By Ruzanna Stepanian
The Armenian government has set up a new agency tasked with monitoring and regulating the work of the local media outlets, prompting serious concern from some of them.
The Center for Public Relations and Information (CPRI) was set up during a weekly cabinet session on Thursday upon the recommendation of President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration.
A government statement said that the body will be tasked with conducting, among other things, a “monitoring and analysis” of activities of the Armenian media, including newspaper circulations and the size of TV and radio audiences. It will also come up with initiatives relating to “the legal regulation of media outlets’ activities.”
Some independent outlets expressed concern at the development on Friday, saying that it could herald government restrictions on press freedom and even censorship. Aram Abrahamian, the editor of the Yerevan daily “Aravot,” said he is particularly worried about the fact that the CPRI will be controlled by the presidential administration.
“In our country, any government decision can raise concerns because we never know what its consequences will be,” Abrahamian told RFE/RL. “For example, I would never think that the National Commission on Television Radio was set up [in 2001] for closing down [the independent TV station] A1+.”
“The text of the government does not stipulate any media restrictions,” he said. “But because we have no legal regulatory mechanisms it could result in such restrictions … The fact that such matters will be dealt with by the presidential administration is a little worrisome.”
Mesrop Movsesian, A1+’s owner and chief executive, claimed that the CPRI’s main mission is to censor independent news reporting. “It looks like the idea is to have one center from which information will be controlled and delivered to the public,” he said.
The government dismissed such fears. Its press office, citing the presidential staff, told RFE/RL that the sole purpose of the media monitoring will be to get government ministries and other bodies to quickly react to critical reports on their activities. The CPRI will thereby also boost government transparency, it said.