By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a leading international press watchdog, has issued a grim assessment of the Armenian mass media, concluding that severe financial constraints are limiting their influence and independence. The New York-based group also criticized Armenian authorities for maintaining what sees as weak legal safeguards for press freedom.
“Widespread poverty, polarized politics, and flawed legislation kept the media at the mercy of government officials and wealthy sponsors during 2001,” the CPJ said in an annual report on press freedom around the world. “Libel remained a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment, though it was not used against journalists during the year.”
“Dire economic conditions proved to be the greatest obstacle for the independent media in Armenia,” the report says, pointing to “miniscule” print runs and “insignificant” advertising revenues. “As a result, journalists censored themselves and slanted their reporting in exchange for the financial support of wealthy patrons.”
The CPJ also noted that President Robert Kocharian and his loyalists control “leading media outlets,” including the state-owned Armenian Public Television, the most accessible national channel. It criticized a new law on TV and radio which mandates creation of a regulatory broadcasting commission appointed by Kocharian.
“With presidential and parliamentary elections set for 2003, these broad new presidential powers seemed even more troubling,” its report says. But it adds that the Armenian parliament has adopted amendments that simplified licensing procedures for TV and radio stations.
There are several hundred media outlets officially registered with the Armenian justice ministry. But only some 150 newspapers and magazines, more than 60 national and local TV stations, and nine radio stations are regularly active.