Monday, 2 July 2007

Hand’s Off Our Liberty!

Protest action against the possible termination of the broadcast of Radio Liberty through the National Radio of Armenia took place in Yerevan today. This may happen if parliament approves proposed amendments to the Laws "On Television and Radio" and "On State Duties" that would ban Armenian-language foreign media programmes [read Radio Liberty] on public-service broadcast channels, and introduce heavy fees for those programmes on private channels. OSCE, Human Rights Watch, local civic and media organisations have already condemned the proposed amendments and considered them as threat to the freedom of press in Armenia.

See also Target: Radio Liberty

According to the reports of Armenian bloggers (artate, n3ssun4, tirami su, bekaisa, Observer) and A1+, activists and representatives of various NGOs gathered at Freedom (Liberty) Square and marched to the House of Parliament, with covered mouths symbolising the silencing of free and independent press, and carrying a 10 meter long poster "They voted against Freedom" with the faceless pictures and names of the 79 MPs who voted (first reading) for the bill on Friday.

(pictures via artate)

(picture via n3ssun4)

"They are faceless as they don't have their own viewpoint," said Amalia Kostanyan, the head of "Transparency International" Armenian Office referring to the fact that pro-government majority MPs vote for whatever PM or President instruct them.

(pictures via A1+)

"At all times in our newest history, whenever we were experiencing retreat from democracy, one of the first steps has been stopping the "Liberty" broadcasts. Today we are again living such times”, - according to the president of the Yerevan Press Club Boris Navasardyan.

(picture via Observer)

I want to join protesters and Observer in saying:

Hand’s Off Our Liberty!

Final vote on the bills is expected tomorrow.


Observer said...

this was such an incredibly stupid move by the RA government - that I'm simply speechless!

artmika said...

Tell me about it. It seems that they are doing whatever they can to diminish the 'praise' they received from the international community on recent parliamentary elections.

I just heard that the parliament failed to approve the bill on its second reading. Pro-goverment majority managed only 63 votes, not enough to pass the bill. I am sure if they wanted, they would have managed to get enough people to finally approve the amendments, as they always do.

Probably this time pressure from the outside was too much, and they decided to take time off to decide on their further actions. Sadly, we need to rely on outside pressure to get things changed in our country...

Observer said...

hehe! its official, the bill didn't pass the second reading!

artmika said...

it's Good Afternoon, indeed! :) Hand's Off Our Liberty!!!

artmika said...

Armenian Parliament Rejects Foreign Media Bill

3 July 2007
By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Radio Liberty, Armenia

The Armenian government unexpectedly failed to push through parliament on Tuesday controversial draft legislation that could lead to a de facto ban on Armenian-language broadcasts of RFE/RL.

The National Assembly dominated by government supporters lacked only one vote to make a quorum and pass a package of relevant legal amendments in the second and final reading. Failure by some pro-government lawmakers to take part in the crucial vote and its boycott by the opposition minority were decisive for the surprise development.

Under its statutes, the Armenian parliament passes laws by a simple majority in votes involving most of its 131 members. Only 65 deputies chose to make their final judgment on the government bill, 63 of them voting for it and the two others abstaining.

The 15 or so opposition deputies were about to vote against the bill when the most experienced of them, Victor Dallakian, noticed the worse-than-usual attendance of Tuesday’s parliament session by majority members. Dallakian, who is not affiliated with any party, persuaded his colleagues representing the opposition Zharangutyun and Orinats Yerkir parties to opt for a boycott instead. They thereby killed the draft amendments that would ban state radio from retransmitting of news programs of foreign broadcasters and impose heavy fees on private networks engaged in such retransmission.

The proposed changes are widely believed to be directed against RFE/RL’s Armenian service that has long been using state radio’s broadcasting frequency to make its popular news programs accessible to the vast majority of Armenians. The Armenian opposition and local and international human rights organizations believe that they would further restrict press freedom in the country.

Parliament speaker Tigran Torosian and other senior members of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) have insisted all along that the retransmission ban would not be applicable to RFE/RL. However, Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian indicated the opposite as the parliament wrapped up heated debates on the issue on Monday.

The differing interpretations are construed by some observers as an indication of serious divisions within Armenia’s leadership over the future of RFE/RL broadcasts which President Robert Kocharian believes feature too much criticism of his administration. The failure by some pro-government deputies to show up for the final vote on the bill may have been another sign of such disagreements.

Particularly glaring was the absence of the overwhelming majority of the 16 legislators affiliated with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun.) The nationalist party, which is the HHK’s junior partner in the ruling coalition, has not expressed its official position on the amendments in question, even though its parliament faction overwhelmingly voted for them in the first reading on Friday.

It was not immediately clear whether the government will re-introduce the bill and, if so, whether it will call another emergency session of the National Assembly or wait until the start of the parliament’s regular autumn session in September. In the latter case, the bill would have to discussed and approved by a relevant parliament committee before being again put to the vote.

The collapse of the government initiative sparked unusual scenes of joy among opposition lawmakers and journalists covering the parliament session.

“I congratulate Radio Liberty,” Dallakian told RFE/RL. “The parliament minority has proved that what matters is quality, and not quantity. This will be a lesson for the parliament majority, which will have to respect one of the most important rights, liberty.”

“This is a victory for liberty,” said Orinats Yerkir’s Mher Shahgeldian. “This is extremely important for freedom of the media, human rights and the development of democracy in Armenia.”