On June 17 the European Court of Human Rights released its judgment on the case of the founder of “A1+” TV company, “Meltex” LLC and its President Mesrop Movsesian versus Republic of Armenia. As it has been reported, “A1+” TV company was deprived of air on April 2, 2002 after it was refused a broadcast license by the National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR). The TV company had further taken part in numerous broadcast licensing competitions, but every time its bids scored lower than those of its rivals. The attempts of “A1+” to challenge the decisions of the NCTR in courts remained just as futile: the suits filed by the TV company were refused each time. Having gone through all levels of domestic courts, the founder of “A1+” addressed the European Court of Human Rights. On August 27, 2004 the suit of “Meltex” LLC and its President Mesrop Movsesian versus Republic of Armenia was lodged with the ECHR.
The case was examined through five clauses: the victim status of Mesrop Movsesian, the second applicant; the recognition of the seven refusals of a broadcasting license in 2002-2003 to be a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“Freedom of Expression”); recognition of the results and processes on the suits of “Meltex” LLC during the same period at Armenian courts to be a violation of Article 6 of the European Convention (“Right to Fair Trial”); recognition of decisions by NCTR and domestic courts to be politically motivated - in violation of Article 14 of the European Convention (“Prohibition of Discrimination”); compensation of the pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage in accordance with Article 41 of the European Convention (“Just Satisfaction”).
The ECHR declared the complaint of the applicant admissible on the second clause. Thus, the refusals to grant a broadcast license to “Meltex” LLC were recognized to be a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention, i.e., of the right of the applicant to freely impart information and ideas. The ECHR noted that the Armenian broadcasting legislation stipulates a number of criteria to determine the winner of the broadcast licensing competition, but at that time it did not explicitly require that the licensing body give reasons for the decision made. In other words, NCTR simply announced the competition winner, without giving any reasons why that applicant was chosen over “Meltex” LLC. In the opinion of the ECHR, the licensing procedure which did not require a licensing body to justify its decisions did not provide adequate protection against arbitrary interference by a public authority with the fundamental right to freedom of expression. In its decision the European Court also recalls the guidelines adopted by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in the domain of broadcasting regulation, which called for open and transparent application of the regulations governing licensing procedures and specifically recommended that “all decisions taken (...) by the regulatory authorities (...) be (...) duly reasoned”. The judgment also quotes the PACE Resolution on Armenia of January 27, 2004, which concluded that “the vagueness of the law in force had resulted in (NCTR) being given outright discretionary powers”.
The ECHR committed the Republic of Armenia to paying “Meltex” LLC 30,000 euros within three months after the enforcement of the judgment: 20 thousand in respect of non-pecuniary damage and 10 thousand to in respect of costs and expenses incurred.
The judgment of the European Court on the case of “A1+” was commented on by the Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis, who released the following statement on June 18:
“Television is a very influential part of the media. Decisions of regulatory bodies on the award, refusal or withdrawal of a broadcasting license can have a direct bearing on freedom of expression and therefore on the functioning of democracy.
The decision of the European Court of Human Rights brings an end to the long drawn-out saga about the refusal of the Armenian authorities to award a broadcasting license to the A1+ television station. The decision comes after numerous calls from different bodies of the Council of Europe have been ignored by the Armenian authorities. All member states of the Council of Europe are legally bound to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. They should do so without being reminded of their responsibilities by the European Court of Human Rights.
The decision of the Court is a victory for freedom of expression. It should also serve as a lesson to all governments inclined to arbitrary interpretations of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees this essential freedom.”Tweet
On June 18 Yerevan Press Club released a statement on the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights on the case of “A1+” TV company.
“On June 17, 2008 the European Court of Human Rights published its judgment on the case of “A1+” TV company founder, “Meltex” LLC and its President Mesrop Movsesian versus Republic of Armenia. The European Court concluded that an interference with the right of the TV company to freely impart information and ideas, as enshrined by Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, was made.
