A1+, the only Yerevan-based channel not controlled by the government, lost its broadcasting license in April 2002 in a highly controversial tender administered by the supposedly independent National Commission on Television and Radio (HRAH).
The station’s owners backed by many local civil society representatives believe that it was taken off the air because of regularly airing reports critical of then President Robert Kocharian. The HRAH denies any political motives behind that decision, however.
In a June 2008 ruling, the European Court of Human Rights fined the government 20,000 euros ($28,500) for the ban and said the HRAH’s consistent rejection of A1+’s license applications ran counter to the European Convention on Human Rights. Still, the Strasbourg-based court stopped short of explicitly ordering the Armenian authorities to allow A1+ to resume broadcasts. The government paid the fine in 2009.
The Committee of Ministers, the Council of Europe’s main decision-making body, said on June 10 that it has decided to “close the examination of this case” because it believes the authorities in Yerevan have complied with the verdict.
The Armenian press freedom groups denounced this decision this week. In a joint statement that was also signed by a dozen other civic organizations, they said the HRAH has never held fair and genuinely competitive tenders that could have enabled A1+ to restore its rights.
“We conclude with regret that such decisions adopted by the Committee of Ministers only give the Armenian authorities free rein, justify infringements on freedom of speech and reduce the efficacy of efforts by numerous local and international organizations to promote democratic values in Armenia,” read the statement.
Armenia -- A1+ TV company logo
“The A1+ case is far from being solved,” Nune Sargsian of Internews Armenia, one of the signatories of the statement, insisted on Wednesday.
“Favorable conditions for A1+’s return to the air were never created in Armenia,” agreed Ashot Melikian, chairman of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech. “In our view, the European Court’s demands have not been fully met.”
The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) has repeatedly urged the Armenian authorities to loosen their grip on broadcast media and tolerate independent broadcasters like A1+.
The authorities sparked fresh controversy last year by enacting amendments to an Armenian law on broadcasting that were criticized by Western governments and media watchdogs.
The amendments were supposed to regulate Armenia’s ongoing transition to mandatory digital broadcasting. Armenian critics says their real purpose was to prolong the government control of the airwaves.
Last December, the HRAH again refused to grant a new, digital broadcasting frequency to A1+, ruling in favor of another TV channel loyal to President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration. The refusal drew strong criticism from Armenian media associations and Human Rights Watch.