Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Government Control of Media in Armenia and Outlook for Upcoming Parliamentary Elections Slated for May 12, 2007

Extracts from the essey written in February 2007

99% of the Armenian people voted for independence of the country from the Soviet Union on September 21, 1991 in the popular referendum. The Constitution of the Republic was adopted on a popular referendum on July 5, 1995. Amendments to the Constitution were adopted on November 27, 2005. The fundamental document of the Republic of Armenia establishes the country as “a sovereign, democratic, social, rule of law state” (RA Constitution, 2005).

Armenia of today is a striving democratic Caucasian/East-European country, which has joined the Council of Europe on 25 January 2001 and, since its accession, has been subject to a Parliamentary Assembly monitoring procedure. The country is experiencing progress on the way of democratization in many respects, as was noted by the Resolution 1532 (2007) by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in regards to Honouring of obligations and commitments by Armenia, (4) With regard to Armenia's obligations and commitments in the field of pluralist democracy:

4.1. The Assembly welcomes the constitutional amendments which have improved the separation of, and balance between, the legislative, executive and judicial powers. The revised Constitution is now consistent with European standards and principles of democracy and the rule of law and offers a new foundation for developing the democratic functioning of Armenia's institutions.

However, there are certain key areas in the democratization processes of Armenia, where the incumbent authorities of Armenia, the President and the ruling Republican Party who have been in power since 1998 are actually pursuing such policies, which are introducing limitations and setbacks to the democracy for the country, rather than progress. In the same PACE Resolution 1532 there is a formulation, which states the disappointment of the PACE by the fact, that since Armenia's accession to the Council of Europe in 2001, not a single election held in the country has been deemed fully free and fair. On his January 23, 2007 speech, Anthony Godfrey, U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Armenia stated that “his government would revise the decision to allocate a hefty $236 million in extra aid to Armenia if its authorities fail to hold free and just parliamentary elections, slated for May"(ArmenPress, 2007).

The upcoming May 12, 2007 elections in the country are seen both inside Armenia and by the International Community as the point of no return, after which the country will head back to the authoritarian state, after the Russian model, or will do yet another step forward on the path of democratic development and thus set a course which will determine the progress of the country for the next 5-10 years. The upcoming elections in Armenia present three main challenges to the government and the society as a whole:

  1. How to insure the Political will of authorities to enforce truly fair and free elections;
  2. How to implement fair and free elections from the organizational point of view;
  3. How to provide the voter with the opportunity of making an informed and conscious choice when casting the ballot.

The first two issues are beyond the limited scope of this essay; hence we will be mostly focusing on the third point and will try to reveal some of the problem areas.

On January 23 PACE Resolution we read the following statement reflecting the essence of democratic problems in Armenia: “The Assembly expects Armenia to demonstrate its capacity to hold the parliamentary elections in 2007 and the presidential elections in 2008 in accordance with international standards, not least with regard to pluralist, impartial media coverage of the election campaign,”(PACE Resolution 1532, 2007) Further on clause 6.2 of the Resolution notes that “a few months away from forthcoming parliamentary elections, the Assembly attaches special importance to pluralism of the electronic media”, since “equitable access by all political parties” to them is “an absolute prerequisite for the holding of free and fair elections” (PACE Resolution 1532, 2007).

A number of widely recognized organizations have recently posted reports on the state of freedom and democracy in Armenia, in which the country repeatedly ranks among partly free, oppressive towards journalists, etc. (See recent reports by the: Freedom House; Reporters without Borders; Global Integrity).The following conclusion of the Freedom House is especially worth mentioning: “Systematic efforts to control media in countries of the former Soviet Union have intensified in 2006 indicating further erosion of civil liberties.” (Freedom House, 2006)

It is important to recognize at this point, that the Media in all modern societies has the power to make and break governments. The power of media in politics is very clearly stated in the “People in Society: Modern Studies for S1 and S2” book by Sinclair and Grant, where the authors elaborate on the power media has over the election processes in the UK. Speaking of 1992 election in UK the book looks at the case, when The Sun carried the headline 'It was the Sun wot won it' after the conservative victory, and contrasts it with the elections five yours later, after the Sun had switched it carried the headline 'It's my son wot won it', and draws conclusions from these strong manifestations of media role in the electoral and political processes in a strong democracy like the UK.

