Point of View

2011 as a year of court cases against the media

27.12.2011

This year more than 30 court cases with the charge of slander and insult were launched against the media, and Council of Information disputes was established and on the basis of the petition of Human Rights Defender the Constitutional Court interpreted the Article defamation and insult in the Civil Code.

The actions against the media were brought not only with a claim of denial, but also with financial compensation, mostly with the maximum amount stipulated by law (AMD 3 million), in many cases the payment of the plaintiff's attorney, which is at least AMD 500 thousand, was added to this sum. Such variant of financial compensation puts the functioning of the media at risk, taking into account the Armenian media market and the financial opportunities of the printed media.

There were two unprecedented court cases both of them were against "Hraparak" daily periodical.

In September, the court forbad "Hraparak" to publish the articles concerning the dispute with Compulsory Enforcement Service of Judicial Acts, without mentioning what lawful aim pursues such intrusion with the freedom of media.  Misak Martirosyan, the head of the Judicial Department, brought an action against "Hraparak" daily newspaper. According to him in "The Judicial Department 'Misak's-1" and "The Judicial Department 'Misak's place'-2" articles published in August, he was thrice insulted, and nine times defamed.

The daily did not express its opinion in the articles, only citing certain passages from the complaints of the open letter of Martirosyan's employees. That case ended with conciliation. The editorial staff of the daily published an article that the two parties primarily agreed upon.

 "I think that the Compulsory Enforcement Service of Judicial Acts agreed on conciliation, because the media boom was loud and unexpected. I am very grateful to my colleges because it is due to them that in Compulsory Enforcement Service of Judicial Acts they understood that it is a shame for the Judicial Department to stand up against the newspaper", commented the editor of "Hraparak" Armine Ohanyan.

The next clamorous action against the media outlets was brought by attorney Arthur Grigoryan. Arthur Grigoryan demands AMD 18 million qualifying the comments left below the article entitled "Are the citizens victims of the unscrupulous attorney?" published in the website of "Hraparak" daily as defamation and insult. The judicial process is underway the next court session will take place on January 13, 2012.

According to Boris Navasardyan, chairman of the Yerevan Press Club, such cases were registered in Russia, and there is a special body which can demand to delete the comments from the website, before the decision of the court: "I would not discuss these issues within the framework of the judicial system, they can be settled within the context of journalistic ethics and self-regulation. We need moderation, as in case of the developed countries", thinks Navasardyan.

Council of Information Disputed founded in May was another step towards self-regulation and it gives professional conclusions on judicial cases concerning defamation, insult, protection of private life and freedom of information. The council was founded by Human rights defender Karen Andreasyan who thinks that it is a system which can prevent the judicial errors concerning freedom of speech.

Although the council presented conclusions on several judicial cases, nobody can say that any judge will take these conclusions into consideration, besides the media itself rejects the importance of the council and discusses its competence for investigating their cases.

After the decriminalization of Articles concerning defamation and insult the abundance of actions against media, however, made Human rights defender apply to the Constitutional Court.

On November 15 the Constitutional Court examined Karen Andreasyan's petition on recognizing Article 1087.1(Impugning on honor, dignity business reputation) of the Civil Code anti-constitutional.

The Constitutional Court did not recognize the Article anti-constitutional but outlined a number of important legal interpretations in its decision. Karen Andreasyan found that decision is "one step forward". The Constitutional Court noted once again that the expressions made in media cannot be considered as insult if they have factual basis and first of all it is necessary to apply forms of non-financial compensation that is apology, denial etc. And the financial compensation should be applied only in cases when the non-financial compensation is not enough to compensate the caused damage.

"While determining the lawfulness of damage compensation the respondent's limited resources should be seen as a factor, the respondent's amount of income should be taken into account, a disproportionately heavy financial burden should not be determined for the respondent which will have a negative financial impact on the latter's activities even causing bankruptcy" noted the Chairman of the Constitutional Court Gagik Harutyunyan.

The Chairman of Committee for Protection of Freedom of Speech Ashot Melikyan is convinced that the law can actually be a good one if it is implemented in a right way but these 30 cases show that more people follow the path of settling a score with media. The examination of judicial cases against media continues. How effective were the steps made with regard to the protection of freedom of speech in 2011,   time would show.

Karine Ionesyan

Source www.hra.am