The journalists of Gyumri-Asparez daily, Hingshabti weekly, Tsayg and GALA TV, as well as Aravot daily's and RFE/RL's Armenian service (Azatutyun) correspondents in the province of Shirak believe that the Public Relations and Mass Media Department of Staff of the President of the Republic of Armenia employees treated them unjustly. In their opinion, local news media outlets were discriminated against during the Sept. 4 opening ceremony of Gyumri's newly built medical center. They were not allowed to attend the news briefing of the president, who was attending the Gyumri hospital's opening ceremony.
Journalists covering the story were informed that RA President Serzh Sargsyan won't be responding to questions. Gyumri-based reporters decided to wait till the president, accompanied by high-ranking guests, left the building, figuring that it might be possible to speak with those officials.
"At one point Shant TV employees were taken inside. At first we didn't understand what was happening. Then, when Yerevan-based reporters came out of the building, we understood that there had been an interview with the president. We asked the president's press spokesperson if that's so then why weren't we informed; we were told that supposedly there was no room inside — which is why they didn't call us," describes Gyumri-Asparez correspondent Sona Arakelyan.
"I don't think there was an issue of lack of space," says Aravot's correspondent in Shirak marz (province), Nune Arevshatyan. "They just wanted representatives of 'predictable' news outlets to participate in the interview. I assume that the president wouldn't want to respond to a number of our questions. The questions were going to be about the recent crimes in Gyumri and the perpetrators."
The fact that Yerevan-based journalists were directed to the press conference room and one of the president's press service staff personally came after the Shant TV reporter and took him inside angered GALA TV reporter Kristine Mkrtchyan.
"The opening [ceremony] not yet begun, I personally approached [Public Relations and Mass Media Department of Presidential Staff employee] Nana [Zakaryan] and said that I would like to ask the president a question. I wanted to ask why did they remember now the rates of crime in Gyumri now and that measures have to be taken. Why didn't they do this before?" asks Mkrtchyan. "Nana asked me not to approach the president and not pose any questions, otherwise she'll have problems."
The overlooked Gyumri-based reporters asked for explanations on the spot from the president's press spokespeople.
"And Nana, supposedly to calm us, said we'll give you footage — we'll give you the interview too. Question: in that case, why are they inviting us if they're going to do everything? Let them also come to the TV station and read the statement, edit the story, and go," says Kristine.
The Gyumri-based Asparez Journalists' Club responded to the incident. The club is asking the police chief to launch a criminal case under Article 164 Section 1 of the RA Criminal Code: "Hindrance to the legal professional activities of a journalist, or forcing the journalist to disseminate information or not to disseminate information…"
The Public Relations and Mass Media Department of Presidential Staff responded to Asparez' statement. The explanation, which was published by Panorama.am, notes that "the briefing took place in the small foyer of the Austrian Children's Hospital of Gyumri; consequently, aiming to cause as little inconvenience as possible to the patients and due to space restrictions, only a few journalists from TV stations having nationwide coverage were able to ask a few short questions."
Asparez Journalists' Club has since disseminated a second statement — demanding a proper explanation from the president's staff.
Yeranuhi Soghoyan, Gyumri