The media helps people to make decisions, so obviously the way in which news is reported is very important, especially during election time. Some people say that Labour won the election because of The Sun's support for the party! (Page 89, Sinclair, Grant, 2003)

However, the authors also warn, that the statements above should be viewed with a certain degree of reservation: “Others, though, would say that The Sun switched to support Labour because it was clear that Labour was going to win.” (Page 89, Sinclair, Grant, 2003)

While the media impact on the elections can be limited in the UK context, where strong party traditions and general understanding among the public of democratic processes and the importance of having a strong government and opposition serve as a limiting factor to the power of media, in Armenia the impact of media is enormous in comparison. This has much to do with the fact, that as any other post-Soviet country, the Armenian society is still very much a propaganda-led society. Media was the main force legitimizing power, and still is in many of the soviet/post-soviet societies. The enormous degree of media control over the post-soviet societies is especially well analyzed by former editor of the Russian Forbes Paul Klebnikov, in his book “Godfather of the Kremlin: Boris Berezovsky and the Looting of Russia”. Klebnikov has summarized the overall influence of media on the Russian electorate during the reelection campaign of Russian’s first president B. Yeltsin, with the following quotation from Alex Levinson of the Russian centre of Public Opinion Studies: “Their brains were turned into a mash”, which resulted in an overwhelming victory of B. Yelstsin over the opposition candidate G. Zyuganov in the 1996 presidential elections in Russia.

The notion of comparing the Armenian media with that of UK or even Russia can seem rather artificial, as the Armenian media has neither the resources, nor the power and scale in any way comparable to that of the UK or Russian media. However, the influence of the Armenian media on the voting process is vast. In fact all the political forces coming to power since the declaration of Armenias independence in 1991, have only been able to retain power by controlling and ensuring the support of the media. The first president of the Republic of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan was elected president with the uniform support of all Armenian media in 1991, when he was already in position of power as the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Armenia, and then fully state owned media presented him as the only viable candidate for president to the country. Levon Ter-Petrosyan was re-elected on September 22, 1996. His re-election was marred by allegations of electoral fraud reported by the opposition and supported by some international observers. Interestingly, before heading into the reelection in a televised address on December 28, 1994, Levon Ter-Petrosyan “banned the nation's leading opposition party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), jailed its leadership, and shut down Yerkir, the country's largest daily newspaper.” (http://www.arf.am/English/history/004history.htm)

The lesson was learned by the successor of Levon Ter-Petrosyan, then-Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, who won a comfortable victory on March 30, 1998, defeating his main rival, Karen Demirchyan in early presidential marred by irregularities and violations as reported by the reported by international electoral observers. The media campaign around Kocharian’s campaign came to prove once again, that in Armenia the man who controls the media (Kocharian was the acting-president after Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s resignation), controls the results of the elections. The culmination of media control and the start of the current atmosphere of media conformity was the deprivation of broadcast license from A1plus in 2002. In April 2002, less than a year before he was due to seek re-election, Kocharian closed Armenia's main independent TV station, A1 Plus, and kept them off the air. This resulted in criticism from the Council of Europe and international media watchdogs, but as of now (2007) A1 Plus is still not allowed to broadcast.

