Sometimes It is Necessary to Read the Constitution

Mesrop Harutyunyan

Writer by calling

A statement made by notorious photojournalist Gagik Shamshyan and published on his website [AM], which other news outlets also disseminated, contains several violations of not only the presumption of innocence, but also the rules of  journalism ethics — which forced me to respond with this piece.

Ok, so Gagik Shamshyan doesn’t know the concept of presumption of innocence, that you cannot write in a news story “the crime is revealed,” that you cannot write things that clearly depict one of the parties to the conflict in a negative light (this is called bias), and he doesn’t know other things (maybe we should teach him), but shouldn’t those running news outlets or those responsible for news stories know, and shouldn’t they perhaps edit the piece, excluding violations of law and basic journalism ethics? 

Let’s review the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia:

Article 21: Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty by the court judgment lawfully entered into force as prescribed by law.

And now a question: should be blame Shamshyan, that he without realizing it and without possessing basic knowledge disseminates such information, when there is an infringement upon the presumption of innocence — and, by the way, it’s infringed upon a lot, in statements issued by the public relations and press office of the RA Police and in prepared video reports. Go to the Republic of Armenia Police website, read the news about the “crimes being uncovered,” watch the videos, and you will be convinced.  

Here’s but one example of a video available on the police force’s official website titled “Who Abused Their Official Duties? [Some] New Findings” [AM]:

At around 1 minute in the video, the police officer says “…the money was embezzled by the people noted by the regional council…”

Dear Mr. presumably juridical-educated officer, whether the money was embezzled or not can be decided only by a court ruling; at most you can say they are suspected of stealing. 

Later in the video, an employee with the public relations and press office of the RA Police continues stating accusations which are presented as proven fact.

In any normal country, these individuals who are accused by police staff would take the matter to court and would definitely win their case, based on the fact that their presumption of innocence was violated. However, in Armenia, unfortunately, I have not yet come across such practice. 

The video above contains violations of not only the law, but also basic rules of ethics: that this biased report containing only the viewpoint of the police shows people’s faces, photos, and so on, raises doubts whether the individuals who prepared the video possess knowledge of the basic rules of professional journalism.

And worst of all, such reports are shown and disseminated by the state broadcaster and on other TV channels. 

After all this, let me just add, if you can, watch, say, recent reports on Euronews on those arrested on suspicion of murdering a soldier in London. Nowhere will you hear “the criminals,” “murderers,” and other such words to describe the accused.

Mesrop Harutyunyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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