Reporters and Referendum: Journalistic society voices alarm over attacks on media representatives

Reporters and Referendum: Journalistic society voices alarm over attacks on media representatives

Photolure

Ashot Melikyan

Reporters covering the Sunday referendum in Armenia have been praised by the country’s journalistic society for their indirect “supervisory” function.

But Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression (CPFE) head Ashot Melikyan says that it becomes increasingly dangerous for journalists to cover competitive electoral processes in the country.

On December 6, when Armenians went to polling stations to vote in a referendum on constitutional changes envisaging the country’s switch to a parliamentary form of government reporters trying to provide comprehensive coverage of the nationwide political event often came up against impediments. Eleven cases of obstruction to the work of journalists at and outside polling stations as well as two cases of violence against them were reported on that day.

Lragir.am journalist Tehmine Yenokyan was among those who experienced obstructions in performing her professional duties. In a video she released later it is seen how a man hits her camera and demands that she stop filming him.

Yenokyan, who has covered three national elections since 2008 and is known for her documentaries on civic protests in Armenia, says that reporters, along with observers, commission members and proxies, are often a constraining factor for those intending to commit vote rigging and other violations on election days. And video and photo cameras, she says, are the tools with which reporters perform their functions of oversight.

“If a person starts to pressure you, it means that he has something to hide and does not want his face to be seen in a video. And this is what betrays such people immediately,” says the 28-year-old award-winning journalists, adding that during the weekend referendum there were particularly many cases of violence and obstruction against media.

CPFE chairman Melikyan says what encourages further crimes against journalists is that no one eventually gets punished for obstructing media work.

“It is praiseworthy that law-enforcement agencies respond to news reports, but usually it happens during the first few days, but when a criminal case is instituted, it is gradually brought to a zero level,” Melikyan says.

Armenian media organizations have condemned the behavior and attitude of separate individuals towards journalists on the referendum day.

Boris Navasaryan, chairman of the Yerevan Press Club, says: “This has already become a bitter reality and a tradition. I think it will only end when such offenders are punished for their actions.”