By Heghine Buniatian in Prague
Armenia continues to rank below most other countries of the world in terms of the protection of press freedom, a Western media watchdog group said on Tuesday, citing continuing attacks on local journalists and widespread “self-censorship.”
The annual Worldwide Index of Press Freedom released by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) rates 168 nations on indicators such as censorship, intimidation and violence against journalists. Armenia shares a lowly 101st place in the rankings with the southern African state of Malawi, up from 100th rank it occupied last year.
The RSF director for Europe and the former Soviet Union, Elsa Vidal, downplayed the slight change, saying that it does not indicate an improvement of press freedom. She argued that the country has lost 12 places in the RSF rankings in the past three years.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Vidal said that Armenian journalists working for private media continue to routinely exercise “self-censorship” and that government censorship of state-owned broadcasters remains the norm. She also cited fresh instances of violence and intimidation of Armenian journalists reported during the period covered by the latest RSF survey. “Two journalists have been threatened, and five others attacked since September 2005,” she said.
The most recent of those attacks occurred less than two months ago when unknown men ambushed and beat up Hovannes Galajian, editor of the opposition newspaper “Iravunk.” It was strongly condemned by leading Armenian media associations and human rights campaigners. Armen Harutiunian, the state human rights ombudsman, warned last month that violence against local reporters seems to becoming “systematic” and poses a serious threat to freedom of expression. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists added its voice to those concerns, saying that the Armenian authorities “do little to apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators.”
Another New York-based group, Freedom House, branded the Armenian media “not free” for a fourth consecutive year in its annual survey of press freedom around the world that was released recently. The Freedom House ratings of Armenia have markedly worsened since the April 2002 closure of the country’s sole television station not loyal to the government.