Freedom of the Press

Armenia

Armenia

Freedom of the Press 2007

2007 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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

64

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

24

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

20

The constitution guarantees freedom of the press, although the government and those closely connected to the ruling party frequently fail to respect press freedom in practice. Libel remains a criminal offense. A coalition of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)—including the Yerevan Press Club, the Journalists Union of Armenia, Internews Armenia, the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, and the Investigative Journalists Association—drafted a proposal to abolish Article 318 of the criminal code, which establishes criminal liability for insulting a public official. Armenia adopted freedom of information legislation in 2003, but the law has been poorly implemented.

In September, Armen Babajanian, editor of the opposition daily Zhamanak Yerevan, was sentenced to four years in prison for falsifying documents to avoid military service. Although he pleaded guilty, media organizations expressed concern that the trial was politically influenced, since the sentence was unusually harsh for such an offense. In July, editors from eight leading newspapers and several NGO directors issued a joint statement highlighting the ever-increasing pressure put on journalists who criticize the authorities. The president appoints all members of the National Commission for Television and Radio (NCTVR), the body that oversees the broadcast media. The commission’s actions are government controlled and not transparent. During the year, A1+, once a vocal and politically independent television station, continued efforts to obtain a frequency license, but all 12 of its applications over the past four years have been denied by the NCTVR. In 2002, the NCTVR had revoked A1+’s license and subsequently gave it to a pro-government national television station. Since then, the station has remained vocal by producing television programs and internet publications. Each year, Armenian journalists organize protests on the anniversary of the station’s license revocation. The Armenian National Academy of Sciences filed a lawsuit in March 2006 demanding that A1+ vacate the building it had occupied for the past 15 years. The academy owned the building and won the lawsuit, and the journalists were given 24 hours to leave. Separately, the government proposed a draft law that would have changed the composition of the NCTVR, with half the members appointed by the Parliament and the other half by the president. The legislation also sought to reduce television coverage of the Parliament. However, lawmakers rejected the bill in September.

While the government does not exert direct control or censorship over the media, it maintains a firm grip, particularly over broadcast media, through informal pressure on outlet owners. Print publications are typically free to report diverse views, partly because their low circulation and lack of presence in rural areas make them a less likely target for government pressure. The highest-circulation daily, Haykakan Zhamanak, sells fewer than 6,000 copies a day. Since A1+ was taken off the air, most television stations have grown more politically aligned with the government, remain selective in their reporting, and routinely ignore opposition members. Armenian Public Television, which has national reach, avoids criticizing the government amid the evident climate of self-censorship in the broadcast media. Toward the end of the year, as the campaign for the spring 2007 parliamentary elections intensified, opposition figures faced discriminatory coverage and high prices for campaign advertisements. There were reports throughout the year of physical violence inflicted against members of the press. In July, Gagik Shamshian, a freelancer writing for the opposition weekly Chorrord Ishkhanutyun and the independent daily Aravot, was allegedly assaulted by the local government leader’s brother and other assailants, and Chorrord Ishkhanutyun’s offices were damaged by an arson attack. In September, Hovhannes Galajian, editor in chief of the opposition-sponsored Iravunk newspaper, was attacked and beaten.

The print media are privately owned, except for the government-subsidized Hayastani Hanrapetutyun and its Russian-language version. But print publications struggle with financial difficulties, and few newspapers are able to function independently of economic or political interest groups. The government has further restricted the print media’s distribution ability with new legislation that requires delivery companies to apply for costly licenses. The legislation threatens to bankrupt smaller companies and force all print media to use either Armenia’s postal service or the main kiosk vendor, both of which are government affiliated. In 2006, owing to the Russian transportation embargo on Georgia, Armenia faced a shortage of newsprint. Most television stations are also privately owned, but the owners are often pro-government politicians or government-affiliated business magnates. Internet access remains low at 5 percent of the population thanks to high connection costs, but there have been no reports of official restrictions imposed on its use.