By Anush Dashtents
The Armenian government was accused by journalists and senior lawmakers on Tuesday of breaking its pledge to kill its controversial draft law on mass media criticized by the Council of Europe.
An Armenian media association and the chairmen of two parliamentary committees said the government has put the bill back in circulation after making cosmetic changes in it. The National Press Club (MAA) said none of those changes addresses its concerns about press freedom in Armenia.
“What we have is a document that has the same logic and ideology,” said Vartan Vartanian, an MAA member and a commentator for a local independent TV channel. “The bottom line is that it maintains censorship.”
“In any case, we are not going to comply with such a law,” said Nikol Pashinian, the editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily.
The bill, unveiled last month, has drawn sharp criticism from virtually all media outlets active in the country. It calls for the creation of a government agency in charge of "state oversight" of news organizations, which many local journalists fear could lead to the restoration of censorship. The agency would also be empowered to issue and revoke licenses without which media outlets would not be allowed to operate.
Experts from the Council of Europe who visited Yerevan earlier this month said the proposed legislation falls short of European standards to which Armenia has committed itself.
Press Club members, who on Tuesday received the backing of several major political parties, said the main controversial provisions remain in the amended version of the bill. Victor Dallakian, chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs, labeled it “a law on censorship.”
According to Shavarsh Kocharian, who heads the parliament committee on education, science and information, after the Council of Europe criticism the government agreed to form a joint working group with parliamentarians and media representatives which would draft a new law from scratch. He claimed that the government has backtracked on the pledge.
He said: “In no case should this bill be accepted as a basis. This was our agreement, which they breached later on.”
There was no immediate reaction to the accusations from Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s office or the ministry of justice, the main author of the bill. Deputy Justice Minister Ashot Abovian is scheduled to meet with a group of legislators and journalists on Wednesday.