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Media program says Armenia "failed the test"... 02/28/2003
Media program says Armenia "failed the test" during campaign and election coverage

By Julia Hakobyan and John Hughes, ArmeniaNow reporters
Armenia Now
28 February 2003
Internews, a United States government-sponsored media development
program is calling upon Armenian journalists to "arm themselves
with courage and objectivity for these last difficult days of the
electoral campaign".
At a news conference today in Internews' Yerevan headquarters, Chief
of Party William M. Canter and managing director Nouneh Sarkissian
told journalists their agency is troubled by episodes of intimidation,
physical attacks and destruction of recording equipment inflicted on
the media during the Presidential Election.
"These incidents are a serious setback to the progress of civil society
in Armenia," Canter said. "I'm deeply concerned that the development
of a free, unbiased and objective media is being gravely hindered."
Veteran Armenian journalist Sarkissian called last week's Presidential
elections "a step back" for democratic principles, saying that the
efforts of journalists were more restricted this election than in
previous ones.
"Every time when we switched the channels we could only find biased
information and to feel a sense of shame," Sarkissian said. "We got
confused realizing that the reality is not being reflected in an
adequate way."
An Internews statement was released to about 40 journalists attending
the press conference in which the agency calls elections a "test of
the mass media's professionalism . . . Armenian media, broadcasters
in particular, did not pass the test in February 2003."
While critical of the media performance Sarkissian said the purpose
of the meeting was not to accuse journalists, but to find ways to
improve their performance.
"Our mission in Armenia is to strengthen independent media and work
to allow all journalists an editorial environment that encourages
the professional, objective and honest dissemination of information,"
Canter said.
Much of the hour-long meeting centered on one of Internews' own
television programs.
Each week Internews produces "Ditak" (Spyglass) a 20-minute news
program that focuses on one topic from what project assistant Tatevik
Oganesyan called "an eyeglass, a magnifying glass, then a microscope".
Part of Internews presence in Armenia is to produce "Ditak" and
distribute to 23 stations throughout the country. Last week's program
focused on alleged election fraud and included video interviews of
voters' accusations, including one group complaining that they were
offered up to 10,000 drams (about $17) each for their votes, but then
were not paid.
Internews says it has agreements with all 23 stations to air "Ditak"
each week. But last Sunday, Shant, generally considered to present
pro-government programming, refused to air the program.
Internews producer Armen Sargsyan says his program was the 66th
edition of "Ditak" produced since November 2001 and is the first
Shant has refused to broadcast.
Artur Yezekyan, Director of Shant TV company told ArmeniaNow his
company refused to air the program because it was slanted.
"The program from its beginning to the end was biased and partial,"
says Yezekyan. "There were presented only one-sided comments without
referring to the other side."
In other election-related news:
More campaign-related arrests were reported today. In the Shengavit
district at least three people are being detained for 15 days.
Head of the Regional Council of Shengavit, Edik Madatyan, who was
arrested February 22 as part of the police enforcement of illegal
public demonstration, had to be taken to hospital with a bleeding
stomach ulcer.
Russian television channel N TV, which broadcasts in Armenia, went
off the air as it was broadcasting coverage of anti-government
demonstrations Wednesday night. The National Commission of Radio and
TV says the channel is having transmission problems with its Armenian
feed. The channel has been dark since Wednesday, but is expected to
be restored.
Wednesday, the Opposition announced it would hold a campaign rally
Saturday at the Institute of Manuscripts. Yesterday, the Dashnakstutyun
Party ("Dashnaks"), one of the oldest parties in Armenia and supporters
of President Robert Kocharyan, announced a counter-demonstration for
the time at the same place.
But today, Aghvan Vardanyan, head of the Dashnak Party in Parliament,
told ArmeniaNow that together with other parties supporting Kocharyan,
a decision would be made tonight on whether to hold concurrent rallies.
Yesterday Kocharyan visited various campaign headquarters. Today
both he and his opponent, Stepan Demirchyan, went to Tsitsernakaberd
monument to pay honor to those who died 15 years ago during pogroms
in Sumgait, Azerbaijan which was the flashpoint of the war in Karabakh.
Former Prime Minister and would-be Presidential candidate Raffi
Hovhannisian appeared in court today, asking that his citizenship
status be reconsidered. The U.S.-born Hovhanissian, was granted
Armenian citizenship in 2001, but has argued that he was illegally
denied citizenship when he first applied in 1991.
Earlier this month a court ruled Hovhannisian ineligible to stand
for President, as he did not meet the 10-year citizenship requirement.
A court is expected to rule on his latest motion in a week.
(ArmeniaNow reporters Zhanna Alexanyan and Vahan Ishkhanyan contributed
to this report.)
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