July 9, 2021 – 11:37 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net – Armenia has a somewhat vibrant information system, according to IREX’s 2021 Vibrant Information Barometer (VIBE), which said that although overall free speech did not suffer much in 2020, Covid-19 was an ordeal for the government and the economy.
On September 27, 2020, the 1994 cease-fire was violated by a large-scale offensive of Azerbaijani forces, VIBE said, citing credible accounts of journalists being specifically targeted by Azerbaijan’s high-precision weapons. Weapon remnants collected at the site by Human Rights Watch (HRW) corroborated the use of guided munitions. Despite wearing press credentials, a number of journalists were injured by the attacks.
The panelists agreed that misinformation, disinformation, mal-information, and hate speech have been abundant during the reporting year. The polarization of society is also at a very high degree, they said. VIBE added that public unrest followed acting Prime Minister Pashinyan’s abrupt and somewhat unexpected signing of a statement on the end of hostilities that was largely regarded as capitulation.
Panelists assessed that freedom of speech and other civil liberties were marred by Covid-19 restrictions, imposed by the government in a haphazard attempt to somehow control or regulate the information chaos. While the restrictions were later dismissed, the backlash during this relatively short period was lasting. Ignoring the arguments from a multitude of journalistic organizations, state-funded public television was again allowed to air commercial ads (originally banned in December 2014) – the government approved the amendment, and it was subsequently adopted by the National Assembly. Panelists agreed that the transparency of media ownership has not seen any significant progress and is still a major issue.
The report also said personal data protection legislation is still very weak. Cybersecurity, digital security and information security still need major improvements to address the existing and potential challenges. They also observed that while there is political will to promote media literacy, the efforts are not enough and the results—the speed with which they are achieved—are not inspiring. Finally, they believed that nonpartisan news and information sources are rather exceptions than a rule, and unfortunately independent voices usually do not enjoy big audiences.
A majority of panelists agreed, however, that—except for Covid-19 and the war— the government does not create or disseminate false or misleading information.
The information systems of both Georgia and Azerbaijan are assessed as “slightly vibrant” in the report, and none of the countries included in the survey had a “highly vibrant” information system.