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By Emil Danielyan
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized on Monday the authorities in Yerevan for their latest refusal to reinstate Armenia’s leading independent television controversially taken off the air last year.

The OSCE’s special representative on press freedom, Freimut Duve, said Friday’s decision by a state body to deny the A1+ channel and the smaller broadcasting arm of Noyan Tapan news agency new broadcasting licenses was further proof that “freedom of expression in Armenia continues to be restricted.”

"Both of these companies have been unable to broadcast for well over a year, thus limiting the Armenian public's ability to watch and listen to a broader range of opinion and diverse reporting," Duve said in a statement from the OSCE’s head office in Vienna.

The two TV stations, which were often critical of the Armenian authorities, were rebuffed by the National Commission on Television and Radio in a tender for several air frequencies used by pro-government broadcasters. The outcome of the bidding dashed their hopes for returning to the air after a 15-month absence.

The commission controlled by President Robert Kocharian claimed that the current holders of those frequencies, which mainly broadcast entertainment programs, submitted more attractive proposals. The A1+ staff, however, believe that the decision resulted from Kocharian’s desire to block any televised criticism of his policies.

The commission has also been criticized by leaders of two political parties making up Armenia’s current government. However, they stopped short of blaming Kocharian for its actions.

The issue has featured large in Armenia’s dealings with the OSCE and the Council of Europe over the past year. Official Yerevan had reportedly promised them that A1+ will be given a new frequency ahead of this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. The failure of the other Armenian broadcasters to cover both polls in an unbiased and objective manner was one of the reasons why they were judged undemocratic by election observers from the two pan-European organizations.

A leader of the governing Republican Party (HHK), Tigran Torosian, acknowledged over the weekend that the continuing de facto ban on A1+ could further tarnish Armenia’s international reputation. Torosian, who is also the deputy speaker of the parliament, said the Council of Europe and other international organizations have already “toughened” their attitudes toward the Armenian authorities over the latter’s handling of the disputed 2003 elections.

“This is explicable but also dangerous for our country,” Torosian said. “We should draw serious conclusions from this.”

(OSCE photo: Freimut Duve)
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