The owner of Armenia’s leading independent television station taken off the air in 2002 said on Friday that he still expects to win a new broadcasting license this year despite the passage of a government-drafted lawl criticized by media groups.
Mersop Movsesian reaffirmed the A1+ TV channel’s plans to contest tenders for such licenses which are due to resume in July. “I am convinced that the project to be proposed by us is quite interesting and that we should achieve some success,” he told RFE/RL in an interview.
The Armenian government suspended such tenders in September 2008, ostensibly for expediting the country’s gradual transition to mandatory digital broadcasting. It has pushed through parliament a set of legal amendments meant to regulate the process.
The National Assembly passed them in the second and final reading late on Thursday despite serious concerns expressed by local media watchdogs and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The European Union has similarly voiced misgivings about the bill, saying that it should be brought “further in line with international standards.”
Critics believe, in particular, that the reduction in the number of frequencies available to broadcasters, envisaged by the amendments, will make it easier for the National Commission on Television and Radio (HRAH) for block license applications from A1+ and other potential independent bidders.
Boris Navasardian, the chairman of the Yerevan Press Club, acknowledged that the final version of the bill is better than the one adopted by the parliament in the first reading on May 20. “But those changes are not new improvements,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “They simply mean a return to the situation that existed until those changes.”
Nune Sargsian, the head of the media support group Internews, called the bill “very worrisome.” “The way in which those changes were made will not lead to any positive developments,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Movsesian, who earlier predicted that international pressure will force the HRAH to let A1+ resume broadcasts, also criticized the amendments. “The whole television and radio field is on the path of monopolization, in accordance with that newly written law,” he claimed.
“That is a stagnating and dead field which should give birth to new magnate who would rule it. That is my main concern, and I think they [authorities] will achieve that,” he added.
Movsesian also said that A1+, whose main activity since 2002 has been online news reporting, is continuing preparations for the launch of news broadcasts through the Internet. He said they will likely start later this month.
One of the controversial amendments enacted by the authorities makes Internet broadcasting subject to mandatory licensing by the HRAH. Critics fear that the regulatory body dominated by government loyalists could use this clause against A1+.