By Astghik BedevianA regional television station claimed on Monday to have incurred the Armenian government’s ire by broadcasting former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s September 21 speech that contained harsh verbal attacks on the authorities.
In his first public speech in nearly a decade, Ter-Petrosian described Armenia’s current leadership as “corrupt and criminal” and called for its ouster. His political allies offered to pay TV stations across the country to air the 20-minute speech in full. Only two of them accepted the offer.
The owner and chief executive of one of those broadcasters, the Gyumri-based Gala TV, told RFE/RL that he did so despite a stark warning from the National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR), a presidentially appointed body that issues and revokes broadcasting licenses. Vahan Khachatrian claimed that officers of the Gyumri branch of the National Security Service visited him shortly afterward and warned Gala to stop covering Ter-Petrosian’s return to active politics.
Khachatrian said he will ignore the alleged warning. “I’m not afraid of anything or anyone,” he said, adding that tax officials in Gyumri are now investigating the legality of his ownership of real and other property.
Khachatrian also struck a defiant in a separate written statement issued later in the day. “I want to emphasize that the Gala TV company’s position will not change and that I, as the company’s owner, will not tolerate any attempt at interference by any structure or individual,” he said.
The claims came just three days after Armenia’s leading media associations expressed serious concern at reports that the government has ordered TV channels in Yerevan and elsewhere in Yerevan to shun events featuring Ter-Petrosian and, in particular, a rally which he plans to hold on Friday.
The largest of the broadcasters, the state-owned Armenian Public Television and Radio, denied this. Its chairman, Aleksan Harutiunian, told RFE/RL that his H1 channel, the most accessible in Armenia, will cover the Ter-Petrosian rally.
Other, local channels will not necessarily follow suit. Margarita Minasian, chairwoman of another Gyumri channel, Tsayg, said she will not send any correspondents to the rally. “We lack the technical capacity to videotape events in Yerevan on a daily basis,” she told RFE/RL.
“We haven’t decided yet. We may and may not cover it,” said Anzhela Stepanian, who runs the news service of the private Alt TV station in the southern town of Armavir. She argued that local news has always been the main focus of her company.
All major Armenian broadcasters are loyal to the administration of President Robert Kocharian and rarely air opposition criticism of its policies. The only TV station not controlled by the authorities was controversially pulled off the air in 2002.
Meanwhile, representatives of the pro-Ter-Petrosian Armat organization, said on Monday that it has prepared video clips informing citizens about Friday’s rally and have offered various channels to air them as advertisements. They said none of them has agreed to run the ads so far.
Armat and other groups supportive of the ex-president portray this as an indication that the authorities are seriously worried about Ter-Petrosian’s participation in the upcoming presidential elections. Ter-Petrosian is increasingly emerging as the main challenger of the election favorite, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian.