"Restrictions on Provision of Information and Journalists’ Activity in Public Agencies"
On March 2, the Media Center hosted a press conference on "Restrictions on Provision of Information and Journalists’ Activity in Public Agencies". Speaker Ashot Melikyan, Chairman of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, voiced concern over the recent changes in the sector initiated by the representatives of the authorities.

Particularly, the matter concerned holding government sessions closed-door and restricting activities of the journalists covering the Yerevan Elders’ Council sessions.

The draft Law on the Structure and Activity of Government envisages that government sessions must be held closed-door. This decision is justified by the necessity to conduct its sessions in an atmosphere of most effective, free and substantial discussions.

The same amendments provide that "a Government member shall have no right to publish without the prime minister’s permission any information on the progress in Government discussion of any issue".

Ashot Melikyan noted that 9 journalistic organizations issued another statement condemning such amendments and particularly required that:

"The RPA-ARF parliamentary coalition revised Article 10(16 and 17) of the said draft Law, so that they provide a procedure of public sessions of the RA Government and of closed-door sessions only for issues constituting state or any other secret and do not restrict public speeches of ministers by prime minister's permission or lack thereof."

The speaker touched upon the incident at the Yerevan Municipality on February 19 when the head of its Information Department asked with the help of police the Azatutyun and A1+ journalists out of the premises on the pretext below: they violated a procedure: journalists had no right to walk around the premises without the permission of the Office of the Municipality, even if they were accompanied by a member of the Council of Elders.

Later, the said official sent a letter to those mass media outlets accusing the journalists of violating the law and inquired what sanctions were imposed on them.

According to the Chairman of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, sending such a letter to the mass media outlets has no logic, and the journalists were fully entitled to carry out their professional duties.

"The society has the right and may know the traditions and game rules in Yerevan Municipality as it’s an elective body and is financed from budgetary funds," Ashot Melikyan says adding: "We, 9 journalistic organizations responded to this incident considering that it prevented journalistic activity, an act prosecuted under Article 164, RA Criminal Code and we noticed a violation of the Law on Mass Media. We urged the mayor of Yerevan to punish those guilty."

But instead of punishing them, Artur Gevorgyan, Head of the Information Department of Yerevan Municipality sent a letter to those mass media outlets accusing the journalists of violating the law and inquired what sanctions were imposed on them.

"This letter is quite funny. Perhaps, this mid-level official was taught that the media outlets report to him. Whereas he seems to be unaware that the department he manages should be just a link between the mass media and the Municipality," Ashot Melikyan says and expresses an opinion that the official would not make such a statement on his own initiative and in fact this decision was made by the administration of the Municipality.

Ashot Melikyan urged the officials to work more transparently with the mass media instead of imposing restrictions, as it is mostly through the mass media that the public at large gets informed about their work.

Derenik Malkhasyan, Media Center Project Editor/Coordinator

To contact the author, please email him: derenikmalkhasian@gmail.com

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