The Fine For Not Wearing A Mask On Air, Free Speech And “Throwing Down The Gloves”

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

The visit of the police to “ArmNews” TV turned out to be noisy. On July 3, police officers visited ArmNews, Channel 5, and filed a lawsuit against the TV station for not wearing a mask.

The directors of the TV companies wrote about it on their Facebook pages, calling it a campaign against free speech and an attempt to put pressure on the press.

ArmNews channel and tert.am news outlet, which is part of the Quartet Media Holding, made several references to administrative proceedings and fines during these three days (the recipient of the 10,000 AMD fine was ArmNews host Abraham Gasparyan, who had gone on the air without a mask).

One of the owners of the “Quartet Media,” for example, called it “an unfounded attempt to obstruct the free speech of the media.” And the general director of the holding said that this is “certainly the result of scorn at the state level.” The director spread the same idea of “stubbornness” on the general struggle against the contagion and concluded: “You and your sloppiness are to blame.”

Interestingly, this division of you and us is most clearly felt in the content of the two mentioned TV channels, which mainly spread the word and opinion that humiliates and even mocks the current authorities.

That’s what almost everyone on the airwaves or on their satellite websites does. For example, regarding this fine, it has been stated that “the fight against the epidemic is an excuse to violate the right to free speech” and the authorities are striving for a monarchy.

The accusations were made not only against law enforcement agencies and new managers in general, but also against human rights organizations, which, according to the fined media outlets, “were so active in the past, but today they are tacitly supporting these illegal actions of the government.” There were opposition lawmakers who said it was an “illegal mask attack,” which was “nonsense”.

The director of “5th Channel” said that he refused to sign and accept the notification to open an administrative proceeding. “If there are any questions, we will challenge them in the courts, and if we are met with their beloved ‘Armen-Danielyan-Type’ judges, we will go to the EC.”

Naturally, these channels and the media that work with them in the same rhythm (“Hraparak,” “168 Zham,” the editors-in-chief of which also broadcast on ArmNews) should have used you vs us aggravation yet again, for show.

And the problem is not the mask at all, the wearing of which in closed areas is mandatory by the decision of the Commandant, but in all cases, it is left to the understanding of the media. The media, against which an attempt was made to initiate administrative proceedings, refer to the words of the President of the RFA, who said that as far as he is aware, no decision on wearing a mask in the pavilion has been made.

The RFA President later clarified that it was not logical to refer to his one-month-old opinion when the Commandant made a new announcement. And he called for an investigation into the realities of the violation of freedom of speech that have been documented in recent decades. “All of us can only wish that the ‘Campaign Against the Media’ is as simple as such a fine of 10,000 AMD…,” he wrote.

On July 4, the media outlets issued a statement calling the incident an “abuse of power by the law enforcement agencies.”

They called for “no use of force in their own actions and their interference in the activities of the media” and “clarification of the limitations of the working conditions related to the media in connection with the epidemic.”

“We also urge the media to refrain from possible violations of the Commandant decisions, acknowledging their own responsibility for the health of their fellow citizens, including their own employees,” the statement said.

The problem is that the instructions for keeping a social distance in the office and wearing a mask are not really clear. And a lot is being done with the internal rules of the media, not only to avoid endangering public health but also to set an example.

For example, host Arabham Gasparyan wore a mask on the air in early June, and then stopped wearing it. It is difficult to understand the reason for such an approach of the TV company: to wear a mask before and to give up the mask when the epidemic has gained momentum.

It is also not clear in which cases the inspection body visits a media organization and in which cases, the police. And when do the two go together?

Different media outlets are visited by different bodies and checked not only on the fact that they are wearing a mask or not but also to see if there are other accessories present in the conditions of a dense and strict regime of media offices, such as thermometers, a registration book, disinfectant fluids, etc.

In contrast to the police actions, for example, the position of the Quartet Media Holding is very clear, the director says without hesitation that he is waging a war with the help of his media, that it is a weapon for him.

“If Nikol Pashinyan has decided to throw down the gloves on the freedom of the media or declare war on them, then in war, as in war. Let him come and see who’s mother will bring a son. He will lose. It will be a disgraceful defeat.”

In a reality where the media is used to wage wars, any step is a weapon. It is especially nice to talk about the violation of free speech, the right to freedom of expression, the obstruction of the work of the media because it is so loud and democratic.

But fines can also be a weapon that is useless if used from a weak position.

Nune Hakhverdyan

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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