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Freedom

of the Press in Armenia


Understanding the Threat to Armenias Constitution

June 2013 A Quarterly Report by the Caucasus Study Group

Introduction Armenias constitution guarantees freedom of the press and legal protections for members of the press, but in practice, members of the press often find themselves under attack by government officials.1 Armenia remains an oppressive country that is openly hostile to writers and bloggers who oppose the governments agenda. The country has made a few slight improvements, most notably in 2010 when imprisonment was eliminated as a punishment for libel. However, despite these improvements on paper, the country continues to charge political writers with libel and other serious crimes against the state. Armenias media outlets are still quite weak and the field of journalism has not yet developed into a full-fledged field. Armenia has numerous print media outlets, but not one of the papers has a circulation exceeding 4,000, so the influence of newspapers is very limited.2 The country has four main television stations, but all four are owned by the state.3 Blogging is still a very new form of media in the country. The Soviet Legacy Armenia, which was part of the former Soviet Union, has retained many of the Soviet censorship techniques. In the Soviet Union, freedom of the press and freedom of speech simply did not exist. Censorship was strictly enforced. Censorship in the Soviet Union took several different forms, including destroying and confiscating printed materials that were unfavorable to the regime, and arresting and imprisoning (and sometimes executing) writers and artists who expressed views contrary to the official Party line. The Crackdown on the Media Today Armenia in the past several years has witnessed several severe crackdowns on the press, including libel allegations and harassment. A few of the most egregious examples are below. Jamanak, an opposition newspaper, was ordered to pay former president Robert Kocharian 3 million drams (approximately 8,250 USD) for publishing allegations that Mr. Kocharian was involved in corrupt business deals. Another opposition daily, Haykakan Jamanak, was ordered to pay three prominent businessmen a combined 6 million drams (approximately 16,500 USD) for publishing allegations that they were involved in criminal activities. In early November, a court in Yerevan ordered that property of the newspaper Hraparak be seized pending a decision in a lawsuit seeking 34,000 euros ($47,300) as punishment for slanderous comments posted on the papers website by readers.
1 The full text of the Armenian Constitution is available here:

http://www.parliament.am/parliament.php?id=constitution&lang=eng 2 Shushan Harutyunyan, Masaryk University, Brno 3 Ibid.

In March of 2011, four reporters from Finland were denied access to the country because they were working on a documentary about the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the government wanted to ensure that its citizens would not be exposed to an outsider perspective on that conflict.

Government-Controlled Media Most of the major media outlets in Armenia are controlled by the state government.4 Unlike other countries where the Internet is quickly becoming a major source of news, television remains Armenias primary news outlet. Public TV Armenia is a state-owned organization and is one of very few stations with a nationwide audience. The government authorities refused to grant digital licenses to ALM television, which had the potential to create opposition news and run stories that were contrary to the official state position. The Role of the Internet: Approximately 37% of Armenias population is online. Online news media play an increasingly important role in providing political information. Many believe that increased access to the Internet is the best way to liberalize freedom of the press within Armenia. Conclusion: Although Armenia has made significant strides in amending its laws and regulations related to the media, much remains to be done. Armenia has taken an unfortunate turn with increased repressive measures. The state more firmly controls the media today than it did a decade ago, which many scholars believe is an ominous sign about what lies ahead for the country. The Caucasus Study Group will continue to monitor the attacks directed against members of the media in Armenia and will update this report on a regular basis.

4 Freedom of the Press 2012, Freedom House. Report available here:

http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2012/armenia