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By Shakeh Avoyan
President Robert Kocharian was branded on Saturday “the enemy of the press” by an Armenian media association for the second year in a row.

The National Press Club (NPC), which unites journalists mostly working for pro-opposition media, accused Kocharian of “establishing full control over TV air,” seeking to enact an “undemocratic” media law and “effectively sponsoring” attacks on independent reporters.

The decision was announced on World Press Freedom Day marked by journalists around the globe. The NPC said Kocharian was chosen by the overwhelming majority of its members. One of them, Vartan Vartanian, showed off an appropriate certificate awarding Kocharian the dubious prize at a special news conference, saying it that it will be sent to the presidential administration.

Another, less radical media group, the Yerevan Press Club (YPC), again voiced its disagreement with the NPC’s charge. The YPC chairman, Boris Navasardian, said the NPC does not represent the entire journalist community. Still, he admitted that the situation with press freedoms in Armenia has deteriorated over the past year.

“Unfortunately, the media and press freedom in Armenia have moved backwards by all objective standards,” Navasardian told RFE/RL, singling out the closure in April 2002 of the independent A1+ television station.

A1+’s forced shutdown was a key reason why the Armenian media was rated “not free” this week by Freedom House, a major U.S. human rights organization. In its annual report on freedom of media around the world, Freedom House accused the Armenian authorities of stifling dissent and intimidating journalists critical of their policies.

The authorities have insisted all along that A1+ lost its broadcasting frequency and was forced off the air as a result of a competitive bidding conducted in accordance with Armenia’s law on television and radio.

(Photolur photo: the NPC statement accusing Kocharian of being "the enemy of the press.")
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