ArmInfo.OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Arlem Desir made a statement in which he expressed concern about the restriction of media freedom in Armenia.
Thus, the OSCE statement in ArmInfo notes that Desira expressed concern about the package of amendments to the criminal and administrative codes that were introduced in Armenia on March 23 in the context of combating disinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The organization's statement states that in connection with the emergency situation in the Republic of Armenia, any "organization carrying out journalistic activities" (the term includes electronic publications that are not considered part of the media's activities) will be allowed to publish only official information related to the situation in the country related to coronavirus. The organization points out that the Armenian government explains this by the need to avoid panic in the country, as well as aggression towards patients with coronavirus.
The OSCE also emphasized that journalists and editors criticized this decision, noting that there is no precise definition of which messages may or may not cause panic.
"I fully understand the purpose of the new law - to avoid panic, aggression and fight misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the media play a key role in providing important information to the public and in countering fake news about the pandemic. The law should not interfere with the work of journalists and the ability to report a pandemic. Publication of only information provided by the authorities is a serious restrictive measure that will restrict media freedom and disproportionate access to information, "Desir said.
The OSCE also noted that the maximum fine for publications that would qualify as a violation during a state of emergency was set at 300,000 drams ($ 600), and failure to delete prohibited information within 24 hours would result in a fine of 500-1000 times above the minimum wage ($ 1,000- 2,000).
Desir also recalled a joint statement issued last week with the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, which, in particular, emphasized that: "Human health depends not only on easily accessible medical services. It also depends on access to accurate information about the nature of the threats and the means to protect oneself, one's family, and one's community.Moreover, the right to access information means that governments must make an exception "efforts to protect the work of journalists. Journalism has a critical function during a public health emergency, especially when it is aimed at informing the public about critical information and monitoring government actions."
Recall that the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media monitors developments in all 57 OSCE participating States. It provides early warning of violations of freedom of expression and freedom of the media and promotes full compliance with OSCE commitments in the field of media freedom. It should be noted that an emergency was introduced in Armenia on March 16.