Many would argue today, that the abovementioned historical developments happened, because the country is a young democracy, and the legislation, especially in the sphere of the media was imperfect and gave room for manipulations for those in position of power. Many important legislative initiatives and especially the adoption of Constitutional amendments on November 27, 2005 have been undertaken to improve the media related legislation in the country. In the opinion of the CoE Venice Commision the text of the new Constitution,

“…would constitute a good basis for ensuring the compliance of the Armenian Constitution with the European standards in the fields of respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and would pave the way to further European integration.” (Venice Commission, 2005)

One of the most important aspects of the amended Constitution was the creation of guarantees for the freedom, independence and plurality of the media, with newly suggested mechanism especially regarding the National Commission of Radio and TV(NCRT). The Venice Commission in fact welcomed the changes related to the NCRT, however, there are still aspects of media regulation on the constitutional level, which are problematic as of today:

“The Commission also wishes to refer to the need for the members of the boards of management of public service broadcasting organisations to be appointed so as to avoid the risk of “any political or other interference”.[2] In this respect, the appointment by the President of the Republic of all the members of the Council of the Public TV and Radio has been seen as problematic, and the need for the appointment process, if this power of the President is to be retained, to be open and transparent and not open to political abuse, has been underlined[3]. ” (Venice Commission, 2005)

Among other improvements to the media related legislated it is worth noting the RA Law on Freedom of Information, some positive aspects in the RA Law on Mass Communication like the provision about protection of sources and protection of journalists when performing their civil duties. Meanwhile, despite the mentioned legislative preconditions for media to improve towards becoming a real democracy watchdog and fulfilling its function of the “fourth state”, we have seen the Armenian media failing dramatically so far. The media situation today with the new Constitution and greatly improved media legislation is not much better then it was during the 2003 parliamentary and presidential elections.

This point is further supported by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights released the Needs Assessment Mission Report, released on February 15, 2007, which gives the following overview of the media situation in Armenia related to the upcoming parliamentary elections:

“While equal access to public and private media is guaranteed by law during the official campaign period, including free airtime on public TV and radio, the opposition claims very limited media access in the current period before the official campaign is due to begin. This is reportedly the result of administrative obstacles and self-censorship. Moreover, many NAM interlocutors expressed concerns that media access will remain unequal during the official campaign period”(OSCE, 2007)

In the section of the report on media it is stressed that “television remains the main source of information and can be described as predominantly pro-government, despite the formal transformation of state TV into a public service broadcaster, and the existence of numerous private channels, many of which are de facto linked to political parties”. In the opinion of OSCE/ODIHR Mission, “the print media is seen as more pluralistic and news coverage is diverse and critical, however circulations are limited”. The report also describes the situation with “A1+” and “Noyan Tapan” TV companies, who remain without a frequency to this day, “Interlocutors and media experts described this denial of licenses as a clear message to other media outlets, which fear losing their licenses, and effectively creating an atmospheres of self-censorship. This has been compounded by a few cases of violence against journalists over the past years.” (OSCE, 2007)


  1. The Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, 2005, http://www.parliament.am/legislation.php?sel=show&ID=1&lang=eng
  2. Final Opinion on Constitutional Reform in the Republic of Armenia adopted by the Venice Commission at its 64th Plenary Session (Venice, 21-22 October 2005), http://www.venice.coe.int/docs/2005/CDL-AD%282005%29025-e.asp
  3. Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly, Honouring of obligations and commitments by Armenia, Resolution 1532 (2007)1 http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=/Documents/AdoptedText/ta07/ERES1532.htm
  4. Armenpress,24/01/2007, U.S. Diplomat Warns That Fair Elections Key To Remaining Eligible For Hefty MCA Aid http://www.armenpress.am/armarch/archiveeng.php?year=2007&month=1&day=24
  5. Freedom House report, 2006, http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/01/EDDC2151-48C8-4FD0-939C-0F5517FFAF8A.html
  6. People in Society: Modern Studies for S1 and S2 By Stephen P. Sinclair, Helen Grant, Published 2003, Nelson Thornes, ISBN 0748771611
  7. Klebnikov, Paul, Godfather of the Kremlin: Boris Berezovsky and the Looting of Russia (New York, Harcourt Brace, 2000); translated into Russian as Pavel Khlebnikov, Krestnyi otets Kremlya Boris Berezovskii ili Istoriya razgrableniya Rossii (Moscow, Detektiv-Press, 2001)
  8. Electronic democracy and the UK 2001 elections By Glen Segell, Published 2001 Glen Segell, ISBN 190141423X

Monday, 19 March 2007

Mumia Abu-Jamal -- When Democracy Equals Empire

From Suryu

Every American president, whether Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, speaks lovingly of 'democracy', whenever the nation engages in some escapade abroad. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, it did so, ostensibly, to 'bring democracy to the Middle East.' When it launches a raid in Grenada, or rains death on a poor neighborhood in Panama, when it invaded Haiti in the last century, ad infinitum, it always did so in the name of 'restoring democracy.'

