The Armenian parliament approved on Friday a government proposal to essentially ban reporters from attending sessions of Yerevan’s municipal council.
Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian moved to impose such a ban last month just days after an embarrassing brawl witnessed by journalists.
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.
One week after the incident, Markarian called for “regulating” the work of the press corps accredited by the municipality. A spokesman for the mayor said afterwards that journalists will now be able to watch council debates only through monitors to be placed in a separate press room.
The government accepted the proposed restrictions, drafting relevant legal amendments that were passed by the National Assembly. They stipulate that the press will now need special permission from the mayor to be able to attend council sessions.
Justice Minister Davit Harutiunian argued that the same rules are already in place for media coverage of sessions of the Armenian parliament. “We don’t interfere with [reporters] and they don’t interfere with us,” he said on the parliament floor. “The same rules will be introduced for sessions of the Yerevan council.”
Edmon Marukian, a leader of the opposition Yelk alliance, denounced the new rules, saying that they will “restrict journalists’ rights.” He linked them to the February 13 violence in the council.
Markarian’s spokesman, Artur Gevorgian, insisted earlier that the restrictions are 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.