Unconstitutional Provision Related to Journalists’ Work in Electoral Code

Gagik Aghbalyan

Armenia’s Constitutional Court has deemed unconstitutional RA Electoral Code Article 3 Section 8 Paragraph 2, which states that no more than 50 representatives from one media outlet can be accredited to cover the elections.

Gyumri’s Asparez Journalists’ Club had filed a petition to the Constitutional Court disputing RA Electoral Code Article 3 Section 8 Paragraphs 1 and 2.

On March 9, 2017, the organization had applied to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) to accredit 1,000 representatives from two media outlets (Asparez daily newspaper and asparez.am). But its application was denied. Asparez Journalists’ Club appealed to the Administrative Court, but the appeal was likewise rejected. On October 3, the organization appealed to the Constitutional Court.

According to the applicant: “In the absence of any justified reasoning and need, the restrictions against media outlets and their representatives, particularly in electoral processes, though prescribed by law (in the RA Electoral Code), don’t pursue a legitimate purpose, are not necessary in a democratic society, and don’t stem from the public interest.”

The provision not to accredit more than 50 journalists, according to the Court, contravenes Article 42 (freedom of expression of opinion), Section 2 of Article 51 (right to receive information), Article 75 (organizational mechanisms and procedures for exercising basic rights and freedoms), Article 78 (principle of proportionality), Article 79 (principle of determination) , Article 80 (inviolability of the essence of provisions on basic rights and freedoms), and Section 2 of Article 81(basic rights and freedoms and international legal practice) of the Constitution and was deemed invalid.

Asparez Journalists’ Club President Levon Barseghyan is not particularly excited by this decision of the Constitutional Court. He says that the unconstitutionality of some provisions in the Electoral Code were obvious, and the initiative to apply to the Constitutional Court more so was the lawyers’ so that the Court confirms the unconstitutionality of these provisions.

The Constitutional Court’s December 26 decision, according to Barseghyan, will not affect the situation at all, since national elections have already concluded, and media organizations lost the right to oversee them.

“Obviously, such restrictions shouldn’t have been in place. Asparez has accredited 700–800 representatives at every national election. So the authorities created an artificial barrier, to keep the elections away from public oversight at that time.

“I don’t deny that in the next elections these unconstitutional provisions of the Electoral Code won’t have power, but the authorities perhaps will think of new restrictions,” says Barsegyan.

In response to a written query by Media.am, the Ministry of Justice informed us that with the aim of implementing the Constitutional Court’s December 26, 2017 decision no. 1396, the ministry has amended the draft RA Law on Making Amendments and Additions in Constitutional Law to the Electoral Code of the Republic of Armenia, which had been approved by the government at its December 28, 2017 meeting and will be presented at the National Assembly shortly.

At the same time, the Constitutional Court considered constitutional RA Electoral Code Article 31 Section 8 Paragraph 1, which provides an advantage to terrestrial broadcasters. Recall, according to this provision, media providers can accredit its representatives only if they have been providing news for at least a year. But the one-year restriction doesn’t apply to terrestrial broadcasting media.

In the opinion of Lusine Hakobyan, representative of the group of attorneys defending Asparez’s claim in the Constitutional Court, on this issue the Court made a wrong decision.

“It’s unacceptable that discrimination between terrestrial broadcasting media and the others has been introduced. In practice, has there been such a restriction? I am not aware, but this doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened or such a risk may not happen in the future. This provision runs contrary to Armenia’s Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights,” says attorney Lusine Hakobyan.

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