By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A politically charged tender for the frequency used by Armenia’s main pro-opposition television station got underway on Thursday with three competing bidders presenting their proposals to a national commission on broadcasting.
The nine-member commission, accused by anti-government media of planning to force the A1 Plus channel off the air, will announce its decision on April 2. The body has denied the allegations, saying that it will be guided only by the Armenian law on TV and radio which requires such contests.
Meltex, a company which owns A1 Plus, is facing competition from two other private firms with reported links to the authorities. They on Thursday promised to invest millions of dollars if they are granted rights to the channel.
“We have very serious friends in the world of business,” said Ruben Jaghinian of the Sharm entertainment company.
Sharm, which has produced entertainment programs for some TV companies in the past, has made it clear that its programming would differ markedly from A1 Plus’s “politicized” reports. It pledged to buy $1.8 million worth of modern digital equipment for its would-be station.
Another contender, the obscure Dofin TV put its investment commitments at $3.2 million. But its representative, Hasmik Aghamalian, refused to disclose the names of four “business partners” which she said will sponsor Dofin in case it wins the frequency.
A1 Plus’s owner offered a much more modest financial package. But most journalists covering the proceedings found its presentation more convincing. An A1 Plus documentary specially produced for the occasion gave an overview of the channel’s five-year activities. “It can’t be denied that we have a large and loyal audience,” one of its leading reporters, Ruzanna Amirjanian, told the licensing commission.
A1 Plus has earned its popularity through a hard-hitting coverage of the government. It also tends to present a wide variety of views in its news programs.
Some opposition politicians, who are frequent guests at A1 Plus talk shows, have claimed that the Kocharian administration is using the frequency tender to shut down the channel. But Kocharian on Tuesday denied the allegations, saying that neither he nor his aides will meddle in the contest.
All nine members of the tender commission are appointed by the president. Its chairman, Grigor Amalian, used to work in the presidential staff.