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Armenian Government Accused Of Trying To Limit Press Freedom


Armenia -- Photojournalists and cameramen cover an official ceremony in Yerevan, January 10, 2019.

Armenian media organizations have accused the government of trying to restrict press freedom with bills that would sharply increase fines for libel and make it harder for journalists to use anonymous sources.

“The psychological pressure on the mass media is already evident,” Boris Navasardian, the chairman of the Yerevan Press Club (YPC), said on Friday. “I think it has a very concrete purpose: to make the information environment much more favorable for Armenia’s ruling political force.”

“Naturally, that cannot be deemed acceptable, especially given the serious contradictions with international conventions and, I think, Armenia’s constitution,” Navasardian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

One of the controversial bills calls for a fivefold increase in maximum legal fines set for defamation. The National Assembly passed it in the first reading on Thursday despite strong objections voiced by the YPC and several other press freedom groups.

Those groups have also expressed serious concern over another bill that was circulated by several pro-government lawmakers last week. It would ban broadcasters, newspapers and online publications from quoting 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 said that disseminating information from “sources of unknown origin” could endanger the country’s national security.

Ashot Melikian of the Yerevan-based Committee to Protect the Freedom of Speech dismissed the official rationale for the proposed ban, saying that it would not stop the spread of fake news and disinformation.

“The proposed approach would instead damage quality journalism and create serious obstacles for investigative reporters,” Melikian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan echoed these concerns when he met with the heads of several media associations earlier this week.

Navasardian warned that the controversial bills, if enacted, will reverse “positive trends” in the Armenian media environment which he said were observed in 2018 and 2019.

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