Pro-government and opposition lawmakers have proposed a controversial bill that would allow Armenian officials to sue online media outlets for offensive comments made by anonymous readers.
The draft amendments to Armenia’s Civil Code co-sponsored by members of virtually all parliament factions stipulate that publications could face libel suits if they refuse delete such comments within 12 hours or help offended persons identify their authors.
Online news services and websites of newspapers and broadcasters could also be sued for disseminating slanderous claims made on Facebook and other social networks by individuals not disclosing their identity.
Some Armenian editors have expressed concern at the bill, saying that it would restrict press freedom in the country. “I just can’t understand what is the point of those amendments,” said Armine Ohanian of the “Hraparak” daily. “If they want to control the Facebook space, that will not work.”
Edmon Marukian, an independent deputy and one of the co-sponsors of the bill, dismissed such fears, saying that the authorities would not be able to abuse it. “We are talking about protection of people’s rights,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We can’t let people make money by insulting people.”
Another co-sponsor, Naira Zohrabian of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), also defended the proposed legislation, saying that it primarily targets anonymous insults and slander spread through Facebook. She complained that many media outlets repost such material without checking its accuracy.
Zohrabian, herself a former journalists, said at the same time that she is open to concrete proposals that would address media concerns. She said that she and her colleagues have circulated only a “preliminary” version of the bill and that it could undergo changes before reaching the parliament floor.