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Watchdog expresses concern about Armenia's media

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  • Watchdog expresses concern about Armenia's media

    Watchdog expresses concern about Armenia's media

    The Associated PressPublished: December 21, 2007

    VIENNA, Austria: A media freedom watchdog expressed concern Friday about harassment and violence against Armenia's media, saying there was an atmosphere of intimidation and fear.

    Miklos Haraszti, media freedom representative at the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, also said he was worried that the country's Gala TV may stop broadcasting as a result of pressure by authorities and called on officials to demonstrate goodwill for a compromise settlement.

    "The recent cases of harassment and violence against independent and opposition media have contributed to an atmosphere of intimidation and fear in the journalistic community in Armenia," Haraszti said in a letter to Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian.

    Gala TV is facing two lawsuits that could result in the company being forced to pay about €58,000 (US$83,450) into the state budget and the loss of its right to use its broadcasting tower, according to a statement issued by Haraszti's office.

    "I trust that the local authorities will not make arbitrary decisions and demonstrate goodwill for a compromise settlement so that Gala TV can continue broadcasting," Haraszti said in the letter to Oskanian.

    In reference to a Dec. 13 explosion at the entrance of Chorrord Ishkhanutyun, a Yerevan-based opposition newspaper, Haraszti said: "I urge Armenia's law enforcement bodies to punish the perpetrators not just for the sake of justice but also to give support to freedom of expression in the country."
    [I]Peace at home, peace in the world.[/I]

    [B]Mustafa Kemal Atatürk[/B]

  • #2
    Armenia: State Tightens Media Controls

    Harassment of provincial television station coincides with start of election campaign.

    By Ofelia Kocharian and Taguhi Tovmasian in Yerevan (CRS No. 424 20-Dec-07)

    The most popular television station in Armenia’s second city, Gyumri, is facing closure as a result of what it says is officially orchestrated pressure, prompted by its favourable coverage of the leading opposition candidate in the presidential election campaign.

    The crisis faced by Gala television station comes as the state tightens its overall control of television ahead of the February 19 poll, in which Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian is the officially-favoured candidate.

    Gala, a privately-owned channel, has a big audience in Gyumri, which has a population of around 150,000. The station has been accused of tax evasion by the authorities, and its assets and bank accounts have been frozen.

    However, the station’s owner Vahan Khachatrian, says its problems started after Gala broadcast the speech that former president Levon Ter-Petrosian made in September announcing his return to public politics. Ter-Petrosian has now registered as a candidate for the election.

    Khachatrian told IWPR that he did not support any particular party and gave airtime to all politicians.

    Because of the company’s problems, all 37 of its advertising clients have pulled out. “For over a month, we’ve had no advertisements,” said Khachatrian. “The tax bodies have imposed a fine of 26 million drams [86,000 US dollars] on us, but I am not going to pay it, and we have already lodged a counter-claim in court.”

    Khachatrian said he had applied repeatedly to Gyumri’s municipal authorities to be allowed to buy or lease the television tower his company has been using for its broadcasts, but without success.

    However, in November, the 100-metre TV tower, which for the last two decades had no official owner, was suddenly announced to be the property of the city hall.

    “I had been told the tower belonged to no one and I could do whatever I pleased with it,” he said. “I repaired it, fitted it with equipment and opened the TVcompany - and now the city hall says it needs to privatise it. I declare that I am ready to buy or lease it at any moment.”

    At a court hearing, Levon Barseghian, chairman of the Asparez journalists’ club, which has set up a support committee for the station, proposed that the city authorities cut a three-way deal with Asparez and Gala and allow the tower to be leased at a reasonable rate, to include back-payments for previous use.

    The mayor of Gyumri later said a deal could be reached, but on December 18, an offer was made that Barseghian said was exorbitantly expensive. He said Gala was told to pay 200,000 drams for permission to mount antennas on the tower, instead of the 30-40,000 drams that is the going rate, and it was also asked for a back-payment of 5.4 million drams which, at 18,000 dollars, would be enough to build a new television tower.

    Gala is a rarity in Armenia, where the electronic media are mostly controlled by government allies and do not step out of line. Around ten television stations generally give the authorities supportive news coverage. Two stations that did provide alternative voices, A1+ and Noyan Tapan, have lost their broadcasting licenses.

    Referring to the tax claims made against Gala, Boris Navasardian, chairman of the Yerevan Press Club, said, “Any television company – and especially one based in Yerevan – would find itself in big trouble if it was presented with a document like this concerning its tax payments on advertising income.”

