By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian authorities reaffirmed on Thursday their determination to maintain their effective four-year ban on a leading independent television company, thwarting its fresh legal attempt to resume broadcasts.
The National Commission on Television and Radio, a regulatory body appointed by President Robert Kocharian, rejected the A1+ station’s application for one of two radio frequencies put on a tender. The commission voted unanimously to give both frequencies to two little-known companies.
Its chairman, Grigor Amalian, insisted that A1+ was again denied a frequency because its competitors submitted stronger bids. “This was an absolutely just decision,” he said.
A1+ representatives dismissed the explanation, saying that Amalian and seven other members of the body simply upheld a political decision made by the authorities. “Today’s decision was not unexpected,” said journalist Karine Asatrian. “I would be surprised if they gave us a frequency.”
One of the frequency winners, Ulis Media, is based at the Yerevan premises of the Armenian Public Radio. Its chief executive, Norayr Mukhoyan, said the company simply rents office space there and has no ties with the government-controlled broadcaster. “I am happy that we won. The tender was definitely fair,” he told RFE/RL.
Reports in the Armenian press have linked the other winner, Radio Pro, with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party.
A1+, the only national channel that was not loyal to the Kocharian administration, was forced off the air in April 2002 just hours after losing a first-ever frequency tender administered by Amalian’s commission. It has since participated in 11 other biddings and lost all of them.
The commission’s decisions have been denounced as politically motivated by Armenian and international media watchdogs. They as well as the Council of Europe consider A1+’s de facto closure as a serious blow to press freedom in Armenia.
A1+, which has been struggling to remain afloat by producing programs for regional TV stations, a news website and 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.
(Photolur photo: Amalian and another member of his commission rejecting the A1+ bid.)