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 significantly in early 2008, with harassment increasing before and after the February presidential election. Throughout the year, incidents of violence, legal intimidation, and financial pressure continued to restrict the free flow of information, particularly among broadcast media. The constitution and legal 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 the media.
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 at the end of the year despite a June ruling in its favor by the European Court of Human Rights. The decision stated that the government had violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights by denying A1+ a broadcasting license, and ordered the authorities pay 30,000 euros to the station’s parent company. The government has delayed paying the fine. In September, in a seemingly retaliatory response to the court’s ruling, the government amended the Law on Radio and Television to impose a moratorium on the issuance of new television licenses until 2010.
Throughout the year, the broadcast media were highly politicized, with most outlets offering progovernment coverage. There was little oversight to ensure objectivity, as the National Council on Television and Radio (NCTR) is dominated by the ruling party. The Constitutional Court ruled that the Central Election Commission failed to control preelection media bias and that the NCTR did not effectively comply with the law, but it did not issue any sanctions.
Following the February 18 election, tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated against the allegedly flawed results, leading to violent clashes with police. On March 1, the government imposed a state of emergency and cracked down on the media, closing all opposition outlets and websites. Journalists were barred from their offices, and authorities prohibited access to printing presses. Three private radio stations—Radio Yerevan, Radio Hay, and Ardzagank Radio—were banned from broadcasting. ArmNews, a private television station that carried foreign news broadcasts, was suspended. On March 13, journalists were allowed to resume work only if they did not report “destabilizing” information about domestic politics. This broad decree enabled the government to maintain its crackdown until the state of emergency was fully lifted on March 21. Although internet sites were restored and newspapers allowed to print, police and security officials continued to harass journalists. While the government was quick to use the law to punish journalists, most attacks against the press went unpunished. In August 2008, Hrach Melkumian, acting head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Yerevan bureau, was brutally assaulted by an unknown assailant. Several other journalists reported being violently attacked, linking the incidents to recent investigative work.
Television is the country’s dominant medium, and there are dozens of stations, including several with nearly national coverage. The state-owned Public Television H1 is the only outlet with full national coverage. The majority of broadcast media and newspapers are privately owned, but most are held by politicians or businessmen with close government ties, ensuring a degree of self-censorship. Few private newspapers are able to support themselves financially or effectively distribute their editions outside major cities. The government used the tax service to control the media during 2008. Unannounced tax inspections were carried out on four independent and opposition media organizations after the lifting of the state of emergency.While there are no formal restrictions on internet access, some opposition sites were blocked during the state of emergency, and there were allegations that the government monitored e-mails. Regular internet usage is limited to an estimated 6 percent of the population.