    Media monitoring carried out in October and November by the Team research centre, with assistance from the Yerevan Press Club, showed that pre-election news coverage on local television was dominated by information about two candidates – Prime Minister Sarkisian and ex-president Ter-Petrosian. While most of the coverage of the former was favourable, that of Ter-Petrosian was very negative.

    “If the prime minister was mentioned by all the channels in a positive rather than negative context - 56 positive comments against two negative ones - ), it was the other way around with the first president, six positive comments against 111 negative ones,” said Team’s interim report on the monitoring exercise.

    For example, on the day that Ter-Petrosian held a big rally in central Yerevan in November, the Armenian Channel Two headed its news bulletin with reports about visits made by the prime minister, the arrival of delegations in Armenia and other official news. Then came international news, including a report about a demonstration in Australia involving 200 protestors.

    Ter-Petrosian’s rally, which attracted many thousands of protestors, was the penultimate news item and was less than one minute long. There were long-range shots of the rally but no recording of what the opposition candidate said. Then came three minutes of vox pops giving only negative views from members of the public, who said they did not like Ter-Petrosian and his 1991-98 presidency brought them nothing but misery.

    “The Shant television company and the Armenian Channel Two paid particular attention to one political figure; they both assigned more than a half of their airtime to Serge Sarkisian,” said the report.

    Both officials and the TV stations concerned deny there is a problem.

    Eduard Sharmazanov, press secretary of the ruling Republican Party, said television companies covered whatever they had available, and reporting on the prime minister’s activities did not mean they were biased.

    The media monitoring suggested that Armenia Television, which belongs to diaspora businessman Jerard Kafesjian, gave the least coverage to opposition candidates. But Gagik Mkrtchian, director of the station’s news programmes, assured IWPR that they were providing airtime to all candidates and were under no “pressure from above”.

    Aleksan Harutyunian, chairman of the board of the Public Television and Radio Company – Armenia’s main television station – rejected accusations that the electronic media are merely obeying orders handed down from the presidential administration.

    “I don’t think that any link in the chain, including the presidential administration, applies any pressure or issues orders,” he told IWPR.

    “I give everyone airtime equally.”

    Critics say Harutyunian himself is too close to government because he used to be head of President Robert Kocharian’s administration and secretary of the Security Council.

    Opposition politicians say they are frustrated by their inability to get their message across. According to former foreign minister Alexander Arzumanian, “No serious opposition figure can express his views through these outlets. Our media serve a totalitarian, tyrannical regime.”

    The monitoring revealed that there was only one TV station that provides relatively independent news coverage - Yerkir Media, which broadcasts mostly in the capital and belongs to the nationalist Dashnaktsutiun party, a member of the ruling coalition.

    Ter-Petrosian – who banned the Dashnaktsutiun party when he was in office – has nevertheless received extensive coverage from the channel, whose director Gegham Manukian says “pressure is put only on those who want it”.

    “During all this time, our company has not received a single hint, threat or recommendation as to what we should air and what we shouldn’t,” Manukian told IWPR.

    Taguhi Tovmasian is a correspondent for the Chorrord Iskhanutyun newspaper and Ofelia Kocharian is a correspondent for the Iskakan Iravunq newspaper in Yerevan.
    [I]Peace at home, peace in the world.[/I]

    [B]Mustafa Kemal Atatürk[/B]


    • #3

      BIA² Media Report: Army Shadow on Press
      59 years imprisonment demanded for 7 reporters covering conscientious objection and the Kurdish issue during the last three months. Number of 301 victims has reached 65. 5 people are on trailed under charges of violating the Law to Protect Ataturk.
      Bia news center - İstanbul
      20 Kasım 2006, Pazartesi

      Erol ÖNDEROĞLU
      The 2006 3rd Quarterly Media Monitoring Report prepared by the BIA² Media Monitoring Desk and covering the months of July, August and September has been released.

      The 14-page report discloses factual details on the situation of the media in relation to rights and freedoms showing the growing burden on the Turkish press under the new Anti-Terror Law which has expanded the scope of offenses. The media also suffers from the debate around a possible peaceful solution to Turkey's Kurdish problem.

      The "normalization" and "democratization" processes under the European Union reforms are subject to about-turn with military strategies and practices being enforced.

      Interviewing representatives of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), allowing a voice to opposition Kurdish politicians, defending the right of being against war and conscientious objection are all regarded as offenses punishable with prison terms. The situation in its most recent form has turned journalism into a more dangerous occupation.

