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By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s leading journalist associations have grown bitterly divided over a controversial government bill on mass media approved by parliament late last month.

Three of them accused on Friday the more radical National Press Club (MAA) of hampering their efforts to push through sweeping amendments to the legislation which has raised concerns about the future of press freedoms in Armenia. In a joint statement, the Yerevan Press Club (YPC), the Armenian Union of Journalists and the U.S.-funded Internews organization, denounced the MAA’s intransigence.

The statement’s signatories believe that the bill can be substantially improved before it is finally approved by the National Assembly later this year. They have secured such a pledge from the parliament’s standing committee on science, education and media. Its chairwoman, Hranush Hakobian, has assured the media community that several controversial provisions will be removed from the current text. Among those clauses is a requirement that all media outlets disclose their sources of non-commercial funding.

The MAA, which mainly unites reporters working for pro-opposition media, rejects the promised changes as cosmetic and claims that the authorities are keen to muzzle their critics. The club’s members picketed the parliament building during the recent debates on the issue there. They also submitted their own media bill.

The proposed alternative legislation was strongly criticized by YPC chairman Boris Navasardian who claimed that it is even more dangerous for freedom of expression than the government’s draft law. He said the MAA’s actions endanger passage of amendments promised by Hakobian.

The MAA said it will officially respond to the accusations on Monday. One of its leaders, Narine Dilbarian, accused the rival media associations of playing into the authorities’ hands.
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