Armenia’s state-run Public Radio ruled out on Monday any political reasons for the effective disruption of the RFE/RL Armenian service’s main news program that was broadcast on Sunday evening.
Most of the program, retransmitted by the radio on its two FM frequencies, was inaudible throughout the broadcast that began at 7 p.m. local time. It mainly featured news reports from Yerevan on voting in Armenia’s constitutional referendum. Their authors noted, in particular, a sharp contrast between the official voter turnout and largely empty polling stations in Yerevan and nearby regions.
RFE/RL’s Yerevan bureau received phone calls from scores of angry listeners who saw political motives behind the mysterious disruption. But in a statement posted on its website, the Public Radio denied this, saying that it recently installed a new FM transmitter and “it could be the reason for the technical problem.”
The Public Radio is part of a government-controlled broadcasting corporation that runs Armenia’s largest and most accessible television channel. The latter as well as virtually private TV networks rarely air reports that contain criticism of Armenia’s leadership. In particular, they have refused to air opposition ads urging voters to reject the proposed constitutional changes.
The Armenian electronic media’s coverage of Sunday’s vote and the preceding campaign was criticized by a monitoring mission from the Council of Europe. “The observers’ impression is that during the campaign leading to the referendum there was not equal access to the media,” the mission said in a statement on Monday. “This was to the disadvantage of the opposition to the constitutional changes and hampered genuine democratic debate.”