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The situation of the Armenian media has stabilized somewhat since 2008 but arbitrary lawsuits and prosecutions continue to be a significant intimidatory factor for independent newspapers. Coverage of certain subjects is still sensitive. They include opposition demonstrations and the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region within Azerbaijan with a mostly Armenian population that proclaimed its independence in 1991.
The result of the 2008 presidential election was hotly disputed, leading to a surge in political tension in which journalists suffered. Despite another recent increase in tension, with frequent demonstrations led by opposition politician Levon Ter-Petrossian, the political situation is now relatively stable overall and the attacks on independent media are less virulent than in the past.
Physical attacks on journalists are much rarer and even attempts to control the media through the allocation of licences and accreditation have let up. Opposition newspapers such as Haykakan Jamanak and Hraparak, the TV station A1+ and Radio Azatutyun (Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s Armenian service), which were often attacked by former President Robert Kocharyan, now enjoy a bit more freedom. But media pluralism remains fragile.
Attempts to censor independent and opposition newspapers continue but in a more civilized way, above all by means of judicial harassment. An increase in lawsuits in 2011 has helped to maintain the pressure on journalists who criticize politicians, investigate the activities of leading private-sector companies or cover corruption. The amount of damages demanded is often out of all proportion to the alleged harm and often jeopardizes the financial survival of the targeted newspaper. Most of the suits are brought by politicians seeking to protect their image. Former President Kocharyan and his family are frequent plaintiffs.
Engineering a shift in emphasis from lawsuits to greater media self-regulation is a major challenge that requires a change in the attitudes of judges and politicians and progress in respect for journalistic ethics. A step in this direction was taken when a Council for Arbitrating in Disputes involving News and Information was created on 1 May 2011 at the initiative of the national Ombudsman and with encouragement from Reporters Without Borders. Consisting of journalists and civil society members, it is a consultative body that issues expert opinions on complaints about media reporting.
Relations with Turkey (soured by Armenia’s attempt to get it to recognize the Armenian genocide) and with Azerbaijan (poisoned by the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute) are politically sensitive issues that can lead to problems for media and journalists. A spike in diplomatic tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh increased the sensitivity of the authorities in both countries about coverage of the dispute. Foreign journalists were not spared.
Updated in August 2011
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