Monday, 19 May 2008

Demands for radical reforms in Armenia’s Public TV to meet country’s European commitments

Opposition Heritage party issued a statement today (ArmInfo), where as part of urgent steps to fulfil Armenia’s European obligations, reforms in Public TV and bringing back to air independent/pro-opposition A1+ and Noyan Tapan TV stations are stated as essential to prove government’s democratic commitments.

Interestingly, it’s more than a week that special commission set up by the incumbent president Serj Sargsyan to meet PACE demands compiled its recommendations (not made fully public yet) and passed it to the president office. However, time is passing and we have not heard anything back from Serj’s office, and essentially we have not seen any real steps as yet to prove that government is serious in meeting its European obligations.

Yerevan Press Club echoes opposition Heritage party by demanding urgent and cardinal reforms in Armenia’s Public TV. In a statement, issued today, leading local media watchdog spoke of “a particularly dangerous precedent for the free expression” which was “the application of preemptive censorship in Armenia during the period of March 1-20, 2008, while it is prohibited by the RA legislation and was not introduced by the President’s Decree on state of emergency or by any other official document.” Yerevan Press Club demands ending “the persecution of media for dissidence on any pretext. The political struggle cannot be turned into a campaign against democratic values; this increases the existing tension and endangers the future of the country.”

“After the adoption of PACE Resolution 1609, the critical remarks of a number of other international and local organizations about presidential elections and the post-election situation in Armenia, quite a lot of time has elapsed, yet there is an impression that the authorities of the country did not make appropriate practical conclusions. To rectify the situation Yerevan Press Club proposes the following priority measures that must be implemented during the upcoming one or two months:

1. During the parliamentary elections of 2007, the presidential elections of 2008 and also in the post-electoral period the National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR), having a status of independent regulator and commissioned to “control the activities of TV and radio companies” (RA Law “On Television and Radio”, Article 37, Part 1) failed to comply with one of its main functions and failed to prevent violations of the RA legislation by most of the broadcasters. This problem was reflected in the ruling of the RA Constitutional Court of March 8, 2008 and in an extraordinary public report of the RA Human Rights Defender, published on April 25, 2008. In particular, the Constitutional Court stated that in the course of presidential elections of 2008 “the National Commission on Television and Radio displayed formalistic approach to the compliance with the legal requirements. As a result, the media coverage displayed not only partiality, but also, in some cases, violations of legal and ethical norms”. The preliminary conclusion of the International Election Observation Mission at the presidential election of Armenia, dated February 20, 2008, notes: “The National Commission on Television and Radio did not adequately fulfill its mandate to monitor compliance of the media with legal provisions.” The PACE Resolution 1609 of April 17, 2008 stresses directly: “The independence from any political interest of both the National Television and Radio Commission and the Public Television and Radio Council must be guaranteed. In addition, the composition of these bodies should be revised in order to ensure that they are truly representative of Armenian society. The recommendations made by the Venice Commission and Council of Europe experts in this respect must finally be taken into account.” In 2006 the report on the state of media freedom in Armenia by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media recommended that the composition of these bodies “should represent the political and social diversity of the country, and should include NGOs and professional associations”.

Proceeding from what has been said, we insist on the need to implement within shortest time possible the legislative amendments to ensure the participation of various political forces, civil society in the formation of NCTR, and we urge the incumbent members of the National Commission to voluntarily resign. Through the formation of the new composition of NCTR - in a procedure, stipulated by profound legislative amendments - there will be an opportunity to fulfill the requirements of Article 83.2 of the RA Constitution, as well as the recommendations of the PACE Resolution 1609 of April 17, 2008.

2. During the past year the incompliance of the activities of the Public TV and Radio Company of Armenia with its status and mission became even more obvious. Ahead and during presidential elections of 2008 the news and current affairs programs of the public broadcaster provided one-sided information and did not comply with the requirements of the RA Law “On Television and Radio” about ensuring political plurality. Moreover, by its activities, the Public Television did not only fail to contribute to national accord, but also, on the contrary, incited mutual hatred. In the same way it continued to work during the post-election period. The abovementioned report of the RA Human Rights Defender notes: “A most vivid example of such unacceptable coverage (during the state of emergency - YPC) was demonstrated by the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia, which not only neglected this provision of the Decree, but also once again made a grave infringement of the requirement of Article 28 of the RA Law “On Television and Radio”: ‘The prevalence of a political stance in the programs broadcast (...) on public television (...) is prohibited’.”

The whole responsibility for violating the legislation, the standards of public broadcasting, the professional norms lies on the Council of Public TV and Radio Company. We believe that in the Council, as a result of appropriate legislative changes, an equal representation of professionals is to be made - upon the nomination from both political forces at power and the opposition. This would serve to fulfill the recommendation of PACE Resolution 1609 of April 17, 2008: “(...) Apart from reforming the legislation, the authorities must take steps to ensure freedom and pluralism of the public television and radio on a day-to-day basis.” The first step towards the reformation of the public broadcasting of Armenia, in our opinion, can be also the voluntary resignation of the Council of the Public TV and Radio Company - in full composition.”


Azad said...

What is not clear to me is that why the whole discussion is focused on the public TV. And why the reforms that will eventually apply only to the public TV are qualified as “radical”. Isn’t television (except cable TV or by subscription that don’t exist in Armenia) a public good/service? And shouldn’t the regulations apply to all channels, regardless of their ownership?
For instance, if there are time allocations and quotas established for the government and different political forces, why should these apply only to H1, and not to Yerkir and to other channels?
I mean, if all political parties need to have their own TV channel to make their viewpoints and voices heard, this may be called “pluralism” but is it really democratic?
And if tomorrow we discover that the secret services tap into telephone connections and postal services, are we going to demand that they stop their intrusion or are we going to let each political force to create its own telephone network (like in Lebanon) or postal service?

artmika said...

The main reason is that it is the only "Public TV" we have; all others are private or something similar. Public TV's influence is incomparable with any other media and TV channel due to its coverage. Also, its is the main TV channel which is financed substantially by tax-payers money. If we see changes in Public TV, others' undoubtedly will follow the suite.