By Anush Martirosian
Armenia’s parliament opposition has pledged efforts to try and quash the recently adopted legal amendments that it believes are aimed at prolonging the de-facto ban on the country’s main independent TV station controversially pulled off the air in 2002.
Zaruhi Postanjian from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party said during a press briefing in parliament on Friday that discussions over the matter are currently in progress with several nongovernmental organizations.
“It is possible that after these discussions we will come up with a legislative initiative,” the opposition lawmaker said.
On Wednesday, Armenian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to adopt government-drafted legal amendments according to which the National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR) will be unable to hold tenders for broadcasting licenses until July 2010.
The government had said that the proposed measure was necessary for expediting Armenia’s planned transition to mandatory digital broadcasting by 2012. But critics believe its real purpose is to fend off renewed Western pressure for the reopening of A1+, the only national TV channel that had regularly aired criticism of the government.
The opposition has said it wants to propose amendments that will provide for holding tenders for broadcasting licenses even while the upgrading is in process.
Zharangutyun’s Vartan Khachatrian cast doubt on the arguments made by the government to substantiate the need for this legislation.
“The arguments cited by the government seem extremely far-fetched and not serious,” Khachatrian said. “A1+ and Noyan Tapan (another closed TV station) now by law have no opportunity to return to the air.”
Naira Zohrabian, a former journalist currently serving as parliament deputy with the pro-establishment Prosperous Armenia Party, admitted that the draft legislation contained certain political risks and had caused ambivalence even within the governing coalition.
“The draft law was not discussed in the commission for the simple reason that the government failed to abide by the correct procedure. It reached the National Assembly very late,” Zohrabian said. “Nevertheless, the government insists that the draft law is aimed solely at regulating technical matters, but, of course, it contains certain political risks as well.”
“When Zharangutyun presents its draft law, we will by all means discuss it and will present out position,” she added.
The European Court of Human Rights in June judged in favor of A1+, finding the Armenian authorities at fault for repeatedly refusing to issue a broadcasting license to the television station. The Strasbourg-based justice body held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the Armenian authorities’ refusal to grant the applicants’ requests for broadcasting licenses.