The bill publicized this week would specifically ban broadcasters, newspapers and online publications from citing websites and social media accounts belonging to unknown individuals.
In an explanatory note attached to the proposed amendments to an Armenian law on mass media, the lawmakers affiliated with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step bloc say that disseminating information from “sources of unknown origin” could endanger the country’s national security.
“The proposed amendments cannot be regarded as a restriction of the freedom of expression or an obstacle to the work of mass media,” they say.
Representatives of Armenian media associations disagree. Boris Navasardian, the chairman of the Yerevan Press Club, criticized the authors of the bill putting the emphasis on sources of news reports, rather than their veracity.
Navasardian said media outlets could thus be banned from reporting accurate information. “If there are no problems with the content [of news reports] then there must be no legal consequences whatsoever,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Shushan Doydoyan of the Center for Freedom of Information said the draft amendments seem to be at odds with an existing article of the media law which essentially allows journalists not to disclose their anonymous sources to state authorities. “First of all, they must abandon the term ‘anonymous’ and come up with a different definition,” she said.
Doydoyan suggested that the authorities are primarily concerned about Telegram channels attacking Pashinian and his political team. Scandalous claims made by such social media sources are regularly cited by the Armenian press.
My Step’s Artur Hovannisian, the main author of the bill, mentioned the Telegram channels when he defended the proposed restrictions.
“What we are saying is: ‘Let’s not advertise those sources whose origin is not known to anyone,’” said Hovannisian. The former journalist insisted that media outlets would not be banned from quoting their own confidential sources.
Naira Zohrabian, a senior lawmaker representing the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), condemned the bill as an unconstitutional attempt to curb press freedom and attributed it to “Nikol Pashinian’s fears” of losing power.
“Today I appealed to the president of the [Council of Europe’s] Venice Commission, Gianni Buquicchio, and am ready to use all possible instruments to fight against Nikol’s fears together with my media partners,” Zohrabian wrote on Facebook on Thursday.