Meltex Ltd & Movsesyan v Armenia
Reference: Application No. 32283/04
Court: European Court of Human Rights
Judge: Casadevall J, President, Fura-Sandström, Zupanèiè, Gyulumyan, Ziemele, López Guerra, Power JJ
Date of judgment: 17 Jun 2008
Summary: Freedom of expression – European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10 - Interference - Proscribed by law - Television broadcasting – Licensing - Reasons for decision - Arbitrary interference
The complainants, an independent broadcasting company (B) and its chairman, had initially acquired a state television licence, which was allegedly suspended on B’s refusal to broadcast only pro-government material. B was later granted a five-year broadcasting licence. After a further licence held by B had expired, the Armenian broadcasting authority (NTRC) opened calls for tenders regarding various broadcasting frequencies. NRTC appointed another company as winner after a points-based vote. B ceased to broadcast and later unsuccessfully participated in bids for several other bands. B sought to have the NTRC’s decisions annulled, complaining that NTRC failed to give written reasons for the licence refusals. The domestic courts dismissed the claim, finding that the calls for tenders concerning those seven bands had been carried out lawfully. B complained that the refusals of a broadcasting licence amounted to a violation of freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR.
Whether NRTC’s refusal of B’s bids for broadcasting licences amounted to an “interference” with B’s freedom to impart information and ideas;
If it did, whether that interference was proscribed by law.
Finding that NTRC’s refusal did amount to an interference:
The legislation by which the NTRC had granted broadcasting licences to companies defined the criteria on which the authority was to base its choice in awarding those licences but did not require NTRC to give reasons for its decision. NTRC had simply announced the winner of each call for tenders without giving reasons why that company had met the requisite criteria and not B. A licensing procedure which lacked a requirement to give reasons for its decisions did not provide adequate protection against arbitrary interference by a public authority with the right to freedom of expression. Accordingly, the interference with B’s freedom to impart information and ideas, namely the denials of a broadcasting licence, did not meet the requirement of lawfulness, in breach of Art.10 ECHR. B was awarded EUR 20,000 in non-pecuniary damages and EUR 10,000 for costs and expenses.
The broadcasting authority had in fact adhered to the applicable domestic legislation in applying the fairly rigorous criteria during the licence-granting process. The Court censured the State on the basis that the applicant company and the public were not made aware on what basis the authority had exercised its discretion to deny broadcasting licences.