By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian parliament rejected on Tuesday a controversial government bill that envisages important changes in the formation of a powerful state body regulating television and radio broadcasts in the country.
The bill was backed only by 46 of the 131 members of the National Assembly after being strongly criticized by Armenia’s leading media associations. It was also rejected by parliament deputies representing the opposition minority and the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun).
Its main stated purpose is to make the controversial National Commission on Television and Radio (HRAH) more independent of President Robert Kocharian in line with one of the recently enacted amendments to Armenia’s constitution. Under the existing law, Kocharian single-handedly appoints all of its nine members.
The proposed changes would reduce that number to eight and empower the president of the republic to name only half of the commission members. The other four members would be chosen by the parliament. The HRAH would also have to “substantiate in a proper manner” the distribution and withdrawal of television and radio frequencies.
In a joint statement, the Yerevan Press Club, the Armenian Union of Journalists and three other groups said the proposed changes do not ensure the HRAH’s independence, arguing that it would take years before the composition of the Kocharian-controlled body changes significantly. They suggested that the new HRAH have 16 members, half of whom would be appointed by the parliament at once.
The media groups object to the government’s desire to give additional powers to the broadcast regulator. They say this would make the distribution and withdrawal of broadcasting licenses more arbitrary and discretionary.
Speaking in the National Assembly last week, Justice Minister David Harutiunian said the government is ready to accept some of these suggestions but only after the bill is adopted in the first reading. Parliament speaker Tigran Torosian backed this approach, urging fellow lawmakers to vote for the draft law. Most of them clearly failed to heed the call, however.