Media Freedom in Armenia: The Gap between the Legislation and Implementation
By admin February 28, 2018

Freedom of media continues to face major problems in Armenia. Despite constitutional protection and certain legal guarantees, media outlets and journalists face threats and intimidation from political figures and police. Lack of protection and weak rule of law create an environment for self-censorship. Media outlets continue to be largely dependent on external financing and affiliated with certain political and commercial interests, which leads to significant control over the published content.

Despite existing legal guarantees for media freedom, there is lack of transforming those guarantees into practice. Over the last five years, Armenia’s media landscape has not experienced any improvements in terms of the media outlets’ levels of freedom. According to the Freedom of the Press report published by Freedom House, during the years of 2012 – 2017, the status of the press in Armenia has been ranked to be “not free.” Moreover, according to the Freedom of the Press 2016 report, both legal and political environment scores have declined and were worse than they were five years ago: in 2012, the political environment score was 22 and the legal environment score was 19 (0 being the best score and 40 being the worst). In 2016, the scores were 23 and 20 for political and legal environments respectively.

According to the recent Human Rights Watch Armenia Report, hindering journalists’ work through pressure and violence was one of the major human rights violations in Armenia in 2016. Use of excessive force against the journalists covering protests, arbitrary detentions and arrests are also highlighted in other publications of Human Rights Watch. A report by Levon Barseghyan submitted to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in September, 2016 stresses the police violence cases against journalists, especially in cases of covering anti-government protests.

According to the Reporters without Borders, Armenia’s press freedom report for 2016 has declined by 5 points in 2016, and Armenia currently ranks 79 in the World Press Freedom Index. According to the Reporters without Borders, violence against journalists is rampant and remains unpunished in the majority of cases. The organization reports that in July 2016 alone, twelve journalists were injured when covering police violence against the protestors.

According to the Freedom of the Press 2017 Report on media freedom in the world, in 2016, global press freedom reached its lowest point in 13 years.  Only 13 percent of the world population has free media and 45 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where media is not free. Given the global developments related to media freedom and the increasing restrictions media outlets and journalists face in Armenia, it is crucial to improve the policies and practices in Armenia to ensure the media operates in a pressure-and-threat-free environment with all the needed legal and political safeguards. As an important pillar of democracy, free press is essential in preserving free speech, government accountability and transparency.

Since its independence, Armenia has made significance progress in developing and adopting legislation to ensure freedom of media in the country as well as to protect journalists from attacks and harassment. However, the implementation of those legislative measures lags behind. Very little progress has been made toward implementing the adopted legal measures and ensuring the rule of law by protecting journalists and media outlets rights to intimidation-and-threat-free work environment. The positive correlation between elections and mass protests and increased number of attacks against journalists shows the lack of will and ability to ensure rule of law and implementation of the established legal measures to ensure harassment-free environment for journalists, guarantee safety and eliminate physical violence against media representatives.

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