By Atom Markarian
The Armenian government approved on Thursday a new bill on mass media which it said it will boost press freedom in Armenia.
The legislation, if passed by the parliament, will replace the existing registration of all media outlets with their mandatory licensing. According to the ministry of justice which drafted the bill, the new rules would facilitate creation of newspapers, magazines and broadcasting organizations.
The deputy minister of justice, Ashot Abovian, said it would become easier for Armenian and foreign citizens to obtain a license than to register with his ministry as has been the case for the past 11 years.
Abovian said the draft law was sent to leading media editors two months ago and there has been no reaction from them yet.
The existing media was adopted in 1991 and is widely seen as outdated. Western experts believe that it does not contain adequate safeguards against possible violations of press freedom. In particular, they have strongly objected to the registration requirement, saying that it gives the authorities serious leverage.
There have been no reported cases of registration denial in recent years, however. Some 1,500 media outlets have been registered with the justice ministry since 1991. But less than a fifth of them operate at present.