Armenian media associations expressed concern on Friday about government plans to reduce the transparency of weekly cabinet meetings in Yerevan after Armenia becomes a parliamentary republic in April.
Under a new bill on the Armenian government’s structure and powers approved by ministers on Thursday, journalists will no longer be able to watch those meetings live. The prime minister could only make “a part of a meeting” open to the press, it says. The bill also bars government members from publicizing details of any issue discussed by the government without the premier’s permission.
The chairman of the Yerevan Press Club, Boris Navasardian, described the proposed legislation as “yet another step” towards withholding more information about the government’s activities from the media.
“I don’t exclude that it is connected with the transformation of the government system because obviously when the prime minister’s powers increase and essentially equal the current president’s authority more serious issues will be discussed and solved at government meetings,” said Navasardian. “In that regard, they find the presence of journalists unnecessary.”
“I wouldn’t say that this is an extraordinary development,” he added. “It’s just a continuation of a general trend, inertia.”
“In essence, not much is going to change,” Satik Seyranian, the head of the Armenian Journalists Union, said for her part. Seyranian, who is also the editor of the “168 Zham” newspaper, argued that many cabinet meetings watched live by reporters have often been mere “formalities” that rubber-stamped government decisions made prior to them.
“I am more concerned about the fact that government members will not be allowed to release any information without the prime minister’s permission,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “It means that there will be censorship within the government and the work of journalists will get harder.”
Justice Minister Davit Harutiunian defended the planned restrictions on Thursday. He said he does not know of any other country where cabinet meetings are open to the media. This openness has discouraged Armenian ministers from voicing critical opinions about decisions or policies proposed by their colleagues, claimed Harutiunian.