Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
The media environment deteriorated slightly in 2007 as incidents of violence, legal intimidation, and financial pressure continued to restrict the free flow of information, particularly among broadcast media, the primary source of news for most Armenians. The constitution and other statutes protect freedom of the press, but in practice these rights are often threatened. Libel remains a criminal offense and despite legislation that provides access to public information, such access is frequently denied to journalists. In February, the government adopted amendments to the Law on Rules of Procedure of the National Commission on Television and Radio, which defined the commission as an independent body. However, with half its members appointed by the president and the other half by the government-controlled parliament, the body’s actual degree of independence from political influence and its level of input from the public remain limited. Two other government-sponsored draft laws proposed during the year threatened to effectively ban foreign broadcasts on Armenian public television and radio by imposing heavy taxes on private companies that aired such broadcasts. After strong international opposition, the amendments were not adopted. However, in July, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was informed it would no longer be broadcast on Armenian public radio, its avenue for reaching the majority of its audience in the country. The independent news agency A1+, which has engaged in a legal battle with the government since its television station was shut down in 2002, remained without a license during 2007.
While a wide variety of views are expressed in broadcast and print media, the media environment remained highly politicized throughout the year, particularly as government pressure rose ahead of the May parliamentary elections and again at the end of the year just prior to the February 2008 presidential election. During the campaign period, media watchdog groups reported that broadcast media outlets were generally progovernment in their coverage, although more coverage was allocated to opposition politicians and the full spectrum of political parties prior to the parliamentary elections than during previous cycles. Reports monitoring broadcast media indicate that there was a strong bias in coverage in favor of the government-backed presidential candidate, incumbent prime minister Serzh Sarkisian, who received mostly positive coverage, as compared to opposition candidate and former president Lev Ter-Petrossian, about whom coverage was highly critical. In addition, media were under pressure not to broadcast comments by opposition candidates after the independent Gala TV was harassed after it aired a speech by Ter-Petrossian. In what appeared to be a government-backed effort to shut down the station, tax authorities launched an audit investigation into the company; eventually, charges were filed against the station’s parent company and its assets were frozen. As a result of its troubles, Gala lost a significant amount of its advertising revenues.
Several journalists were imprisoned or facing charges at year’s end. In October 2007, police filed criminal charges against two opposition editors, Nikol Pashinyan of Hayakakan Zhamanak and Shogher Matevosyan of Chorrord Ishkhanutyun, after they had participated in an opposition march that was broken up by riot police. In June, opposition journalist Gagik Shamshian, victim of a 2006 assault by relatives of a local official, was given a suspended sentence of two and a half years for fraud in a case many observers believe was politically motivated. Journalist Arman Babajanian, convicted in 2006 of document forgery and evasion of military service with a particularly harsh sentence, remained in jail at year’s end. Violence against the media also continued to be a concern, with several physical attacks on journalists and their offices occurring during the year. In September 2007, the editor in chief of the opposition Iskakan Iravuk was badly beaten by unidentified assailants outside the paper’s offices and hospitalized as a result. In December, the office of the opposition newspaper Chorrord Ishkanutyun was damaged following an explosion that observers linked to the paper’s critical coverage of the government. No perpetrators were identified or arrested. Several other physical attacks, particularly against photojournalists, took place at election-related rallies or during government functions that media outlets attempted to cover. Because of such violence, as well as media owners’ close government connections, many journalists practice self-censorship.
With television as the country’s dominant medium, there are dozens of stations, including several with national coverage. The majority of broadcast media and newspapers are privately owned, but mostly by politicians or businessmen with close government ties. Some public media receive funding from the state budget and state-owned newspapers include the government-sponsored Hayastani Hanrepatutyun and the Russian-language version, Respublika Armenia. Few private newspapers are financially self-sustainable and able to effectively distribute their editions outside major cities. Ahead of the elections, opposition newspapers were frequently confiscated. There are no formal restrictions for internet access, though regular usage is limited to an estimated 6 percent of the population.