What is this democracy of which they so blithely speak?

We all have heard the term since our infancy, but who really knows what it means? I wanted to learn more about it, so I began to read one of the finest historians I know of,
the great C.L.R. James, author of the ground-breaking *The Black Jacobins*, an influential study of the Haitian Revolution. Some years ago, James published a pamphlet titled, *Every Cook Can Govern: A Study of Democracy in Ancient Greece* (Jackson, MS: New Mississippi, Inc., Mar. 1986). I found myself (as I often am when I read his stuff) blown away by what I learned. As his subtitle suggests, James looks at Greek history for the roots of the democratic idea, and finds it, in some stages, truly democratic, in ways we can hardly imagine. He writes:

Perhaps the most striking thing about Greek democracy was that the administration (and there were immense administrative problems) was organized upon the basis of what is known as sortition, or, more easily, selection by lot. The vast majority of Greek officials were chosen by a method which amounted to putting names into a hat and appointing the ones whose names came out. Now the average C10 bureaucrat or Labor Member of Parliament in Britain would fall in a fit if it was suggested to him that any worker selected at random could do the work he is doing. But that was precisely
the guiding principle of Greek democracy. And this form of government is the government under which flourished the greatest civilization the world has ever known. [p.1.]

Friday, 16 March 2007

State of the News Media 2007 report

An immensely interesting report has come out: "The State of the News Media 2007", an annual report on the health and status of American journalism published by the Project for Excellence in Journalism research institute. No need to say that its a "must read" for all those interested in journalism in the world and US in particular.

[...]The State of the News Media 2007 is the fourth edition of our annual report on the health and status of American journalism.

Its goal is to gather in one place as much data as possible about all the major sectors of journalism, to identify trends, mark key indicators, note areas for further inquiry and provide a resource for citizens, journalists, and researchers.

For each area we have produced original research and aggregated existing data into a narrative. The statistical data also exists in an interactive area called Charts & Tables where users can customize their own graphics. This year, we also offer a detailed report on the status of online journalism, based on a close quantitative examination of a diverse sample of news websites. “Digital Journalism: A Topography” identifies what qualities of the web are being emphasized and which are not. The study also includes an interactive component that allows users to find the qualities they are looking for and test their favorite sites.[...]

Full report >>>

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Yerevan Press Club Presented Findings of 7 TV Channel Monitoring in February

On March 7 at “Urbat” Club Yerevan Press Club presented the findings of seven Armenian TV channel monitoring to the journalistic community. The study is administered by YPC before the official promotion campaign for elections to the RA National Assembly. The research is to last two months, February-March 2007, and is implemented under YPC project “Promoting Media Pluralism in Election Year”, supported by OSI Network Media Program. In the report below the findings of the first month are summed up.

This monitoring report covers the period of February 1-28, 2007. The monitoring object were 7 TV channels: the First Channel of the Public Television of Armenia, “ALM”, “Armenia”, “Kentron”, Second Armenian TV Channel, “Shant” (Yerevan), “Yerkir-Media”, namely, their daily air from 18.00 to 24.00. The programs that started, but did not end before 18.00 were not studied. The programs that started but did not end before 24.00 were studied completely.

Monitors recorded the references to 34 political parties, most active in Armenia during the recent years, as well as the airtime allocated to them. The party “accounts” also received the portion of references and the airtime given to the representatives of these parties (their statements, speeches, quotations, as well as descriptions of their activities, opinion, and comment about them by other persons). In the cases when representatives of parties appeared as persons in their line of their non-partisan work, profession, etc., and their party affiliation was not stressed, the references and airtime were not recorded.

