By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian government pushed through the parliament its bill on mass media Wednesday after promising to remove some of its controversial provisions before its final passage due next month.
Deputies voted by 69 to 9 to approve the draft law in the first reading amid more protests from some journalists who accuse the authorities of infringing on media freedom in Armenia. Members of the largest opposition faction in the National Assembly, Artarutyun, boycotted the vote.
Government officials have dismissed the concerns, insisting that the proposed legislation will actually reinforce freedom of expression. They point, in particular, to the impending abolition of a mandatory registration of all media outlets with the Justice Ministry.
However, local media rights groups have for months opposed the government bill. They have objected, among other things, to a provision requiring newspapers and broadcasting organizations to disclose their sources of funding which is often politically motivated in Armenia. The latest street protests were organized by one of them, the National Press Club.
The chairwoman of the parliament committee on the media, Hranush Hakobian, said the government will honor its pledge to remove this and other contentious clause before the bill is discussed in the second reading. “All problems have been settled,” she told RFE/RL. “There has been too much noise around this document.”
Artarutyun lawmakers, meanwhile, have succeeded in securing passage of two other legal initiatives dealing with press freedom. The deputies approved amendments to Armenia’s Code of Administrative Offenses which envisages heavy fines on those government officials who hamper news gathering. On Tuesday they passed a separate law on freedom of information, the lack of which has long been cited by many local journalists. Both bills were drafted by Victor Dallakian, a senior Artarutyun lawmaker.