By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian government postponed on Monday a scheduled vote in the parliament on its draft law on mass media criticized as undemocratic by many local journalists.
The leadership of the National Assembly gave no explanation for the move, informing the deputies only that the vote will take place by April 15. Some observers suggested that the Justice Ministry, the main author of the controversial bill, was not sure of its passage in the first reading.
The proposed legislation faces strong opposition from several dozen lawmakers who share concerns voiced by the journalists mostly affiliated with the pro-opposition media. About 30 of them again protested outside the parliament building in Yerevan, carrying banners and posters that accused the authorities of seeking to restrict freedom of speech.
“We call on the deputies to vote against this anti-democratic bill,” said Narine Mkrtchian, chairwoman of the National Press Club that organized the protest.
“We are not going to cede our freedom of speech to anyone,” said Nikol Pashinian, editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” newspapers.
Some of the reporters, who have a parliamentary accreditation, had intended to smuggle a banner saying “No to censorship” inside the National Assembly hall and unroll it during the vote. However, the parliament’s security service scuttled the plans, confiscating the slogan after thoroughly searching all correspondents.
The bill would, among other things, require media outlets to disclose their sources of funding. Also causing controversy is another clause that allows courts to demand the disclosure of journalists’ sources of information for the “protection of public interests.”
The critics have dismissed government assurances that the bill will not be discussed in the final reading and take effect until next fall and could be amended in the interim.