By Emil Danielyan
An entertainment company that won the air frequency used by A1+, Armenia's leading independent television station in a politically charged tender last April said on Friday it will start its broadcasts in September.
Grigor Nazarian, chief of the Sharm company's recently created TV division, said it will offer a large variety of programs that will attract viewers of "all ages." But he would not specify whether the new channel, allegedly sponsored by the authorities, will air hard-hitting news reports that made A1+ popular.
"We will be on the air by September," Nazarian told RFE/RL in an interview. "We are creating public television, a television for all Armenians."
He said Sharm TV has already cobbled together a "very serious team of reporters" but would not emulate the style and priorities of its predecessor's news programs. "They are not going to look like A1+ programs just because we have never copied and will not copy anyone," he explained.
Sharm executives have said previously that they will feed Armenians with mainly "good news" that will differ markedly from A1+'s "politicized" reports.
A1+, whose closure has raised domestic and international concerns about press freedom in Armenia, had earned acclaim for its largely objective and unbiased news reporting. Opposition leaders, who have little access to state television, were frequent guests at its news programs and talk shows.
Its de facto closure, criticized by the United States and international media watchdogs, has left most Armenians with only those channels that support President Robert Kocharian. The most accessible of them, the state-run Armenian Public Television, is staunchly pro-Kocharian and extremely hostile toward the opposition.
The major private TV networks follow a similar line, rarely voicing criticism of Kocharian and the government. The biggest of them, Prometevs and Armenia TV, are controlled by ethnic Armenian businessmen living in Russia and the United States respectively.
Nazarian said Sharm has no qualms about forcing A1+ off the air because it continues to believe that it submitted a stronger bid. He again denied widespread accusations that his company was used by the authorities to silence a critical media outlet.
"For us, it was a business contest," he said. "We believe that we do deserve to have our own TV station."
Sharm, which has produced entertainment programs for some TV companies in the past, has committed itself to investing $1.8 million in its channel in the next three years. Nazarian claimed that the bulk of the investments will come "from abroad." He refused to name any of the investors, saying only that they will be given shares in Sharm TV.
"We want to stay away from big local investors in order to be independent," he said.