By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Astghik Bedevian
Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian on Tuesday publicly expressed sympathy for the independent A1+ TV station that was controversially forced off the air by the Armenian authorities four years ago.
“I myself miss A1+ and want it back on air,” Baghdasarian said, commenting on the fourth anniversary of the effective ban on the once popular channel that was marked by journalists and civil rights activists at the weekend.
Still, Baghdasarian left no indication that he or his Orinats Yerkir Party represented in Armenia’s government will try to ensure the resumption of its broadcasts.
A1+, the only national channel that was not loyal to the government, lost its broadcasting frequency on April 2, 2002 in a tender that was administered by a regulatory body appointed by President Robert Kocharian. The National Commission on Television and Radio blocked all of its subsequent attempts to win a new license despite international pressure exerted on Yerevan.
The Council of Europe and other international organizations say A1+’s closure dealt a serious blow to press freedom in Armenia. Local media watchdogs share this view.
“It can be said that our most accessible mass medium, television, is not performing a number of important public functions,” said Boris Navasardian, chairman of the Yerevan Press Club. “It does not hold the government in check. It does not familiarize the population with various political events. Nor does it have a mission to form a civilized, educated society.”
A1+, which has been struggling to remain afloat by producing programs for regional TV stations and publishing a newspaper, appealed to the European Court of Human Rights after exhausting all possibilities of legal action in Armenia more than two years ago. Its lawyers say the Strasbourg-based court will likely take up the case this year.
The TV station’s owner and director, Mesrop Movsesian, said on Tuesday that A1+ will again bid for a radio frequency later this week. The first such bid was rejected by the National Commission on Television and Radio in February 2005. A1+ has taken part in a total of ten TV and radio tenders since 2002 and lost all of them.
Movsisian was therefore skeptical about its chances of winning the next broadcasting contest, claiming that the commission has already promised to grant the frequency to another bidder.
In a separate development, speaker Baghdasarian announced that leaders of the Armenian parliament’s pro-Kocharian majority have decided to reject state television’s calls for an end to the prime-time broadcasts of some of the parliament sessions regularly featuring opposition attacks on the government. The chairman of the Kocharian-controlled Armenian Public Television and Radio, Aleksan Harutiunian, said recently that legal provisions mandating those broadcasts counter to European standards for press freedom.
But according to Baghdasarian, the parliament majority thinks otherwise. “Considering that this is a pre-election year and that various kinds of speculations, whether justified or unjustified, could be made, we unanimously decided to keep things unchanged,” the speaker told a news conference.