Press freedom in Armenia slumped in 2008 to the lowest level observed since the country's independence, a Yerevan-based media watchdog said in a annual report released on February 24.
"Whenever the political situation in the country escalates, as a rule, attacks on mass media become more frequent," the report by the Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech said. "But 2008 was unprecedented, not only in terms of the number of violations of the rights of journalists and media outlets, but also the imposition of censorship on mass media."
The report referred to an effective government ban on independent reporting that was part of a three-week state of emergency imposed in Yerevan following the deadly clashes on March 1, 2008, between opposition protesters and security forces. Most Armenian newspapers chose to suspend publication, refusing to agree to government censorship of their content.
The report denounced the censorship as illegal and unprecedented. "Never before had there been such strict censorship in this country," said Mesrop Harutiunian, a committee expert. He cited this as a key reason why he considers 2008 the "worst year" for the local media.
The committee also reported a sharp rise in violent attacks on Armenian journalists. It registered 18 such incidents in 2008.
-- Astghik Bedevian