Role Of Mass Media In Adoption And Promotion Of Anti-Discrimination Legislation

On November 27, 2015, Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF) organized a round-table discussion on the issue of adoption of anti-discrimination legislation with leading representatives of Armenia‚Äôs mass media. The goal of the event was to inform the participants about new draft law on non-discrimination being developed (the provisional title being ‚ÄėEquality law‚Äô), to discuss possible challenges on the way of its adoption, and the supportive role of the media in preparing public opinion. The round table was a part of ‚ÄėPromoting Non-discrimination in Armenia‚Äô project supported by the EU-funded Project ‚ÄúCivil Society. Dialogue for Progress‚ÄĚ. 

The round-table brought together representatives of key media organizations such as,  and Armenian Public Radio reporting on the human rights and minority issues in Armenia. Expert panel included representative of the Ministry of Justice, invited speaker from Georgia, and media and social science professionals. 
During the event the participants were briefed about the need of adopting a standalone law on non-discrimination, the results of an expert survey on discrimination conducted in 2014, and the role of the media in shaping the public opinion. Mrs. Nino Bolkvazde, Policy Officer of the Embassy of the Netherlands to Armenia and Georgia, introduced the Georgian experience of adoption of a similar law and the issues which arose during its implementation. The participants were also informed about the larger project on anti-discrimination being implemented by EPF with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.
Mr. Artyom Sedrakyan, Head of Department for Relations with the European Court of Human Rights of the Ministry of Justice, highlighted the valuable cooperation established between the Ministry of Justice and the civil society organizations in pushing forward the anti-discrimination agenda. He particularly emphasized the role of the mass media in transmitting right messages in the right time and shaping the wider agenda of tolerance.  

Describing the law adoption process in Georgia, Ms. Nino Bolkvadze stated: ‚ÄúThe process of the adoption of the law in Georgia was full of obstacles. There were divisions in the society. One part of the society, comprised of the representatives of civil society organizations and human rights activists, required the adoption of a strong law with an Inspectoral Body and active instruments for sanction execution. The other part of the society, mainly conservative, was against the adoption of the law; some of the clergy were actively lobbying the members of the Parliament against the law. However, eventually the law was adopted based on a compromise: its formulations are not as strong as the CSOs were lobbying for, but are good enough to start the process of anti-discrimination legislation implementation. There was a bit of discontent expressed by both groups, those in favor and those against the law, but the logic behind the adoption of the law was to make the society accustomed to the new reality, where discrimination will not be tolerated, and there are legal possibilities for tackling it. It is better to have a softer law than none at all; its formulations allow for amendments for strengthening its authority in the future.‚ÄĚ  

Mrs. Narine Safaryan, an expert from the Media Initiatives Center, indicated that there are few discussions on the issues of discrimination in the society, and the media are not active in covering these rare instances. She also mentioned that the media usually work in an ad hoc, ‚Äėfirst come first served‚Äô manner, and that professional and balanced coverage of any issue is a rarity in the Armenian media today.   

Expert presentations were followed by vivid discussion. Journalists came up with important suggestions and action points. It was mentioned that there is a need for substantial and comprehensive strategy for working with media managers and editors who are, in fact, the main agents for shaping public opinion. It was highlighted that special stress should be put on the mainstream media, especially nation-wide broadcasters, including public TV and radio. It was also suggested that public figures and opinion-makers should be recruited for the promotion of the Equality law. The experts and journalists agreed that such events should take place more frequently.