By Avet Demurian, Associated Press Writer
(AP) - Armenian journalists on Thursday strongly protested a government-sponsored draft law suggesting that journalists pay for interviews with officials and ordering the creation of a government agency to "monitor" the media.
In a statement, journalists from newspapers, news agencies, and broadcast outlets and from across the political spectrum urged the government not to submit the draft to parliament for approval. The journalists proposed their own, more liberal draft.
"In protecting the right of society to free information and the need to defend democracy, we will retain the right to demand the resignation of those officials who
consciously are trying to lead the people away from the democratic path," the statement said.
The draft law was approved by Armenia's Cabinet on February 7. President Robert Kocharian submitted it to the Council of Europe, the continent's leading human rights body, for examination before deciding whether to submit it to parliament.
Government officials said a new law is needed to make the media industry more transparent and responsible.
The draft envisages the creation of a new system for licensing media organizations and the creation of a government agency to "monitor" the media. Journalists said the agency resembled Soviet-era censorship organs. The draft also includes a suggestion by Justice Minister David Harutiunian that journalists pay for interviews with officials to fill holes in the impoverished nation's budget, and makes it easier for officials to refuse interviews.
In response to criticism of the law, Harutiunian recently responded: "I understand that journalists don't like the draft law. Criminals don't like the criminal code either," according to Armenian news reports.
Several lawmakers spoke out Thursday in support of the journalists.