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06YEREVAN1466 2006-10-19 12:55:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Yerevan
Cable title:  

GOAM REPS AND NGOS DISCUSS MEDIA AMENDMENTS

Tags:   PGOV PHUM ECON KPAO AM 
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					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 YEREVAN 001466 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/CARC, EUR/PPD

E.O. 12958; N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ECON KPAO AM
SUBJECT: GOAM REPS AND NGOS DISCUSS MEDIA AMENDMENTS

REF: YEREVAN 1075

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SUMMARY
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1. The Partnership for Open Society Institute (OSI) local NGO held
a discussion on media freedom in Armenia on October 9. The
discussion focused on the draft amendments on media regulations that
the government plans to re-submit following the parliament's failure
to achieve a quorum for an October 3 vote (reftel). While the
participants, who included influential government officials and NGO
representatives, agreed that further discussion of the draft
amendments was needed, government representatives and civil society
leaders continued to disagree about how and when the draft should be
changed. END SUMMARY.



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ALL AGREE THAT MORE DISCUSSION NEEDED


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2. Almost all participants at the discussion, from NGO
representatives to government officials, agreed that more discussion
of the draft amendments was needed. Hranoush Hakobian, a member of
the Republican Party and chair of the parliamentary committee in
charge of the draft amendments, stated that she was looking forward
to further discussion of the amendments and hoped that media outlets
would express more interest in the issue. Yerevan Press Club
President Boris Navasardian noted that by presenting the draft
amendments to the parliament only days before the scheduled vote,
the government had failed to fulfill OSCE Representative on Freedom
of the Media Miklos Haraszti's recommendation that the government
should hold consultations with NGOs and other organizations on how
to improve the broadcast media situation. OSCE Representative in
Armenia Vladimir Pryakhin applauded OSI for holding the discussion,
and noted that the OSCE was prepared to provide advice on the draft
amendments if requested.



--------------------------



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MP PUSHES VOTE ON MEDIA AMENDMENTS NOW, IMPROVEMENTS LATER


--------------------------



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3. While the participants agreed that the amendments should be
discussed further, they disagreed on when and how. MP Hakobian said
that she believed the draft should be passed in the first reading,
and changed only before the second reading. Hakobian stated that
while some stipulations of the amendments should be more concretely
defined, the current draft would still be an improvement, as it
would ensure the independence of the National Commission on
Television and Radio. Hakobian noted that while at first many
people had similar concerns that the Law on Press and Mass Media
would create obstacles to the freedom of the press, the law had been
in effect for three years and had, in fact, had a positive impact.
(NOTE: The Law on Press and Mass Media sets forth regulations
related to the press, including how to register media outlets, the
steps necessary to accredit journalists, and what rights journalists
are guaranteed. END NOTE.)



4. Yerevan Press Club President Boris Navasardian pointed out that
while the Law on Mass Media had not had a particularly negative
impact, it was debated for almost two years before being approved by
parliament, while the current draft was presented only weeks ago.
Navasardian stated that the draft should not be voted on until the
recommendations of media representatives had been included. He said
that the structure of the draft amendments could not be changed
after it passed the first reading, and expressed concern that there
was no guarantee that the bill would be changed before the second
reading.



--------------------------

-
NUMBER OF REGULATORY BODY MEMBERS UNIMPORTANT?


--------------------------

-



5. Navasardian argued that a main provision of the bill should be
to increase the number of members of the National Commission on
Television and Radio, the body that regulates the broadcast media,
from eight to 16. (NOTE: Based on the Council of Europe's
recommendation that the commission should be more independent, the
package of amendments passed in 2005 stipulates that half of the
commission members should be selected by the parliament, whereas
currently all of the members are appointed by the president. END
NOTE.) According to Navasardian, should the number of members
remain eight, the new requirement that half of the members be
selected by the parliament rather than the president would be
ineffective until the end of the six-year terms of the current
members.



6. Justice Minister David Harutyunian, who presented the draft
amendments to the parliament earlier in the month, responded that he
did not understand the point of increasing the number of members of
the commission since the members were not supposed to make political

YEREVAN 00001466 002 OF 002


decisions. Hakobian concurred, saying that it is not the number of
members that was important, but rather the professionalism of the
staff.



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PUBLIC TV SAYS ADVERTISING REVENUE ESSENTIAL


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7. Regarding the draft amendment's provision that Public TV would
no longer be required to limit commercials to 5 percent of broadcast
time, Internews Director Nouneh Sarkissian stated that this would
focus Armenia's public broadcaster on advertising revenues and
entertainment value rather than on fulfilling its obligation to
provide informative programming for the public. Vardan Kopyan,
Deputy President of the Public TV and Radio Council, claimed that
this would not be the case, saying that advertising revenues were
essential simply for Public TV to be able to broadcast in all
territories in Armenia, as well as via satellite to the rest of the
CIS, the United States, and Europe. Kopyan said that no private
company broadcasts to as many regions and countries as Public TV,
and that it was essential that Diaspora Armenians were able to view
the broadcasts since more Armenians lived outside the country than
within it. According to Kopyan, of the approximately 5.5 million
USD that Public TV receives annually from the government, 4.1
million is spent on satellite broadcasts to foreign countries.



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COMMENT


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8. Even though government officials and NGO representatives agreed
in theory that further discussion was necessary, it is unclear on
what specific changes to the amendments the government and NGOs
could agree. While it is a positive sign that government officials
and civil society leaders are discussing the issue, it remains to be
seen whether such debates will have any concrete impact on the
content of the amendments. We will continue to urge government
officials, media representatives, and civil society leaders to
carefully consider the effect of the proposed amendments on freedom
of expression.

GODFREY