On October 17 in Yerevan, Yerevan Press Club presented the results of the Media Freedom Index (for the period of January-March and April-June 2014) in the six Eastern Partnership countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
The research is carried out in the framework of the “ENP East Media Freedom Watch” project, which is supported by the European Union and implemented by YPC in cooperation with Internews Ukraine and other partner NGOs from EaP countries. To inform about the situation with media in the six countries, a special website has been launched. The website also posts the results of the Media Freedom Index, as well as the quarterly reports that are based on the study, and describe the situation with media, providing recommendations for improvement.
The level of media freedom in each of the EaP countries is determined by a joint methodology through expert interviews. Ten experts (journalists, human rights advocates, lawyers, sociologists, public figures) from each country answer a set of 55 questions-criteria. For each question each expert rates the situation in the country by giving scores from 0 to 3 points (0 - the lowest level of media freedom, 3 - the highest). The criteria for assessment are the same for each country. They reflect the experts’ perception about the level of media freedom at the moment of the survey, and describe only the state of freedom of expression and media, regardless of the quality of journalism. The questions are broken into 4 blocks: Policy, pursued in the media field (legislation, regulatory mechanisms, etc.); Practice (cases of harassment, persecution, access to information, etc.); Broadcasting (level of independence of TV and radio companies, access to air, etc.); Internet and New Media (advance, level of freedom, access, etc.). The expert assessments are summed up and thus the cumulative Media Freedom Index is calculated by a 1-7 numerical score (the higher the score is the better is the media situation).
At the meeting with journalists YPC introduced the results of the study for the period of January 1 - March 31 and April 1 - June 30, 2014.
The cumulative rating list is headed by Georgia in the both periods with Index of 7 (1,362 points in January-March and 1,409 in April-June).
Moldova came in the second with Index of 6 (1,271 and 1,284).
Armenia for both periods had Index of 5, but as for the total cumulative score, the country was the third in January-March (963) and the fourth in April-June (955).
Ukraine, with Index of 4, was on the fourth position in January-March (752) but improved its rating in April-June, receiving Index of 5, and came in the third, outstripping Armenia by the number of points (1,071).
Azerbaijan and Belarus are closing the rating list: Index 3 (547 and 560) for Azerbaijan, and Index 2 (461) in January-March for Belarus, which was improved to Index 3 (502) in April-June.
Deterioration of Armenia’s position in the first half of 2014 was caused by several factors. The experts particularly noted the following negative events: introduction of the draft law, providing for responsibility for dissemination of defamatory articles and comments taken from fake accounts; incidents of obstructing journalists’ work which have become frequent in 2014 and still remain unpunished, including the cases accompanied with violence, often involving police officers; precedent-setting court ruling obliging “Hraparak” daily and iLur.am to disclose their source of information.
On October 8, the RA Investigative Committee (newly established independent investigative body, not subordinated to any governmental institution) announced on its Facebook page about the initiation of a criminal case on the incident between Taguhi Hovhannisian, correspondent of “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily, and Artyusha Karapetian, the leader of the Armenian community of Kazakhstan.
As we have reported, the incident took place in Yerevan on September 19, near the National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet, where the 5th Armenia-Diaspora Forum kicked off on the same day. According to “Haikakan Zhamanak”, Taguhi Hovhannisian approached Artyusha Karapetian with some questions regarding the Forum, to which Karapetian responded normally. However, when the journalist asked Karapetian to comment on the recent publications in the Armenian press, where representatives of the Armenian community of Kazakhstan are criticizing the work of Artyusha Karapetian as the community leader, Karapetian grabbed the recorder from the journalist’s hands and threw it away. When Taguhi Hovhannisian tried to take a photo of the head of the Armenian community of Kazakhstan with her mobile phone, Artyusha Karapetian ordered his bodyguards to “get rid” of the journalist. One of the bodyguards, whose badge read “A. Abrahamian”, seized the journalist’s phone and returned it after deleting all the photos she had taken, wrote “Haikakan Zhamanak”. On September 22, six journalistic organizations issued a statement condemning the aggressive behavior of the head of the Armenian community of Kazakhstan. The media NGOs demanded the RA Prosecutor’s Office to consider their statement along with the press publications on the incident, as a report on the crime and take appropriate measures to bring the perpetrators to justice (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, September 22-28, 2014). Dunja Mijatović, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, in her letter to RA Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, expressed hope that the attack on Taguhi Hovhannisian would be duly addressed by law enforcement agencies (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, September 29 - October 5, 2014).
According to the information posted on Facebook page of the Investigative Committee, the criminal case was initiated on the basis of complaint by Taguhi Hovhannisian, submitted to Kentron Police Department of Yerevan on October 3. The case deals with violation of Clause 1 of the Article 164 of RA Criminal Code (“Obstruction of legitimate professional activities of journalist”). The preliminary investigation is carried out by territorial division of the Investigative Committee.
It is noteworthy that this time the investigation of September 19 incident is not conducted by the RA Special Investigation Service, whose decisions in cases of obstructing journalists’ work had been sharply criticized by local and international organizations, but by the newly created institution, whose activities are regulated by a special law. Time will tell how professionally and impartially the Investigative Committee will handle its first case dealing with the media.
On September 29, seven media NGOs of Armenia, including Yerevan Press Club, issued a statement condemning the decision of the RA Special Investigation Service (SIS) on the cases related to impeding professional activities of journalists.
The journalistic organizations mentioned two high-profile cases investigated by SIS: the incident which took place on September 9 at the entrance to the RA National Assembly, when the head of the security service of the parliament obstructed the professional activities of Marineh Khachatrian, “A1+” TV correspondent, and the February 12 incident, when police officers used force against Ani Gevorgian, correspondent of “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” newspaper. On the first incident, the SIS refused to open criminal case as there was no corpus delicti. On the second incident, the investigation was terminated.
“Such course of events suggests that the incident which occurred on September 19, when Artyusha Karapetian, the head of the Armenian community of Kazakhstan, and persons accompanying him used violence against Taguhi Hovhannisian, correspondent of “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily, most probably will bring no further consequences”, the statement noted.
“In fact, a vicious tradition is being set: after receiving reports on obstruction of journalists’ activities or usage of violence against them, the RA Prosecutor’s Office requests the SIS to investigate the incidents, but the latter glosses over the cases with a standard explanation ‘absence of corpus delicti’. And this happens even in the cases where the facts of violence and impeding had been filmed and published on the Internet and in numerous media outlets”, the statement reads.
“Such work style of the SIS is extremely reprehensible and dangerous: SIS, in fact, protects the perpetrators, thereby increasing the frustration and distrust to law enforcers”, media NGOs stated.
Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Yerevan Press Club, Media Initiatives Center (former Internews Armenia), “Asparez” Journalists’ Club, Media Diversity Institute-Armenia, “Journalists for the Future” and Goris Press Club demand:
- the SIS administration to take measures to review the decisions made on the aforementioned incidents, and to hold responsible the investigators that did not show impartiality and professionalism;
- the RA Prosecutor’s Office to exercise pertinent supervision over the activities of the SIS and the decisions it had delivered, and to ensure a thorough investigation of each case of violence and impeding the professional activities of journalists in order to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice;
- the authorities of the country to oblige the law enforcement agencies, with all severity, to put an end to the parade of impunity gaining momentum in the country.