      The 3rd Quarterly Media Monitoring Report attracts attention not only to the destructive effects on the media of the conflict environment but also to the plight of 65 people who, in the past year alone, have been put on trial under controversial penal code article 301 just for expressing their opinions. 25 of these 301 cases were launched in the past three months.

      Back to the DGM days!

      With the recent amendment to Turkey's Anti-Terror Law (TMY), the punishment of journalists covering conscientious objection and/or the non-violent aspects of armed organizations has been increased.

      The cases are being heard not at courts of first instance but at "Specialized High Criminal Courts" that have replaced the State Security Courts (DGM) that were abolished in 2004 under the EU reforms.

      Sebati Karakurt, Hasan Kilic and Necdet Tatlican of the mass circulation "Hurriyet" newspaper, "Milliyet" newspaper reporter Namik Durukan, "Birgun" newspaper employees Gokhan Gencay and Ibrahim Cesmecioglu and "Ulkede Ozgur Gundem" newspaper reporter Birgul Ozbaris are those now facing the resurrected "DGM days". A total of 59 years imprisonment is being demanded for them.

      No change in a year

      The BIA² Media Monitoring Desk which had previously disclosed that as of July 1, 2006, a total of 40 people faced charges under article 301, now states that the figure has increased to 65 defendants as of October 1. An increase of 25 new suspects charged under this controversial article in 3 months alone.

      According to the Desk, there is no change in the situation compared to the same period of last year and pressures on the freedom of expression still continue.

      163 people appear at courts, 77 of them journalists

      The report focused on the situation of 163 people of which 77 are journalists and 84 are publishers. The remaining include mayors, writers, unionists and activists under trial as well as two people who have applied to the European Court of Human Rights.

      The desk's previous report contained information on 56 cases launched against 67 individuals and the increase in the number of cases is attributed to the "aiding and abetting the PKK" charges brought forth against 56 mayors. There is also an increase in the number of trials.

      The 3rd Quarterly Media Monitoring Report covers current issues under the titles "attacks and threat", "detentions and arrests", "trials and attempts", "European Court of Human Rights", "RTUK practices", "regulations and seeking rights" and "reaction to censorship".

      According to the report, there are attempts to exert pressure on the Turkish media through high compensation demands coming from various circles including the Koza Gold Company, OYAK, MOPAK Paper Company, politicians and local authorities.

      A total of 6 million 396 thousand YTL in damages is being demanded in cases filed against 30 journalists while 4 journalists have been put on trial charged with "insult" and threatened with prison terms, one of whom has already been sentenced.

      Fate of arrested unknown under TMY secrecy

      * In three months a total of 12 attacks took place against journalists and media institutions out of which 3 were against the , and İnternet sites and 3 others targeted local journalists.

      Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's unfounded allegations against the media were also referred to as attacks in the recent report. The number of attacks in this year's 3rd Quarterly Media Monitoring Report reflect a drop compared to the same period of last year where there were 23 attacks but an increase compared to the previous three months in 2006 where only 10 attacks were listed.

      * While no detention incident was reported, there have been a number of arrests. "Ozgur Radyo" Broadcast Director Fusun Erdogan and "Atilim" newspaper Editor in Chief Ibrahim Cicek were among 6 journalists who were placed under arrest on charges of "having relationships with the Marxist Leninist Communist Party (MLKP) organization.

      But because the Anti-Terror Law has imposed a six month secrecy on the case file, details of the allegations are not known.

      * While "Isci Koylu" (Workers Peasants) magazine Editor in Chief Memik Horuz who was arrested in 2001 was the "only journalist held in prison in the capacity of press freedoms", the arrest and imprisonment of Dicle News Agency (DIHA) reporters Evrim Dengiz, Nesrin Yazar and Rustu Demirkaya has increased this figure to 4 in the past six months.

      Increase in "Organization Cases"

      * There is an increase in the number of cases opened against journalists and other political and civil society representatives who focus on the Kurdish issue. The increase is reflective in trials based on "aiding and abetting the PKK" charges.

      "Ulkede Ozgur Gundem" newspaper Editor in Chief Huseyin Aykol is subject to a trial where a prosecutor demands 10 years imprisonment for him on allegations of "organizational membership" based on his interviews with PKK leaders on Kandil mountains. 56 mayors, on the other hand, are on trial for sending a letter to Danish Prime Minister Rassmusen urging him not to close down the Kurdish "Roj TV" under Turkish pressure.

