Photo: A1 Plus director Mesrop Movsisian (R), and talk show host Aram Abrahamian
By Hrach Melkumian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
The managers of A1 Plus television held out hope on Thursday for an eventual resumption of their broadcasts and distanced themselves from opposition plans to stage a campaign of protests against the independent channel's de facto closure by the authorities.
Leaders of 14 opposition parties, meanwhile, met to discuss final preparations for Friday's demonstration against the scandalous shutdown. Local observers believe that the demonstration will assume anti-government tones, as President Robert Kocharian is widely blamed for a regulatory commission's decision to strip the channel of its license.
On Wednesday, The National Commission on Television and Radio appointed by Robert Kocharian granted a tender for the frequency to an entertainment company with reported links to the presidential administration. A1 Plus, which has often been critical of the authorities, was forced off the air later in the day.
Its top executives again denounced the decision on Thursday as politically motivated but made it clear that they believe it is still possible to find a "legal solution" to the problem. "Our main task is not to politicize the issue and to make sure that it is not exploited by some forces for their own goals," the A1 Plus's owner and director, Mesrop Movsisian, told a news conference.
"Our struggle must necessarily be a legal one," said Aram Abrahamian, an A1 Plus talk show host and the editor of the newspaper "Aravot." "That is, we should fight against the commission's decision in the court."
The Armenian Court of Economic Arbitration is scheduled to start hearings on April 16 on an A1 Plus petition to invalidate the results of the controversial tender. The TV station believes that the contest proceeded in violation of a controversial Armenian law on broadcasting organizations.
Movsisian said his company is receiving signals from governing circles about their readiness to allow it to resume its work. But he said there have been no "concrete proposals" yet.
"There is a lot of talk on the part of government officials, business people and other individuals," he said. "What they say is, 'Everything will be OK. Just calm down'. Our answer is, 'We are calm'."
Later in the day, the governing board of the state-run Armenian Public Television announced that it is ready to re-broadcast A1 Plus's popular news programs on its legally protected frequency. It was not known if there are any conditions pegged to the unexpected offer. Representatives of the two channels were due to meet in the evening.
The state television is seen as tightly controlled by Kocharian and is deemed hostile to his political opponents. A1 Plus, by contrast, has earned its popularity with hard-hitting coverage of the president and the government.
Kocharian, who has denied any involvement in the tender, has said he is ready to meet with the A1 Plus staff to discuss "what solutions could be found."
The A1 Plus executives said whatever the outcome of their battle for survival they will not "politicize" the issue and join the opposition campaign against Kocharian.
"I am 100 percent sure that it is the president who shut down A1 Plus and don't believe his fairy tales," Abrahamian said. "Yes, this was yet another step towards the establishment of a dictatorship. We can give such a political evaluation, but can't participate in the partisan games."
Abrahamian added that he and his colleagues will attend Friday's opposition rally but will not address the protesters.
The opposition parties that are organizing it approved on Thursday the text of a joint statement which will be submitted to the protesters. The statement accuses Kocharian of seeking to establish an "authoritarian regime" by stifling dissent ahead of next year's presidential elections.
"We don't consider this to be A1 Plus's problem. On the line is freedom of speech an broader civil rights which concern political forces," a senior member of the opposition People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), Stepan Zakarian, told RFE/RL.
Meanwhile, the parties supporting Kocharian, including Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK), said they regret A1 Plus’s loss of broadcasting license and hope the company will be able to resume its broadcasts. But they ruled out their participation in the planned rally. The parliamentary leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), Aghvan Vartanian, accused the opposition of exploiting the media scandal for political aims.