The airtime, allocated to parties for promotional videos/announcements/materials about their activities, was recorded separately.

The guests invited to interview, “guest in studio” programs throughout February were also listed separately.

Along with the quantitative monitoring, the legislation, the overall media situation, statements of media representatives about their work during the pre-election period were analyzed.

Since the RA legislation does not precisely regulate the political promotion and the editorial coverage of the party activities outside the official promotional campaign (for the elections to the RA National Assembly in 2007- since April 8 till May 10), the monitoring findings presented do not aim to reveal the law infringements.

The purpose of the study is to define: 1) how comprehensive the information provided to the TV audience about the political spectrum and the activities of parties ahead of elections is; 2) whether equal opportunities are ensured for all parties to present their political views and platforms.

“Kentron” TV channel was most active in covering the pre-election political situation: it allocated most airtime to different parties. It is followed by “Yerkir-Media”, the Second Armenian TV Channel, the PTA First Channel and “Shant”. “Kentron” and “Yerkir-Media" are also distinguished for their big number of current affairs programs and the diversity of the politicians and other public figures interviewed. The least interest to politics was demonstrated in February by “Armenia” TV channel: since early 2007 it gave up a whole number of current affairs programs, also of “guest in studio” type. Throughout the month the TV channel only made an exception for the RA Minister of Defense and the Chairman of the Council of Republican Party of Armenia Serge Sargsian.

“ALM” TV channel holds a particular position here, because, on the one hand, it gave the most airtime to politics, but on the other, this was achieved by exceptional attention to the activities and the stance of the TV company owner Tigran Karapetian, also the head of the Popular Party. The Popular Party received 85.5% of “ALM” political air.

Owing to the attention by this TV channel the Popular Party has a huge advantage over the remaining parties in terms of the airtime allocated to it and its leader on all 7 TV channels (78,263 sec.). At the same time 98% of the aggregate airtime given to the Popular Party is accounted for by “ALM”. Besides, the Popular Party used the air of this channel for a number of announcements (3,924 sec.). “ALM” was the only TV channel in February, whose paid political air was used by a party - the United Labor Party, similarly to the previous months, placed its programs here.

Among the leaders in terms of attention received from the TV channels is “Dashnaktsutiun” party (29,938 sec.), “Prosperous Armenia” (24,559 sec.), Republican Party of Armenia (22,630 sec.). These are the two parties, making up the basis of the ruling coalition as well as the party (“Prosperous Armenia”) that started campaigning earlier than others and most actively, and, judging by the composition of its governing body, also quite close to the authorities. Rather distanced from them - for a party, represented by a parliament faction and membering in the ruling coalition - was the United Labor Party (3,929 sec.). However, this party, to a significant extent, compensated these modest figures by the active use of paid air (being 3.5 times more than the editorial coverage of the party on 7 TV channels).

Judging from what journalists themselves say, the disproportion in the attention of the TV channels to the parties in most cases is due to the following factors: the political weight of the party, the competence of its leaders and their readiness for contacts with media on a broad scope of issues, the influence of parties on certain TV channels and their owners, the availability of financial resources and activeness in conducting pre-election events.

The First Channel of the Public TV of Armenia, having a particular mission in accordance with its status, distributed the attention to the parties mostly in close correspondence with their current position in the political arena (in particular, with their representation in the parliament): Republican Party of Armenia (6,038 sec.), “Orinats Yerkir” party (3,214 sec.), “Dashnaktsutiun” (3,127 sec.), People’s Party of Armenia (1,810 sec.), “National Unity” (1,780 sec.). There is, however, one significant exception to this rule that will be discussed below.

