Media legislation

The first basic law on Mass Media in the history of modern Armenia was adopted by the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Armenia in 1990. The law initiated the process of legitimising samizdat newspapers as well as formulated the basic concepts for subsequent legislative acts regulating the media sphere.

One of the few progressive documents of Armenia, highly appreciated by international experts, is the Law on Freedom of Information, adopted in 2003. However, since its adoption, the law has been a topic of much discussion. Criticisms from the journalistic community are provoked by articles five ‘Recording, classification and storage of information’ and ten ‘Conditions for providing information’, which guarantee important conditions for free access to information. In addition, the regulations on the transition to digital broadcasting require serious revision. Since October 2016, the republic has completely switched to digital reception, but social packages for helping low-income families have not been finalised. Greater freedom is required for the regulation of relations in the field of television and radio broadcasting and licencing of television channels. The national licencing commission consists of nine members appointed by the president of the republic. The sphere of copyright and intellectual property protection also needs reforms. Thus, the lawmaking process in the media field is far from complete and requires major changes.

The Information Communications policy in Armenia is determined by the Ministry of Transport and Communications. The practical application of legal acts, laws and regulations in this area is introduced and monitored by the Public Services Regulatory Commission, which ‘is an independent national regulator in the field of telecommunications.’ Although the government does not have a direct impact on the activities of the commission, its activities are financed by the state, and the commission members are appointed by the president of the republic. The entire telecommunications sector is regulated by the Law on Electronic Communication, adopted in 2005. On the whole, the Internet space of Armenia functions in a liberal field.

In the Law on Electronic Communication there are no mechanisms for blocking or monitoring the activities of an Internet provider or a communication channel. Local providers may be subject to administrative punishment in the form of revocation of a license under article 12 if, for example, ‘suspension or termination is necessary for reasons of national security or public interest.’ Another body monitoring the regulatory and legal sphere in Armenian cyberspace is the ICT Sector Development Support Council. It includes representatives of the public sector, civic activists and private investors. The Council makes decisions on the allocation of radio frequencies, as well as the issuance of network licences. Overall, three types of licences are issued: a licence to provide VoIP services (Voice over Internet Protocol - voice communication services via the Internet), a licence to use radio frequencies and a licence to provide electronic communication services (Internet access).

The activity of websites in the .am domain is carried out by the public organisation Internet Society of Armenia. Despite the reform of the 2005 legislation and numerous amendments to the Law on Electronic Communication, there are gaps in the law that require further modification. Thus, for example, the law only regulates the legal norms of technical nature: licencing, provision of radio frequencies, etc; but it is the Law on Mass Media, adopted in 2003, that should be responsible for the electronic media content. In this law, electronic media are only mentioned in Article 3, in connection with the listing of media distribution channels: ‘via a public communication network (network medium) - as an information resource having a specific address accessible to an unlimited number of people and containing information regardless of the frequency of replenishment, storage time and other criteria.’ In other cases, there are no separate references to the legal norms for the functioning of electronic media within the framework of the main law on Mass Media. This has constantly sparked active discussions among representatives of traditional media in Armenia, who have repeatedly accused online media of plagiarism and illegal use of copyright information. Many editors of print media, for example, point to the absence of any information about the editor, editorial board, address and contact numbers of electronic media that reproduce their materials.

Since the fall of 2019, the need to amend the Law on television and radio has been actively discussed in Armenia. Discussions were held between organizations representing the journalistic community and the governing authority. Thus, Yerevan Press Club together with Media Initiatives Center, proposed a bill which was adapted to the new digital realities. The project was not approved by the government. The president of Yerevan Press Club Boris Navasardyan told that they tried to include all the shortcomings that had been in the sphere over the past 20 years, but the government decided to limit itself to cosmetic changes. The key elements of this bill, proposed by a group of politicians from the ruling party “My Step” must be checking and submitting reliable information to the news media, and countering the spread of fake news in the context of a political struggle for power. The law is designed to establish obstacles to the spread of hatred among the population through the audiovisual media. The audiovisual media should also ensure transparency of financing and translation of foreign content into Armenian. Public hearings on the bill should be held soon.