New technologies, including digital broadcasting, should be used by governments to strengthen media pluralism. These technologies can improve access to information and enable the public to seek, access and impart information,” Dunja Mijatovic stressed. In conclusion the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media emphasized that her Office is ready to continue its support to the Armenian authorities in all legislative reforms related to media freedom.
The letter of international organization Human Rights Watch to RA President Serzh Sargsian (June 15) calls to refrain from signing the law and instead return it to the parliament with the aim of bringing the document into compliance with Armenia’s international obligations on freedom of expression. The message of Human Rights Watch highlights the abovementioned main shortcomings of the adopted draft, as well as the failure to require the National Commission on Television and Radio to provide explanations for its decisions to reject broadcasting license applications. Human Rights Watch also pointed out the obligation of Armenia to fulfill the ruling of European Court of Human Rights of June 17, 2008 on the case of “A1+” TV company (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, June 13-19, 2008).