Considering the findings of February 2007, the claims of the most oppositional parties over the TV air being closed for them do not have sufficient grounds. Immediately after the leading four (in terms of aggregate TV air allocated on 7 TV channels) the opposition parties come - “Orinats Yerkir” (16,230 sec.), “Constitutional Right” Union (10,739 sec.) - it should be noted though that the result for CRU is not so much a proof of interest towards this party as such, but rather the consequence of an in-party scandal, reaching its peak in February. These are followed by People’s Party of Armenia (9,593 sec.), National Democratic Alliance (8,152 sec.), Armenian National Movement (8,061 sec.), “National Unity” (6,680 sec.).

At the same time, the findings for February give reason to speak about a certain discrimination of all the TV channels studied against three opposition political parties: “Republic”, “Heritage” and “New Times”. To a lesser extent this statement is true for “Republic” party and “Yerkir-Media” and “Kentron” TV channels.

The first of these parties was one of the main founders of “Ardarutiun”, the biggest opposition bloc and parliament faction, it includes a number of former senior officials of the country. The second is headed by the first Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, whose political rating, according to the Gallup polls of 2006, is quite high. The leader of the third was a presidential candidate at elections of 2003, becoming the fourth in terms of the votes gained. All these three parties during the recent years remained acting political structures. In other words, there is every reason to pay attention to them before elections.

However, 7 channels studied (this fully refers to the PTA First Channel, too) displayed either zero or little interest to these three parties. Their activities were either not covered at all, or were seldom and minimally referred to; their events, press conferences were little reported on, the representatives of these parties were never interviewed.

Similar approach is present also in the case of a number of non-governmental organizations, active in electoral process, in issues of democratic reforms in general and not avoiding criticism of authorities. This state of affairs, similarly to the process of price definition for pre-election advertising by the TV companies, gives an impression of a coordinated policy.

Source: YPC Newsletter
When reprinting or using the information above, reference to the Yerevan
Press Club is required.

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Editor of YPC Newsletter - Elina POGHOSBEKIAN

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Rethinking the Media and Its Role in a Democracy

As someone closely involved in the media sphere in Armenia, I perhaps pay too much interest to the role of media in democracy. However every single day comes to prove, that the issue of the media in Armenia (and throughout the world for all that it) is only serving one function: enslave the people, brainwash the people, take away the freedom of people from them. And the worst thing is - no-one in the media sphere gives a damn! I mean - just look at our "wonderfully irresponsible media!" - it is just horrendous!

PS: And there you have again: http://yerkirtv.org/?lang=arm&page=1&id=1409

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

War in Iraq, potential war in Iran - its all about money!

...and you know that! Everyone does! And you know that they will struck Iran soon... they got 133.3 Billion BBL (2005 Est.) reasons for that... and believe me, this has nothing to do with nuclear power, terrorism or lack of democracy in Iran.

Monday, 5 March 2007

The Promise of Capitalism - A Lie

Friday, 2 March 2007

Michael Parenti -- Some Labor History!

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Transparency Armenia gives up on RA Anti-Corruption Strategy Monitoring Commission

Imitation has been the main working style of Armenia's current administration: imitation of democracy, imitation of electoral process, imitation of coalition, imitation of free market, imitation of anti-corruption strategy... The news from Transparency Armenia about resigning from the RA Anti-Corruption Strategy Monitoring Commission comes to prove just that - after a conversation with fellow-blogger Onnik Krikoryan I am convinced, that Transparency Armenia have decided to quit playing along the imitation game with the government.

The Chairwoman of the Center for Regional Development /Transparency International Armenia resigned from RA Anti-Corruption Strategy Monitoring Commission under RA Anti-Corruption Council on February 20 this year, and hereby informed the heads of both the abovementioned structures, namely RA Prime Minister A. Margaryan and Assistant to RA President G. Mheryan. Via Transparency.am

The worst part of the whole story is that even this "imitation politics" is an imitation! These guys couldn't think of it themselves, so they imitated the "imitation politics" in Russia... Looking at the video below, from Transparency International, marking Global Anti-Corruption Day 2006 - I ask to myself again and again: so what are we going to to about it?

Director: Daniel Wolfe
Producer: Tim Francis
Production: Media Trust
Coordinator: Jesse Garcia