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Freedom of the Press 05/20/2003

Freedom of the Press

A recent survey by Freedom House had put under scrutiny the news media of the three republics in the Caucasus.  The report had lumped Armenia with Azerbaijan, as countries denying freedom to the press, and Georgia was listed as having a partially free press.

To begin with it is an insult for Armenia to be compared with Azerbaijan, which is ruled by an autocratic despot, a former KGB colonel.  And the criteria used to measure the level of freedom in the European press cannot be applied to these fledgling democracies where infrastructure of free institutions is still in its infancy.

It is very interesting to know what criteria are used to judge the level of freedom, which these countries tolerate to their respective news media.

The rating is based on three factors - legal environment, political influences and economic pressures.  One of the accusations is that "in April, The National Commission on TV and Radio transferred the broadcast frequency of A1+ the leading independent television station to an entertainment company with reported links to the government".  This assumption is full of flaws, if it will serve as a yardstick to judge freedom.  First, A1+ was not a leading station, second, the license was auctioned, under free market terms and third, there are no proofs that the new owners have any links to the government.

Any agency or authority judging the freedom of the press has to base its judgment on impeccable factual grounds.

Another accusation is that "most media outlets seek sponsorship from powerful business and political interests."  Is this any different than what is practiced in this country?

Another accusation is that "journalists frequently experience physical assault in relation to their work."  The reference is perhaps to the recent beating of a journalist working for the publication called "Chorrord Ishkhanutune". 

In the case of "Chorrord Ishkhanutune" the tables can be turned to prove that the trash that appears in that publication demonstrates just the opposite of what the survey tries to prove.  Of course, it is not civilized practice to beat a journalist who has invented nasty stories about you - but it is not civilized either to use the freedom of the press without responsibility in Armenia.  The articles that appear in this and similar papers can land any writer or publisher in the court in any civilized country.  But since the legal system does not function yet properly anyone can write anything in these papers and get away with murder.

We do not need to defend the flaws in the news media of Armenia, but we believe in time a healthy press will develop on the European model.

Here in this country writers take some basic assumptions for granted.  It is almost a credo that since we have the First Amendment in our Constitution the freedom of the press is guaranteed.  No one dares to question that basic assumption.  With homeland security rhetoric raging many of the freedoms are threatened. The way we have developed sophisticated laser guided precision weapons, similarly very sophisticated methods are applied to silence any criticism that questions, for example, the war policies of the administration.

Objective news reporting has been replaced with debates, talk shows and blind or rude advocates of the war policy.  Sometimes opponents of those views are invited to these talk shows, provided that they have either a language impediment or a heavy accent, or lack of fluency in English to become easy targets of talk show hosts, to be harangued and pushed aside by them victoriously.

Anyone interested in world affairs will be stifled to watch the major networks, where earthshaking stories are told: like about lawsuits against the "Smuckers" preserve makers claim of the percentage of the fruit in their product or how many West Nile virus mosquitoes are counted, or the number of ma ilmen bitten by dogs in a given year, while the slaughter of million Rwandans is reduced to status of non-newsworthy item.

Those sophisticated methods are applied against such TV hosts as Bill Maher whose "Politically Incorrect" popular program disappeared from ABC screens, because perhaps he dwelt too long on his insistence that "oil men bought our government".

One seldom watches any more Pat Buchanan nowadays after he wrote a scathing article against the war ("The American Conservative", March 24, 2003), by asking in the title of his article "Whose War?" and answering, "a neoconservative clique seeks to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America's interest."  He also dared to question in another article (USA Today) "Do we reverse alliances and make Israel's war America's war?"

Thus Buchanan committed the supreme "crime" by holding America's interests over those of Israel's.  He can no longer aspire to run as a Presidential candidate, nor can he apply for any government job.  He will certainly disappear from the public forum and fade away because of his gamble with the media taboos.  Even in the "New York Times", which is considered one of the most liberal publications, caustic articles of Doreen Dowd are drowned in the diatribe of William Safire and his ilk.

We have yet to read in our free press the number of casualties our BOABs and precision guided weapons caused in Iraq.

One may argue that if you wish to have some fresh air you can always watch Naum Chomsky on C-Span at 3:00 a.m.

Freedom of the press has become a relative concept.  Sometimes the press is free when it supports policies of a ruling elite.

Every country moves at its own pace to attain and apply a reasonable measure of media liberty.  And the countries that have graduated from that process have more sophisticated methods than beating journalists to silence dissent.

May 20, 2003
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