In a move condemned by the opposition minority in Armenia’s parliament, pro-government lawmakers have essentially repealed a legal ban on advertising strong alcoholic drinks on television.
Armenian TV stations have for years been allowed to advertise only beverages such as wine and beer containing limited amounts of alcohol. Under amendments to a law on advertising passed by the National Assembly on Wednesday, they can now also air commercials promoting vodka, brandy and other types of distilled liquor after 10 p.m.
Several deputies from the ruling Republican Party (HHK) who initiated the amendments claimed that their main aim is to shore up the broadcast media which they said is struggling to survive. They estimated that hard liquor ads will enable broadcasters across the country to earn 1 billion drams ($2.5 million) in additional revenue each year.
“As long as TV channels are not financially self-sufficient they will have no funds to produce high-quality programs,” one of those deputies, Samvel Farmanian, said during heated parliament debates.
Opposition lawmakers dismissed the official rationale for the bill, saying that it is in fact designed to benefit a handful of already lucrative private TV networks based in Yerevan. At least two of them are reputedly controlled by Mikael Minasian, President Serzh Sarkisian’s influential son-in-law currently serving as Armenia’s ambassador to the Vatican.
Nikol Pashinian, a deputy nominally affiliated with the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), claimed that Minasian is also behind another bill that would ban any advertising by the Armenian Public Television, the country’s largest broadcaster. “At least 1.5 billion drams worth of funding is thus being channeled into the media empire of the Armenian ambassador the Vatican and, more importantly, Serzh Sarkisian’s son-in-law,” he declared.
Aram Manukian, another HAK deputy, likewise claimed that lifting the ban on liquor advertising “serves business interests of a single person.” “How can you impose the will of one person on the parliament?” he said, appealing to the pro-government majority.
The HAK as well as the three other minority factions in the 131-seat National Assembly boycotted an ensuing vote on the controversial measure backed by 66 deputies. Only one legislator, the HHK’s Ara Babloyan, voted against it. Babloyan is a former health minister who heads a parliament committee on public health.
Armenia’s current health minister, Derenik Dumanian, also spoke out against allowing strong alcohol ads on TV. Even so, the government as a whole did not object to the bill.
“This bill is a step backwards,” Narine Movsisian, a public health researcher at the American University of Armenia, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Thursday. Movsisian warned that televised advertising could contribute to alcohol abuse in the country.