By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A group of journalists gathered outside the parliament building in Yerevan on Tuesday to protest against the impending passage of a controversial government bill on mass media that was rejected by the previous legislature in April.
The government-controlled National Assembly will almost certainly pass the proposed legislation in the first reading on Wednesday despite statements of condemnation issued by its opposition minority.
“No to censorship,” chanted more than a dozen members of the National Press Club (MAA) as deputies silently walked past them.
The MAA is the most vocal opponent of the draft law. It claims that the authorities are keen to push it through the parliament in an effort to rein in media outlets critical of them. The club on Monday circulated its own alternative draft which was largely ignored by most lawmakers.
But some of them do share the MAA concerns. “This draft law would benefit those who want to subordinate freedom of speech to the ruling regime,” charged Hmayak Hovannisian of the opposition National Unity Party.
“The illegitimate regime is scared of the freedom of speech,” agreed Shavarsh Kocharian of the Artarutyun alliance.
However, representatives of the parliament majority countered that the bill will undergo serious changes after its preliminary passage. Hranush Hakobian, chairwoman of the parliament committee on science, education and media, reiterated that she and the government have agreed to remove several controversial provisions. One of those requires media to disclose sources of their funding and sponsorship.
But it remained unclear why the government did not make the promised amendments before the bill’s passage in the first reading. Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian assured the opposition that the bill will be amended before it is discussed by the assembly in the final reading next month.