By Irina Hovannisian
The head of Armenia’s state television and radio on Monday pledged to ensure unbiased and objective coverage of the upcoming parliamentary elections by its channels.
Aleksan Harutiunian, the recently re-appointed chairman of the managing board of the Armenian Public Television and Radio (HHHR), said his journalists and commentators will not seek to discredit or attack any of the election contenders, including those opposed to President Robert Kocharian.
“The main political forces, both in opposition and government, will not only have equal airtime in the news and other programs but also enjoy equal, neutral and positive treatment [by HHHR],” he told a news conference. “There will be no smear campaigns.”
Harutiunian said his TV and radio channels, that are the most accessible in the country, will build on their coverage of the May 2003 parliamentary elections which was praised by observers from Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The observers were far more critical of the state broadcaster’s news reporting of the February-March 2003 presidential elections, saying that it was extremely biased against Kocharian’s opposition challengers.
Harutiunian’s H1 channel and the private Armenian TV stations still rarely air any criticism of Kocharian. The latter is not affiliated with any Armenian political party but is keenly interested in the victory of pro-presidential forces in the elections scheduled for May 12.
The Armenian opposition has already accused the authorities of severely restricting its access to the airwaves in the run-up to the polls. Its leaders point to record-high prices of political advertising that have been set by the pro-Kocharian broadcasters
But Harutiunian, who used to work as chief of Kocharian’s staff, denied that the campaign ad fees, ranging from 80,000 to 130,000 drams ($370) per minute, were dictated by the presidential administration. He also dismissed opposition protests against a recent Constitutional Court ruling that invalidated a legal provision obligating H1 to fully air some sessions of parliament regularly featuring opposition attacks on the government.
The court backed Harutiunian’s assertion that he decade-long provision is unconstitutional and violates press freedom. Opposition leaders insist, however, that it must remain in force given the lack of independent electronic media in Armenia.
According to Harutiunian, H1 will now partly broadcast the parliament sessions during which deputies put questions to government members and make 3-minute statements on any topic. “No faction will see its statements excluded from our program,” he said. “It’s just that the broadcast will be more concise.”
In addition, said Harutiunian, the Armenian Public Radio will continue live broadcasts of all National Assembly sessions for the time being.