The Armenian government on Thursday decided to allocate a sizable amount of money for purchasing the annual right for showing the Armenian version of a Russian quiz show on local television that has been accused of violating the country’s language law.
Under the decision an equivalent of about $30,000 will be allocated to PR Group for purchasing the one-year license from Russian Igra TV for “What, Where, When”, a popular intellectual game that has been shown on Soviet and then Russian television since the mid-1970s.
The Russian-language game that involves a team of six experts attempting to answer questions sent in by viewers has been on one of the local TV channels for several years now and a number of government officials have participated in it as ‘experts’.
The request for funding had been presented by Deputy Minister of Education and Science Karine Harutiunian, whose immediate supervisor, Minister Armen Ashotian, took part in the game several times. Chief of Presidential Staff Vigen Sarkisian, Minister of Justice Hrair Tovmasian, Chief of Government Staff, Minister Vache Gabrielian, deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian and other Armenian officials have also taken part in this Russian-language intellectual show.
The report on the government website does not provide reasons for the acquisition of the TV show license. During the cabinet meeting on Thursday Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian only inquired about “how successful our team is in this field”.
“The game show enjoys great popularity and encourages people to develop their intellectual abilities,” deputy minister Harutiunian said after the meeting of the executive.
Critics of the game in Armenia have repeatedly accused the TV company of violating the country’s law on the state language according to which any program, show or film on Armenian television should be provided with translation either orally or with subtitles. Producers of the show, however, have cited legal provisions under which a limited number of programming targeting ethnic minorities, in this case apparently the few Russians living in Armenia, is allowed in a foreign language.
Asked about what educational significance a Russian-language program on Armenian television may have for the public, Harutiunian said: “The development of the Russian language also has educational significance in Armenia. We should not forget that studying foreign languages is important for a small country like Armenia.”
Hayk Gevorkian, an economic commentator for the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, has questioned the wisdom of such government allocations, reminding that still in 2009 amid an economic recession the executive allocated more than $330,000 to publicist Zori Balayan for a round-the-world trip, and in 2010 it spent even more than that on the controversial acquisition of two bio-toilet.
“The government treats taxpayer money as its own. In this particular case they’ve used money from what they think is their personal account in order to have a game to play,” commented Gevorkian.