By Emil Danielyan and Hrach Melkumian
Senior diplomats of European Union nations in Yerevan have met with the chairman of a government body regulating broadcasting and the heads of two independent television companies which it shut down last year, signaling the EU’s concerns about press freedom in Armenia.
The meetings, held in the course of this week, followed the July 18 decision by the National Commission on Television and Radio not to award the A1+ channel and the smaller Noyan Tapan station new broadcasting licenses. The decision has been criticized by media watchdogs, international organizations and the United States.
“Those meetings have been very informative and really will help us to collect factual information in order to grasp all the details of the matter,” said Ambassador Marco Clemente of Italy, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency. Also attending them were the ambassadors of Britain and Germany as well as senior diplomats from the French and Greek diplomatic missions in Yerevan.
“The European Union is very much in favor of media pluralism in this country. The higher the number of media in this country the better for the pluralism,” Clemente told RFE/RL in an interview on Friday. But he stopped short of criticizing the broadcasting commission’s decision, saying that the EU and its member governments are still “in the process of collecting factual information.”
“It’s a little bit premature to make a judgment about that,” the Italian envoy added. “We will decide what to do at a later stage.”
But a source in the German embassy told RFE/RL that Ambassador Hans-Wulf Bartels accused of the commission of bias during the meeting with its chairman Grigor Amalian, dismissing the latter’s assurances that the July 18 tender for several frequencies was fair. Amalian declined Friday to comment on the meeting.
For his part, A1+ chief Mesrop Movsesian said he told the European diplomats that he still believes the outcome of the bidding was politically motivated.
Two other pan-European organizations have already expressed concern at the continuing ban on A1+, the only major Armenian broadcaster critical of President Robert Kocharian. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has called for “a more liberal attitude towards freedom of expression,” while the Council of Europe has accused the Armenian authorities of failing to honor their earlier pledge to reopen A1+.
Significantly, the criticism has been endorsed by the U.S. government, with Ambassador John Ordway voicing Tuesday Washington’s “disappointment” with the outcome of the July 18 tender. Ordway argued that A1+ submitted “an extremely good proposal.”
However, Kocharian indicated last week that he will not lobby Amalian’s commission to grant A1+ a frequency during further frequency contests. All nine members of the body were appointed by the Armenian president.
(Photolur photo: Marco Clemente.)