By Hrach Melkumian
The owner and editorial staff of A1 Plus television cancelled their planned meeting on Saturday with President Robert Kocharian, widely blamed for its effective closure, after he signalled that he will not suggest ways of restoring its broadcasts.
Kocharian, who had promised to discuss with A1 Plus journalists possible “solutions,” told reporters late on Friday that he has trouble thinking of the subject of their conversation. “I don’t know what kind of a conversation this is going to be, and what [their] expectations are,” he said.
The remarks were interpreted by A1 Plus as proof of his unwillingness to overturn the decision by the state commission on broadcasting to strip Armenia’s main independent TV channel, often critical of the authorities, of its frequency. “We understood that he has nothing to talk to us about and that everything [he wanted] has already taken place,” its owner and executive director, Mesrop Movsesian, told RFE/RL in an interview.
The National Commission on Television and Radio appointed by Kocharian granted on Tuesday a tender for the frequency, mandated by an Armenian law on broadcasting, to a entertainment and advertising company which is reputed to have links with the presidential administration.
The move was condemned as politically motivated by local and international media watchdogs and Armenia’s leading opposition parties. The opposition has given Kocharian until April 12 to restore A1 Plus broadcasts or face a campaign of street protests. Thousands of people attended Friday an opposition rally in Yerevan to condemn the channel’s closure.
Speaking after his return from an official trip to Central Asia, Kocharian again denied any involvement in the tender and said the opposition is exploiting the affair for political purposes. He said A1 Plus lost the contest only because it submitted a weak
bid. “You just didn’t expect to have strong competitors. If you had prepared in advance, the outcome of the tender might have been different,” he said to an A1 Plus correspondent.
In Movsesian’s words, a meeting with the president after these remarks would have been “fruitless” and amounted to recognizing his company’s defeat. He said: “We haven’t been defeated or lost anything. We keep struggling and hope that there will be no pressure on the court.”
The Armenian Court of Economic Arbitration is scheduled to open hearings on April 16 on A1 Plus claims that the tender violated the law and should be annulled.
According to Movsesian, some officials close to Kocharian are offering his channel to resume its broadcasts on a new, vacant frequency without any tender. “There are many offers of different frequencies,” he said. “But we already have our frequency and do not want to abandon it. This is a matter of principles.”
The law on broadcasting requires that all frequencies be distributed on a competitive basis.