Armenia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Armenia

Armenia

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

64

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

26

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

18

Throughout the year, the government sometimes limited constitutional protections for freedom of the press. In April, President Robert Kocharian approved legislation restricting media coverage of terrorism issues, citing ongoing terrorist threats. The Yerevan Press Club maintains that the legislation is vague and open to abuse. The government has yet to decriminalize libel offenses, and the criminal code allows authorities to impose high fines and up to five years' imprisonment for slandering political officials. However, no libel cases were brought against journalists during 2005. Despite local pressure and Council of Europe recommendations to renew broadcasting rights for the independent television station A1+, which was taken off the air in 2002, the government rejected its tender bid for a new license for the seventh time.

Although there is a good amount of media diversity and pluralism, some major broadcast media maintain a pro-government bias, and there is no independent public broadcaster. There is no official censorship; however, the president's office provides policy guidance, particularly for Public Television Armenia. Expressing political opposition often results in prosecution, harassment, and intimidation. Although a man was sentenced in late 2004 to six months in prison for assaulting a journalist, he was released from custody and by the end of the year had yet to serve his sentence. Most journalists resort to self-censorship rather than cover controversial topics such as corruption or issues involving the mostly ethnically Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. In April, the car of Samuel Aleksanian, editor of the state-operated weekly Syunyats Yerkir, was set on fire. According to the journalist, the arson attack followed the newspaper's criticism of a local official. The Ministry of the Interior closed its investigation into the 2004 arson attack on a car owned by the editor of the independent daily Haikakan Zhamanak with no arrests made. The newspaper reported that the politician suspected of being responsible was never investigated.

Most newspapers are privately owned but are dependent on support from business conglomerates or political interests. Moreover, most printing presses are located in Yerevan, making it difficult for regional distribution networks to function effectively. Because of low print circulation, television is the main provider of news and information. There is a wide variety of independent broadcast media, including more than 20 radio and 40 television stations, most of which are based in Yerevan. Local communities outside the capital experience far less media diversity, primarily as a result of a very poor economy. Russian television channels are also available. Economic pressures, such as the use of official advertising to influence coverage, were more common than direct political pressure. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcasts were suspended for several days around the time of the constitutional referendum. As with a similar suspension in 2004, the official explanation was that it was due to "technical problems." Internet access remains low thanks to high connection costs, but there have been no reports of official restrictions imposed on its use.