Journalists will no longer be able to watch cabinet meetings in Yerevan live, under a new bill approved by the Armenian government on Thursday.
The bill drafted by the Justice Ministry specifies the structure and powers of governments to be formed after Armenia becomes a parliamentary republic in April. It also stipulates that cabinet meetings must be held behind the closed doors. The prime minister could only make “a part of a meeting” open to the press, it says.
The draft also bars government members from publicizing details of any issue discussed by the government without the premier’s permission.
Armenian reporters have for years been able to watch weekly cabinet sessions through monitors placed in a press room of the prime minister’s office. Justice Minister Davit Harutiunian claimed that this has deterred ministers from voicing critical opinions about decisions or policies proposed by their colleagues.
“It’s one thing when you argue with your wife within your family,” he told reporters. “But if a third person watches you, your dispute will have a different nature.”
Harutiunian said he does not know of any other country where cabinet meetings are open to the media. He argued that even in established Western democracies governments meet in closed session.
Accordingly, the minister insisted that the new rules planned by the government are not undemocratic.
Varuzhan Hoktanian, the director of programs at the Armenian branch of Transparency International, disagreed, calling the bill a step backwards. “There could be more such steps that would eliminate the culture of transparency,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).