By Emil Danielyan
The United States has expressed concern at the abrupt cancellation of a television program of RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that was due to be broadcast by a Yerevan-based private channel on a weekly basis.
“We note with concern that the broadcast of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty newscast has been taken off the air in Armenia,” Paul Jones, the U.S. charge d’affaires at the Vienna headquarters of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said late Thursday.
“We have seen suggestions that the decision to cancel this program was made in response to political pressure on the station manager,” Jones told the OSCE’s governing Permanent Council. “In this regard, we would hope that this program will find a broadcast opportunity in the immediate future; this would demonstrate that Armenia is a state where freedom of the media is acknowledged and respected, consistent with the OSCE commitments we have all undertaken.”
Jones’ statement is the first public expression of U.S. concern about the state of press freedom in Armenia since the scandalous closure in April 2003 of the A1+ TV station, the only major channel critical of President Robert Kocharian. The U.S. embassy in Yerevan said at the time that the move, condemned by domestic and international press associations, “raises serious questions about the future of free and independent media in Armenia.”
The RFE/RL TV show called “Azatutiun” (Liberty) was to feature news and analysis from the Armenian Service reporters. It was abruptly pulled from the schedule of the Kentron television on October 13, three days after it debuted to rave reviews. The TV station, which is owned by a wealthy government-connected businessman, is widely suspected of being forced to do that by senior government officials.
The Kentron management has denied any political motives behind the move, however. Its chief executive, Petros Ghazarian, has been quoted by the Armenian press as citing unspecified “financial reasons.”
RFE/RL President Tom Dine sent a letter to Kocharian on October 19, urging him “to denounce this contemptible act, and to help return ‘Azatutiun’ to the air.” Dine said he is “determined to get ‘Azatutiun’ back on the air and will make every effort to make that happen -- including raising this issue with the Bush Administration, the U.S. Congress, the Council of Europe, and non-governmental organizations worldwide.”