By Karine Kalantarian
Presidential candidates running in the Armenian elections will have to pay 70,800 drams ($120) for every minute of commercial airtime on state television beyond a one-hour free limit guaranteed by the law, its management announced on Monday.
The decision was made by the governing board of the state-run Armenian Public Television and Radio (APTR). The per-minute fee for campaign advertisements to be broadcast on its radio channel was set at 17,700 drams.
State television’s campaign ad price is identical with the minimum airtime fee agreed by Armenia’s five biggest private TV networks last week. Unlike the private channels, APTR has to provide every presidential candidate with up to 60 minutes of airtime free of charge and no more 120 minutes of paid airtime from the start of campaigning on January 21 through February 18. The free-of-charge limit on state radio is three hours.
The average price charged by Armenian television stations during the previous, 1998 presidential elections was just $50.
The APTR board, whose previous chairman Tigran Naghdalian was murdered on December 28, also decided that the campaign ads will be broadcast only between 7 and 8:30 p.m..
Some of the country’s major opposition parties contesting the elections were quick to criticize the new TV rates as too high. The 16-party opposition grouping is expected to adopt a statement to that effect on Tuesday.
A spokesman for the Hanrapetutyun party, Suren Sureniants, claimed that APTR and other TV channels are already promoting President Robert Kocharian’s reelection bid in violation of the electoral legislation. He pointed to recent days’ television shows that portrayed Kocharian in the positive light.
State television which is now run by a longtime presidential associate, Aleksan Harutiunian, strongly supports Kocharian and is very critical of his opponents. Virtually all other major channels follow a similar line.
Under new rules approved by the Central Election Commission last month, presidential hopefuls can not collect more than 60 million drams ($102,000) in campaign donations. A single donation from private individuals and corporate entities can not exceed 200,000 and 500,000 drams respectively.