By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s top official in charge of human rights protection joined non-governmental organizations on Thursday in criticizing Council of Europe experts for their failure to demand more serious changes in the formation of powerful bodies regulating electronic media.
Ombudsman Larisa Alaverdian said she was “bewildered” by the Venice Commission’s endorsement of the latest version of constitutional amendments put forward by the Armenian authorities.
Under one of those amendments, the controversial National Commission on Television and Radio, which issues and revokes broadcasting licenses, would be jointly formed by Armenia’s president and parliament in the future. Its members are currently appointed by President Robert Kocharian, making the body highly dependent on the head of state.
Alaverdian said in a statement that all commission members should instead be chosen by the National Assembly and confirmed by the president. Armenia’s seven leading journalist associations take the same view. They on Wednesday criticized the Venice Commission for advocating a less radical solution.
Both the media NGOs and Alaverdian are also critical of the authorities’ refusal to make any changes in the formation of the supervisory board of the state-run Armenian Public Television and Radio. They say the body, also appointed by Kocharian, was also supposed to be reformed under the understandings reached by Armenian and Venice Commission officials in Strasbourg last month.
However, the revised constitutional amendments envisage no changes in the mechanism for its formation, meaning that the Armenian authorities will continue to control the country’s most accessible broadcaster.
Alaverdian’s decision to join the criticism directed at the Venice Commission was denounced by Tigran Torosian, the deputy parliament speaker and one of the authors of the draft amendments. “There are people who try to have some involvement in the process of constitutional reforms to make themselves or their organizations seem more important,” he told RFE/RL.
The ombudsman, herself appointed by Kocharian last year, is increasingly at loggerheads with the authorities. She appears to have incurred their ire with the recent publication of her annual report that criticized last year’s crackdown on the Armenian opposition.