By Karine Kalantarian
A new TV station reputedly linked to the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) will go on air Friday five months after winning its broadcasting license in a tender that effectively perpetuated the ban on the country’s main independent television.
The managers of the Yerkir-Media channel said on Thursday that they will launch their first “test” broadcasts on Armenia’s official Independence Day and plan to have a full-fledged programming by the end of June.
“We will provide objective, truthful and serious information,” its director, Rubina Ghazarian, told reporters. “We will have programs that will interest people of various age and social background. They will be really diverse.”
Both Ghazarian and the chief Yerkir-Media producer, Ara Mnatsakanian, denied the widely held belief that the channel is controlled by Dashnaktsutyun, one of the three political parties represented in the Armenian government. “We have as many party members as certain newspapers do,” Mnatsakanian said. “If this doesn’t convince you, just wait and see.”
The broadcaster is headquartered in the former editorial offices of the pan-Armenian nationalist party’s official newspaper. Incidentally, it is also called “Yerkir” (Country). Ghazarian’s husband Vazrik is a senior member Dashnaktsutyun. According to some media reports, Dashnaktsutyun’s California-based Horizon television is also among the Yerkir-Media owners.
The Armenian law on broadcasting bans political parties from owning or controlling TV and radio stations. Announcing the tender results on December 29, the chairman of the National Commission on Television and Radio (HRAH), Grigor Amalian, argued that Yerkir-Media technically meets the requirement as it has no “official connection” with the party.
The commission appointed by President Robert Kocharian thus distributed the last officially available air frequency in Armenia. Among the defeated bidders was A1+, the sole major private network critical of Kocharian which was controversially pulled off the air after losing a similar tender in April 2002. With a broadcasting license valid for seven years, the outcome of the December bidding meant that A1+ will hardly have a chance to resume its broadcasts in the next five years.
It was the fourth tender lost by the once popular TV station in the course of last year. The HRAH claimed that its frequency applications were not good enough, an explanation widely dismissed by domestic and foreign media groups. The owner and the staff of A1+ insist that the decision to pull the plug on them was personally made by Kocharian.