By Emil Danielyan
The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe declined Tuesday to criticize the Armenian authorities for their latest refusal to reopen the independent A1+ television, in stark contrast with his earlier criticism of the de facto ban.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who is also the foreign minister of the Netherlands, suggested that the controversy resonating in the international arena be resolved by an Armenian court. “If there is a problem, there has to be a judge [to solve it],” he told reporters in Yerevan. “And there is also a judge in this country…who should give a final verdict on the question of A1+ and other stations.”
Scheffer, whose country completes a one-year rotating presidency of the OSCE in December, said he raised the A1+ affair among with other issues at a meeting with President Robert Kocharian. He said the latter invited the OSCE to “monitor” the highly controversial distribution of broadcasting licenses in Armenia which is administered by a Kocharian-controlled commission. The offer was accepted, he added.
Various OSCE officials have repeatedly criticized the Armenian authorities since the April 2002 closure of Armenia’s sole major TV channel that was often critical of the ruling regime. In a statement issued on July 21, the organization’s special representative on press freedom, Freimut Duve, said the fact that A1+ is denied a new license is proof that “freedom of expression in Armenia continues to be restricted.”
A few days later, Scheffer’s personal representative’s at the OSCE headquarters in Vienna wrote to Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, expressing concern on behalf of the Dutch presidency about “the pluralistic nature of the broadcast media in Armenia.” The diplomat, Daan Everts, noted that Yerevan’s July 18 refusal to allow the popular channel back on air “triggered indignation among the media community within and outside Armenia.”
The Kocharian administration dismissed the criticism at the time. In a further gesture of defiance, the presidentially appointed National Commission on Television and Radio on October 13 again rejected A1+’s bid application in yet another tender for broadcasting frequencies. The commission ruled in favor of a private TV station loyal to the regime, citing dubious justifications.
The Dutch foreign minister’s comments were the OSCE’s first reaction to the move. “I said [to Kocharian] I hope that if it’s not a question of freedom of media but a question of competition, the station could appeal and ask a judge to have a final verdict on this discussion,” he said.
The suggestion is bound to be shrugged off by A1+ which has initiated several court actions since April 2002 and lost all of them. Armenian judges, who are appointed and can be fired by the head of state, rarely rule against the executive branch.