      301 targets associations

      * In the past three months not only journalists but association members have also been charged under article 301. 25 new cases under this article include charges against Mersin 78's Foundation member Ethem Dincer and Ozgur Der official Burhan Kurbanoglu.

      * Article 216 of the Penal Code which covers the offense of "incitement to hatred and enmity" was used in court cases launched against 6 people in the same period.

      Again, in the same three months, Ankara Public Prosecutor Huseyin Boyrazoglu filed an appeal to overturned the previous acquittal decision for Professor Dr. Ibrahim Kaboglu, the former head of the Human Rights Advisory Board of the Prime Ministry and board member Prof. Dr. Baskin Oran on grounds that their views in the "minority report" subject to trial were not in the scope of freedom of expression.

      "Ataturk" cases against five

      * Prosecutions launched under the "Insulting the memory of Ataturk" law are targeting not only publishers and journalists but also translators.

      Journalist-writer Ipek Calislar is on trial for interviews related to her bestseller book "Latife Hanim" together with "Hurriyet" newspaper editor Necdet Tatlican.

      Publisher Fatih Tas, translators Lutfi Taylan Tosun and Aysel Yildirim are on trial and face 4.5 years imprisonment each for the Turkish language version of John Tirman's "Spoils of War: The Human Cost of America's Arms Trade".

      12 "Intervention in Justice" cases

      * Allegations made against journalists and activists under Penal Code articles 277 and 288 as well as Press Law article 19 charging them with "intervention in justice" have increased in the past three months.

      12 journalists are still on trial under this allegation including Milliyet's Lube Ayar, Yeni Asya's Faruk Cakir, Agos's Hrant Dink and Aydin Engin.

      Censorship and bans

      * "Legal censorship" against newspapers and magazines continued between July and October 2006. "Ulkede Ozgur Gundem" newspaper was banned from print for 15 days on grounds of "continuously giving room to PKK statements".

      A court ordered the seizure of Kaos GL magazine's summer issue on the theme of pornography ruling that it was against "general public moral" and Kaos GL is now taking the verdict to the ECHR.

      * Ozgur Der member Bahadir Kurbanoglu, Mersin 78's Association Chairman Ethem Dincer, "Agos" newspaper Editor in Chief Hrant Dink and Sarkis Seropyan, editor Arat Dink were subject to new charges alongside the "Birgun" newspaper for a report on Saudi businessman Yasin El Kadi and "Leman" magazine as well as its cartoonist Mehmet Cagdag.

      The number of court cases which was three last year in the same period was recorded as 7 in 2006.

      * Long-term pressure related to published cartoons also reached its conclusion with the "Penguen" magazine fined 5,000 YTL in damages in a suit filed against it by Culture and Tourism Minister Atilla Koc.

      And now the good news...

      * The Beyoglu 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance acquitted "Father and Bastard" novel author Elif Safak who was put on trial for "publicly denigrating Turkishness" under article 301.

      * The Bagcilar 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance dismissed charges against "Radikal" newspaper journalist Murat Yetkin for his article titled "Turkey will be on trial in the case launched against Orhan Pamuk" basing its verdict on statue of limitations.

      The same court took the same decision for journalist Nese Duzel who was on trial for "propaganda" due to an interview she conducted with Democratic Society Party (DTP) founding member Orhan Dogan.

      * Due to it being the summer months, the number of cases dealt with at the European Court of Human Rights was lower than usual and Turkey was sentenced to pay 7,000 YTL in damages in two cases brought before the court based on verdicts passed under penal code article 312. (EO/II/EU)
      General Antranik (1865-1927): “I am not a nationalist. I recognize only one nation, the nation of the oppressed.”


      • #4

        Turkish journalist posthumously honored as World Press Freedom Hero

        Region :Eastern Europe-Central Eurasia
        Country :Turkey
        Topic :Press Freedom


        The International Press Institute (IPI) has posthumously named Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink a World Press Freedom Hero. Dink was murdered January 19, 2007 in Istanbul outside the office of Agos, the Turkish-Armenian newspaper he edited.
        Dink faced criticism in Turkey from nationalists who accused him of insulting “Turkishness,” a violation of Turkish law. More than 100,000 people marched in protest of his assassination following his death.

        The award was presented to Dink’s widow, Rakel Dink, on December 10 in Vienna.
        General Antranik (1865-1927): “I am not a nationalist. I recognize only one nation, the nation of the oppressed.”