Truth, or ‘Lie’-bel?

A student guest post on the state of the media in Armenia.  Armenia sort of counts as European, right?  It’s Eurasian, at least…

In a country where news papers can be sued for the comments left by anonymous readers, Armenia doesn’t provide for many media freedoms at this time.  Ranked as ‘not free’ by international watchdog Freedom House, Armenia has a number of protections outlined for  freedom of speech, and through that, freedom of media, but the laws are rarely observed.  The country suffers from a mixture of binding legislation, disinformation and apathy which helps to keep media restricted.

Like many other post-soviet republics, Armenia doesn’t actively promote candid journalism. Until 2010, libel was still a crime in Armenia and moving it into the civil court has only made it worse.  Since the legal shift, officials have taken advantage of the law, suing journalists for defaming them. In one case, Tigran Arzakantsyan sued the Yerkir newspaper, saying that an article about his gambling harmed his reputation. He then demanded 3.568 million drams for legal costs on top of the compensation, crippling the paper. This has happened in other cases as well. Another case was brought up by a lawyer, for the comments on the news papers website even though the paper itself has no control over what anonymous users post. Political figures have also taken advantage of the law with former President Kocharyan demanding 6 million drams. The Republican party of Armenia has been active in suing news papers for criticizing politicians. While fewer journalists are being violently assaulted, it is the trade of one bad situation for another. At the moment, Armenia journalism isn’t a pretty sight.

Another issue faced by the country is the lack of information availability and whether or not the information is even true. On the whole, roughly half of Armenians trust their media. While it is always healthy to suspect bias, only around 4% of Armenians believe that TV journalists act in accordance with reporting the people’s interest. This is critical as over 90% of Armenians say that they receive their information from the TV.

This media problem is compounded by a lack of internet penetration. Armenia suffers from an acute digital divide which only furthers the lack of media freedom. At this point in time, there is very little access to different kinds of media outside of Yerevan. In fact, over 86% of rural Armenians have never accessed the internet and have only watch the national news on special occasions. While the country is modernizing, the information divide between the urban and rural populations isn’t going to help the push for free media.

Nevertheless, tainted information aside one of the biggest barriers to media freedom in Armenia is the apathy towards the media and a lack of demand for change. Within the country, there is very little hope that things will change. Many are frustrated with the governments slow response to a more democratic government and many have simply given up on change as a result. Until the push for media freedom can be revitalized, nothing will change.



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