Tigran Karapetian, an Armenian politician and television host, seemed on Friday resigned to the controversial closure of his ALM channel, while pledging to stage more street protests against what called a “malicious decision” taken by broadcast authorities.
ALM lost its broadcasting license last month in a supposedly competitive tender won by a smaller TV station loyal to the Armenian government. The decision made by the National Commission on Television and Radio (HRAH) means that it will have to discontinue broadcasts on January 20.
The tender was organized as part of Armenia’s ongoing transition to mandatory digital broadcasting which will significantly reduce the number of frequencies available to local TV and radio stations.
Karapetian claimed that he had received government assurances that ALM will win the tender. “The authority must not deceive others and discredit itself,” he raged during a news conference. “The authority must be frank. If it doesn’t want to see you around, it must say it openly.”
Karapetian rallied several thousand supporters in Yerevan last week to demand that the HRAH reconsider the tender outcome and to condemn broader “injustice” reigning in Armenia. He said on Friday that his next rally will go ahead as planned on January 19.
Karapetian added that it will be followed by other public actions in and outside the capital. He said he also plans to cooperate with the owners of two independent TV stations that have also been denied digital frequencies.
Karapetian, who made a fortune in Russia before founding ALM in 2002, further announced that his more than 80 employees plan to file a collective lawsuit against the HRAH. “I’m not going to sue anyone,” he said. “I’m going to accuse and fight till the end. That’s more effective than suing, getting stuck in petty things, playing for time.”
The flamboyant businessman admitted at the same time that he can hardly prevent the authorities from pulling the plug on ALM on January 20. “I will keep ten workers,” he said, adding that they will work for a news website and magazine to be launched by him soon.
“Several people have already left,” he told journalists. “Leaving 84 families without jobs and income was a very malicious and arbitrary decision.”
ALM has for years been popular with working-class and rural Armenians thanks to its owner’s populist appeal. Karapetian personally hosts political talk shows and phone-ins on a virtually daily basis. He has always been careful not to directly challenge Armenia’s current and previous presidents.
Armenian media associations and opposition groups say that the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian is using the digitalization process to maintain and even tighten its grip on the political news coverage of just about every Armenian broadcaster. ALM’s impending closure is bound to fuel more such claims denied by the Armenian government and the HRAH.