President Robert Kocharian on Thursday softened severe restrictions on media freedom stemming from the state of emergency in Yerevan which he imposed in the wake of last month’s disputed presidential election.
Media outlets not controlled by his government were not sure, however, that they can resume uncensored news reporting on Friday.
Under the 20-day state of emergency declared by Kocharian on March 1, Armenian media could only cite the government and law-enforcement bodies when covering national politics. More than a dozen independent and opposition newspapers and online news services suspended or were forced to suspend their operations as a result.
Kocharian’s office said they can now resume their work provided that they do not publish “obviously false or destabilizing information” about domestic political affairs. It said they will also not be allowed to call for or disseminate calls for Armenians to participate in unsanctioned demonstrations.
The Yerevan Press Club, an independent media watchdog, criticized these conditions, saying that they may serve as a smokescreen for government censorship. “They may well be used for muzzling the independent and opposition press,” Mesrop Harutiunian, an YPC expert, told RFE/RL. He said any newspaper report that containing views differing from the official version of the March 1 unrest in Yerevan may be construed by the authorities are “obviously false information.”
Aram Abrahamian, editor of the independent daily “Aravot,” shared Harutiunian’s concerns. “The question is what the authorities mean by destabilizing reports,” he said. “If they mean the opposition’s views, then they are wrong.”
“We will try to publish tomorrow,” Abrahamian told RFE/RL. But he said the paper will again suspend publication “if we are told to remove a particular word or even a letter.”
Gegham Nazarian, editor of the opposition newspaper “Hayk,” was also skeptical about the easing of the media ban. “We will try to publish tomorrow, even though we suspect that censors at the printing house won’t allow that for some reason,” he said.
But Satik Seyranian, editor of another, more neutral publication, “168 Zham,” disagreed. “I think the decree is acceptable,” she told RFE/RL. “We must take into account the fact that the situation in the country is tense. I think the media should refrain from carrying inflammatory reports.”
It was also unclear whether Kocharian’s decree means the websites of local electronic publications will be automatically unblocked by the authorities on Friday. Nor was it immediately known if local radio stations will be able to resume the retransmission of daily Armenian-language news programs of RFE/RL.