In the past 3 months, six lawsuits have been filed in court demanding from news outlets compensation for moral damages and retraction of information that allegedly caused harm to honor, dignity and business reputation. One of these suits were sustained, while the other cases are still in court.
On Feb. 7, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash Administrative Districts ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, MPs Levon Sargsyan, Samvel Aleksanyan and Ruben Hayrapetyan, in their case against local daily Haykakan Jamanak ("Armenian Times"). Judge Karine Petrosyan ruled that each plaintiff would receive 2 million 44 thousand drams (about $5,600 US).
Currently in court is the Arrhythmology Cardiology Center of Armenia's lawsuits against local daily Aravot ("Morning") and News.am news agency. The demand is the same: 2 million drams in compensation for causing harm to honor, dignity and business reputation.
There are currently two cases against local daily Jamanak ("Times"): The family of Armenia's second president, Robert Kocharian, is demanding 6 million drams (about $16,438 US) for "harm caused through insult and libel," while developer Glendale Hills is suing Jamanak for one million drams (about $2,740 US) for publishing information that it says harms the company's business reputation.
The most recent lawsuit involves an MP with the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, Tigran Arzakantsyan, who is suing local daily Yerkir ("Country") for 3 million 568 thousand drams (about $9,775 US) for causing harm to his honor and dignity.
In the fall of 2010, Armenia's creative unions won their lawsuit against local daily Hayots Ashkharh ("Armenian World"). The newspaper published a retraction on a news piece that discredited their honor, dignity and business reputation, and paid the plaintiffs 1 million 500 thousand drams (about $4,110 US) as compensation for court expenses.
"The court examining these cases confirms the pessimistic forecasts that, without taking into account existing realities, the hasty introduction of the practice of compensation for moral damages will threaten the existence of a number of publications," reads a recent statement issued by a number of influential media organizations: Yerevan Press Club, Internews Media Support NGO, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Asparez Journalists' Club and Media Diversity Institute–Armenia.
Those appealing to the courts against news agencies are using the RA Civil Code amended in 2010, which allows the court to make arbitrary verdicts to determine the amount of damage and the real public reaction to a particular article in the media.
"Making use of this law's 'force' exclusively are 'the strong of this world,' members of the political and business elite, settling accounts with news media and journalists they consider undesirable," reads the statement.
The organizations representing the media community call on the National Assembly to review the points on insult and libel in the RA Civil Code, for the courts "not to yield to influential plaintiffs' unbridled ambitions and insatiable appetite; more so, to use the option of response and retraction provided by legislation," and for news outlets "to develop the mechanisms of self-regulation and accountability before the public."