An Armenian official has promised to “strictly punish” those who have left some poor families included in beneficiary lists without signal decoders after all local television companies switched to a digital-only mode of broadcast late last month.
As a result of the reform welcomed by all stakeholders the quality of television broadcast in Armenia has considerably improved. Yet, for more than a week some families have been unable to watch Armenian television channels because they could not afford to buy special signal decoding devices themselves and were, for some reason, ignored by officials.
Earlier, authorities had ordered that all poor families be provided with signal decoders priced between $16 and $25 before analog broadcasting could be discontinued.
“I can now watch only some Turkish channels,” one elderly woman from Yerevan complained to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am). Another pensioner said she could not tune in to any channel at all.
The government began the broadcast digitization process in 2010 with amendments to an Armenian law on television and radio that required broadcasters to obtain new, digital licenses. It announced in 2012 that analog broadcasts by them would discontinue in January 2015. Since then it moved the deadline to 2016 as it turned out that many families in Armenia still used old-fashioned TV-sets not suitable for digital broadcasts.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs prepared a list of more than 107,000 people whom signal decoders were to be provided free of charge.
But some like 78-year-old Edward Navasardian claim while being included in the list they haven’t yet received the devices without which it is impossible to watch television. “I went there, they said they didn’t have any left,” the Yerevan resident complained.
Arusyak Gevorgian, a 70-year-old pensioner from the village of Arinj in Armenia’s central Kotayk province, is not even included in the list of beneficiaries despite the heavy social conditions in which she lives. She says that formally her husband and she have some property registered in their names that they are unaware of.
The elderly woman may refer to the privatization process in the early 1990s when all citizens of former Soviet Armenia were issued privatization vouchers as their share of public wealth to be invested somewhere. Many at that time sold those vouchers at symbolic prices or unknowingly provided them to some organizations or funds, never hearing about what happened to their investments since. “They checked by the computer and asked if we had a share somewhere. I don’t know, I know nothing about it. We haven’t got anything,” the woman says.
Rima Petrosian, a 60-year-old woman, rents an apartment in Yerevan where she lives alone. She says she has numerous health problems and often has to spend the day in bed. During days like that she tries to watch TV in order not to feel lonely. Now she says she is deprived of that opportunity. “What should I do? How should I live in this poor country? I can’t even leave,” Petrosian says.
Radio and Television Network of Armenia CJSC Director Grigor Amalian believes that even if one person is left out, this should be a case for the authorities to seriously deal with the situation. “I am personally ready to pursue the matter and would be very grateful if we are informed about such cases,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am).
Meanwhile, a number of regional television companies in Armenia that have failed to switch to digital broadcasting by the deadline, say they are at the verge of closing. The heads of six such companies urged the authorities on Friday to take steps “to end the current heavy situation and create equal conditions in the sphere.”