The preliminary trial in MP Tigran Arzakantsyan vs. local daily Yerkir (“Country”) took place in a Yerevan court today. The Republican Party of Armenia MP is demanding 3 million 568 thousand drams (about $9,775 US) in compensation for damages as a result of insult and libel in an article as part of a series titled “131 Faces and Masks” in Yerkir’s Jan. 13 issue.
Arzakantsyan considers the statements “that rascal,” “stilyaga” (dandy) and “speaks more understandably in the… dialect” to be insulting. In the words of his counsel, attorney Vahe Hovsepyan, “stilyaga” is an insult since it’s jargon and the paper could’ve used a literary synonym in its article, and with the statement “speaks more understandably in the… dialect,” the paper wanted to present the plaintiff as someone who does not know Armenian sufficiently, thus denigrating the MP.
Yerkir editor Bagrat Yesayan says the expression “that rascal” was made by Hrant Bagratyan, the retraction of which the paper published later, when the plaintiff presented a letter from Bagratyan in which he writes that he said no such thing.
“And during the Soviet era, they called those who were different from drab society ‘stilyaga’; to those who wear brand name clothing, the jargony expression is probably not insulting,” he said.
The paper’s counsel, attorney Lianna Grigoryan, adds that speaking in a dialect cannot be considered defamation since each of us have our own accent and dialect, which is neither insulting nor shameful.
The plaintiff considers the following statements in the article as libelous: “brings and takes beauties by plane,” “is also known as a frequent customer at casinos,” “has a habit of getting a continual beating,” “has gotten a beating,” “every time after getting a beating,” “in the passing [parliamentary] session, he’s appeared in the National Assembly’s corridors only once.”
In today’s trial, Grigoryan presented articles published by different Armenian and Russian news outlets, citing them as sources of information for the paper for the article in question.
The defendant was mandated at the next hearing to justify the public gain, interest or necessity for using the term “that rascal” in the publication and to present facts that prove that the statements noted by the plaintiff are not libel.
To Judge Ruben Apinyan’s question aimed at the plaintiff’s counsel as to why they are asking the paper for the maximum compensation amount, Vahe Hovsepyan said:
“If the Civil Code stipulated one billion, we would ask for one billion. We’re speaking of a National Assembly deputy; such statements addressed to an MP are not acceptable.”
At the end of today’s session, Yesayan said he is confident in their justice, but not in their victory, explaining by saying that these are two different things in Armenia.
In the past 3 months, six lawsuits have been filed in court demanding compensation from news outlets for moral damages and retraction of information that allegedly caused harm to honor, dignity and business reputation. The latest suit against journalists and news agencies is the Constitutional Rights Union party leader Haik Babukhanyan vs. Report.am website and journalist Edik Andreasyan suit. Babukhanyan, as compensation for insult and libel damage caused, is demanding a retraction and a public apology, as well as two million drams each from the news outlet and the author of the article in question.
On Feb. 7, the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork Marash Administrative Districts in Yerevan sustained the lawsuit filed by MPs Levon Sargsyan, Samvel Aleksanyan and Ruben Hayrapetyan against local daily Haykakan Jamanak (“Armenian Times”) —exacting the paper to pay 2 million 44 thousand AMD (about $5,600 US) to each plaintiff.
On Mar. 2, a few influential media organizations disseminated a statement in which they called on the National Assembly to review the tenets on insult and libel in the RA Civil Code; the courts “not to be influenced by influential plaintiffs’ unbridled ambitions and insatiable appetite, to more so apply the opportunity for retraction and response legislation stipulated by legislation”; and news outlets, “to develop mechanisms for self-regulation and accountability before the public.”