One week after an embarrassing brawl between pro-government and opposition members of Yerevan’s municipal council, Mayor Taron Markarian has decided to ban reporters from attending its further sessions.
Markarian’s spokesman, Artur Gevorgian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Wednesday that they will now be able to watch council debates only through monitors to be placed in a separate press room. He insisted that the measure will not restrict media coverage of the legislature empowered to elect the city’s mayor.
“You don’t have to be in the council auditorium,” said Gevorgian. “That must not be seen as a restriction in any way. Journalists will continue to move freely inside the [municipality] building on the days of council sessions.”
Markarian told his lawyers and press officers on February 19 to propose ways of “regulating” the work of the press corps accredited by the municipality. The order came six days after a violent clash witnessed by a large number of reporters.
Two members of the city council representing the opposition Yerkir Tsirani party were confronted by their pro-government colleagues when they tried to hand Markarian glass containers filled with sewage collected from a damaged sewer pipe in the city’s Nubarashen district.
Yerkir Tsirani’s Marina Khachatrian, slapped a male councilor representing the ruling Republican Party (HHK) after being jostled by him. The latter slapped Khachatrian while another HHK councilor puller her hair in response. Khachatrian and two other Yerkir Tsirani members, including the party leader Zaruhi Postanjian, were then physically forced to leave the hall.
Postanjian and her associates have often argued with HHK councilors during sessions of the council elected last May. Journalists have repeatedly witnessed and reported on insults shouted by Markarian’s loyalists at the three outspoken women.
Gevorgian claimed that the mayor’s decision to bar the press from council sessions is not aimed at covering up more such incidents. He said that the municipal administration will install more video cameras in the chamber to ensure the transparency of proceedings. The official noted, however, that live broadcasts of debates could be interrupted in case of “hooliganism” on the part of councilors.
Markarian’s actions following the February 13 incident have drawn criticism from Armenia’s leading media associations. The chairwoman of the Union of Journalists of Armenia, Satik Seyranian, said they could “impede legitimate professional activities of reporters” when she met the mayor on Wednesday. Markarian denied creating such obstacles.