A news report that appeared last Friday on ArmeniaLiberty.org explains that the chairman of Armenia’s public television, Channel 1, is seeking to overturn a mandatory law that requires the state-controlled station to broadcast parliament sessions, which take place once every few weeks. The chairman claims that showing parliamentary sessions violates the right to freedom of speech by the press. The thing is that the televised sessions are not sponsored by the station’s news programming.
The chairman of the government-controlled Armenian Public Television and Radio (HHR) [Channel 1], Aleksan Harutiunian, claimed on Friday that legal provisions obligating it to broadcast parliament debates runs counter to European standards for press freedom and must therefore be abolished.
He then goes on to say that freedom of speech is being jeopardized when parliament sessions are broadcasted on television for nearly the entire Armenian population to watch.
According to Harutiunian, forcing a TV station to broadcast anything by law is wrong by definition. “Of course I am not so naïve as to say that this is the main danger to press freedom in Armenia,” the former chief of Kocharian’s staff told RFE/RL. “I just want the abolition of legal norms that could be viewed by European structures as endangering freedom of speech.”
Thing is that as far as I am aware parliament sessions are televised in most if not all democratic nations. The United States has a dedicated cable station that televises all congressional sessions. They are also broadcasted on government co-financed public television on occasion. I believe the same can be said for the UK for instance but I’m not positive.
The fact that by law parliamentary sessions are required to be broadcast on state-controlled public television is not a bad thing. Especially when it is showing how the law making process is being conducted by the people’s elected representatives. It is also the only forum in which both opposition and pro-government sides can be heard debating on specific issues affecting the nation’s citizens.
Some pro-government leaders, notably parliament deputy speaker and Republican party member Tigran Torosian, do not object to the law being overturned. However, he goes on to say that “We must find the most useful and effective way of presenting the work of the parliament to the population,” he said. So even though Channel 1 should no longer be required to televise parliament sessions in a country where the overwhelming majority of citizens obtain their news from TV, there needs to be some solution for people to learn what lawmakers are discussing. You would assume that continuing with the broadcasts would be the answer. Here’s where Armenian logic kicks in.
To be fair, a leader of the pro-government party Orinats Yerkir claims that another station could be set up to televise parliament sessions. Problem is that there are no other tenders being issued to potential broadcasters. This proposal also doesn’t make sense since parliament sessions last for four days about every month. So this potential channel is only going to show programming for those few days and go off the air the rest of the month? Well, why not?
Here’s Europe’s traditional response to continued one-sided broadcasted information:
European observers have strongly criticized HHR [Channel 1] and other local broadcasters for what they consider extremely biased coverage of every national election and referendum held in Armenia over the past decade. Harutiunian has rejected the criticism.
Well, there you go. The continuing television coverage of pro-government decisions or undertakings is appropriate, while televising public debate or protests aimed against the government is out of the question, even if it takes ceasing the broadcast of sessions of parliament, which incidentally has a pro-government majority. It seems that it would be in the government’s favor to continue showing how its lawmakers are taking care of business, especially when it comes to antagonizing or silencing oppositionists, which I have seen happen in these broadcasts. But then again, Armenian logic prevails. The parliament will undoubtedly overturn the law now that it is being discussed. It doesn’t matter if it is repressing the very freedom of speech that Channel 1’s chairman claims to have already been violated.
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Labels: Politics, Social and Cultural