By Ruzanna Khachatrian
An entertainment company which has been given the frequency of Armenia's main independent TV station declined to say on Monday when it plans to go on the air.
The company Sharm, which reportedly has links with senior government officials, has six months to begin its broadcasts under a controversial Armenian law on television and radio. It won the frequency in a politically charged tender which critics say was used by the authorities to muzzle the A1 Plus channel, which has been often critical of them.
But Sharm's director, Ruben Jaghinian, insisted on Monday that the April 2 bidding was fair and that his company was its rightful winner. He would not say when its recently formed TV division will air its first program. He said Sharm has yet to purchase a transmitter, implying that it will take months to go on the air.
The frequency was awarded to Sharm by the National Commission on Television and Radio appointed by President Kocharian. It is headed by the former deputy chief of the presidential administration, Grigor Amalian. The A1 Plus staff, backed by local media watchdogs and opposition parties, have alleged that the decision was engineered by Kocharian. Both Kocharian and the commission members have denied the allegations.
A1 Plus was forced to end its broadcasts only hours after the announcement of its defeat. The popular television believes that it was entitled to stay on the air pending a court verdict on its appeals. An Armenian economic court is scheduled to consider them on April 16. A1 Plus lawyers said they will formally submit their case to the court by Thursday.
A1 Plus journalists cancelled a planned meeting with Kocharian on Saturday after he signaled that he sees no ways of returning them their frequency. Presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian on Monday dismissed the defiant gesture. “It’s their business,” he told RFE/RL. “The invitation [extended by Kocharian] was an expression of favorable treatment. But its rejection has no emotional significance for the president.”
Sharm, which has produced entertainment programs and TV advertisements in the past, has said that it will seek to report mainly "optimistic news" that will contrast with A1 Plus's hard-hitting coverage of Kocharian and the government. It had promised to hire many of the A1 Plus reporters in case of winning the tender. But Jaghinian said on Monday that the pledge was largely a symbolic one.
He also revealed that Sharm has not yet been formally granted a broadcasting license. Under the law on broadcasting, it has to pay 700,000 drams($1,250) in licensing fees by April 16.