By Hrach Melkumian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
The United States threw its weight on Tuesday behind international criticism of Armenian authorities’ refusal to reopen the independent A1+ television, saying that the resumption of its broadcasts is “badly needed” for Armenia.
The U.S. ambassador to Yerevan, John Ordway, criticized the July 18 decision by the National Commission on Television and Radio to keep the only major Armenian TV channel critical of President Robert Kocharian off the air.
“A1+ made a very valuable contribution to political debate and discussion by providing a much broader forum for the expression of views -- and particularly views by the political opposition -- than the rest of the broadcast media,” Ordway said. “We had very much hoped and expected that there would be created opportunities for such a station to reemerge that would provide that type of badly needed outlet for views here in Armenia.”
“So like most other outside observers, we were disappointed that the commission did not award one of the frequencies to A1+, which by all accounts had an extremely good proposal,” he added.
The U.S. envoy thus challenged the commission’s claims that A1+ was again denied a new broadcasting frequency because its competitors, which support Kocharian, submitted stronger bids. His remarks reflect the position of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe which have expressed concern at the situation with press freedom in Armenia.
The criticism, shared by some pro-government Armenian politicians, was dismissed last week by Kocharian who said through a spokesman that that the commission acted in accordance with the law. His arguments were endorsed on Tuesday by Aleksan Harutiunian, a former Kocharian aide who now runs the state-run Armenian Public Television and Radio.
Harutiunian claimed that critics of the Armenian authorities have a hidden political agenda that has little to do with A1+. “Sometimes I feel that those who make such comments are not concerned about the fate of A1+, but are pursuing some other goals,” he told RFE/RL.
However, other Armenian officials, including both deputy speakers of the parliament, have warned that persistent defiance of the Western criticism could further damage Armenia’s international standing.