Restrictions On Freedom Of Information

Journalistic organizations and the media are concerned about two bills discussed by the RA Ministry of High-Tech Industry on e-draft.am.

One of them envisages not publishing information on the purpose of business trips of state employees, topics discussed meetings, speeches and decisions made on the e-gov.am platform.

And with the second one, not to provide information on purchases made by a person, the registry of hazardous industrial facilities, the data of companies that have the right to use entrails for the extraction and geological exploration of minerals and groundwater. In addition, it is recommended to remove information on air carriers, flights, their cost, booking codes, number of passengers from gov.travel.am.

As justification, e-draft.am mentions, “Due to the consequences of the war unleashed by the enemy on September 27, 2020, as a result of the study, extensive materials were revealed, which refer to the state information posted on the websites with open and direct access. The research parties came to the professional conclusion that state information of strategic importance and importance is posted on the websites with easy access and can be used by various third-party countries or organizations in various economic and political analyses to the detriment of the state interest of Armenia.

On July 7, about a dozen journalistic organizations issued a statement condemning these bills.

The text of the announcement says, “The fact that in 2018, the political force that came to power during the revolution, which also won the early parliamentary elections on June 20, puts forward inappropriate restrictions on freedom of information in a democratic society, is a matter of deep concern. The vast majority of the provisions of the documents under discussion contradict Article 51 of the Constitution, the RA Law on Freedom of Information, as well as Armenia’s commitments under the Open Government Partnership.

Shushan Doydoyan, the founding director of the Freedom of Information Center, considers the bills developed by the Ministry of High-Tech Industry to be backward and thinks that they can only lead to a setback.

“The first issue is the fight against corruption, when that information is available, in case of any abuse, civil society responds. During the previous government, this commitment of the state was fulfilled normally. What is the problem now? Don’t they constantly talk about transparency? The topic of war is being manipulated, but it is not clear what problem they are solving,” said Shushan Doydoyan.

She says that the public was given the opportunity to control the spending and efficiency of public resources, and the mentioned bills deprive them of the most important control mechanism tools.

“I must mention the issue of inclusion and participation, such a bill must first be discussed with media representatives. It is a very sloppy job, justifying with two paragraphs where nothing is said.

After all, the mandate of the HTI Ministry is not to restrict access to information, they do not understand their functions. They must direct their efforts elsewhere, make in-depth analyses, be able to protect information, not close it off. And for the circulation of these two bills alone, the ministry can claim the “Rusty Lock” award, this is simply an unforgivable initiative,” said Shushan Doydoyan.

The Ministry of HTI issued a press release on the circulating bills, stating that such restrictions on the publication of information by the state apply in a number of other countries.

“The Ministry of High-Tech Industry of the Republic of Armenia has made relevant changes to the legal acts approving the service rules of e-gov.am and govtravel.am websites, in particular, from the volume of information published on the basis of these legal acts, the necessary minimum has been selected in order not to violate the publicity of the public administration system and to exclude the availability of risky, sensitive information,” the text of the message reads.

In their statement, the journalists also referred to the statement of the HTI Ministry, noting that it does not allay their concerns and called for the cancellation of the above-mentioned bills and for comprehensive discussions with the participation of relevant state bodies, specialized public organizations, independent experts and representatives of international organizations.

Mane Grigoryan

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