Armenia continues to suffer from a grave lack of media freedom, with the government continuing to effectively control domestic broadcasters and more journalists subjected to physical attacks in the past year, a Yerevan-based watchdog said on Tuesday.
“Broadcasters in Armenia remain under total [government] control,” said Ashot Melikian, chairman of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech. “Of course, the role of newspapers is increasing a lot. But their circulation is not high enough to influence things. In this situation it is difficult to describe Armenian media and the entire information sphere as free.”
“International organizations do not regard them as even partly free,” he told a news conference. “They are definitely unfree.”
Melikian and a committee expert, Mesrop Harutiunian, presented the group’s annual report detailing the alleged infringements on press freedom and violations of journalists’ rights. It lists fresh attacks on Armenian journalists that mostly occurred in the first half of 2009 and during the May municipal elections in Yerevan in particular.
Harutiunian noted that no criminal cases were opened in connection with the election-related violence. He also accused the Armenian authorities of continuing to violate freedom of information legislation, exercising “hidden censorship” and increasing the number of court cases against media outlets critical of them.
A spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) took issue with some of the group’s conclusions. Eduard Sharmazanov challenged Melikian’s claim about a tight government grip on news reporting by local television and radio stations.
“Freedom of speech is increasingly developing in our country,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL. “Why? Because there is no politician, political team or a party that is unable to publicly express their views.”
In its previous report released a year ago, the Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech claimed that press freedom in Armenia slumped in 2008 to the lowest level observed since independence. The report referred to an effective government ban on independent reporting that was part of a three-week state of emergency imposed in Yerevan following the March 1, 2008 deadly clashes between opposition protesters and security forces. It also deplored a sharp rise in attacks on local journalists.