The failure to grant a broadcast license to “Meltex” LLC (“A1+” TV company), taking part in numerous competitions since 2002, is thus recognized to be a violation of international commitments by Armenia. In this regard we urge the competent bodies of Armenia not to confine to the monetary compensation, stipulated by the ruling of the European Court, but to adopt, in accordance with the legislation of the country, prompt measures to enable the TV company to come back on air as soon as possible. Only the acknowledgment by the Armenian authorities of the injustice that was made with regard to “A1+” and the practical steps aimed at its elimination can be a sign of our state's respect towards democratic values and international legal norms.
The ruling of the European Court was an obvious proof of the incompliance of the RA broadcasting legislation with the standards of the Council of Europe, which was repeatedly stated by Yerevan Press Club over the past years. Taking into account the recommendations of Resolution 1609 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe of April 17, 2008, the demands of the journalistic community of the country, as well as the circumstance that already this year new broadcast licensing competitions will be announced, we call on the RA National Assembly to immediately take up the reformation of the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, adjacent laws and normative acts. It is expedient to form new legal conditions and procedures for the regulation of the broadcast sphere during the upcoming months.
The adequate application and implementation of the laws has equal significance for the freedom of expression in Armenia. In this regard we continue to insist on our demand to take steps against persons and structures, responsible for the violation of legislation ahead of, during and after the elections of the RA President of 2008. The judgment of the RA Constitutional Court of March 8, 2008, the extraordinary report of the RA Human Rights Defender, published on April 25, 2008, the numerous media reports and statements of public organizations listed multiple references to such violations, yet they all remain without consequences.
We hope that the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights on the case of “A1+” will have a sobering effect on Armenian authorities, will help them realize that it is impossible to live in a civilized community and ignore its norms, endangering the international reputation of the country and its people”, the statement of Yerevan Press Club says.
“Asparez” Journalist’s Club of Gyumri also made a statement, which, in particular, assessed the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights as historical and confirming the conviction of a number of public organizations that “throughout six years the National Commission on Television and Radio treated the 12 bids of “A1+” TV company in arbitrary manner, thus inflicting a serious damage on the society, the TV company and its founder”.
At the press conference, held on June 18 in Yerevan, the RA Deputy Minister of Justice, the plenipotentiary representative of the RA Government at the European Court of Human Rights Gevorg Kostanyan noted, in particular, that, in accordance with the procedure adopted, by the judgment of ECHR the Armenian authorities will undertake an investigation to determine whether the violation of the right to freedom of expression was due to incompetent actions of officials or deficiencies in the legislation.Tweet
On June 16 in Yerevan an action was held to support the Chief Editor of “Zhamanak-Yerevan” daily Arman Babajanian, sentenced to 3.5 years of imprisonment for document fraud to avoid compulsory military service. The action was to mark the two years since the detainment of the journalist - June 26, 2006. In the march from the Houses of the Government to the residence of the RA President representatives of NGOs, media and readers of “Zhamanak-Yerevan” took part. The march participants called for an early release of the Chief Editor of “Zhamanak-Yerevan”: the time when Arman Babajanian can again address the Commission on Early Release and Release on Parole draws near. As it has been reported, the two previous petitions of Arman Babajanian for an early release were turned down in July and December 2007 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, December 14-20, 2007).
On June 18 the open address of the RA National Assembly deputy of “Heritage” faction, the member of the NA Standing Committee on State and Legal Issues Zaruhi Postanjian to the President of Armenia Serge Sargsian was published. The address urges the head of the state “to display good will” and “if possible, to contribute” to the fair realization of the legitimate right of people, including Arman Babajanian, to an early release.
According to the report of “Zhamanak-Yerevan” of June 19, 2008, the group “To Support Political Prisoner Arman Babajanian” announced that starting on June 20 it will hold “permanent protest actions”, demanding early release of the Chief Editor of “Zhamanak-Yerevan”. The first such action is to be held on June 20, by the RA President’s residence.Tweet
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Editor of YPC Newsletter - Elina POGHOSBEKIAN