By Astghik Bedevian
Close associates of Artur Baghdasarian accused Armenia’s leading TV stations on Wednesday of imposing an “information blockade” on the leader of the opposition Orinats Yerkir Party and a major candidate in the 2008 presidential election.
They claimed that the broadcasters, all of them loyal to the government, are deliberately ignoring Baghdasarian and election-related events featuring him. Mher Shahgeldian, the Orinats Yerkir deputy chairman, said the former parliament speaker has made “only” five televised appearances since the May parliamentary elections.
Shahgeldian also pointed to the TV stations’ failure to report the former parliament speaker’s Tuesday meeting with the Yerevan-based ambassadors of European Union member states. “All TV companies reported on Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s meeting with European ambassadors for several times, while Artur Baghdasarian’s meeting with the ambassadors was not covered at all,” he said.
In a written statement, Orinats Yerkir said on Tuesday that Baghdasarian discussed with the diplomats “a broad range of issues relating to the presidential elections.” He also presented his views on “key domestic and foreign policy issues,” the statement said.
Both Shahgeldian and another Orinats Yerkir leader, Heghine Bisharian, admitted that they too have been invited to TV talk shows of late and that their party has been able to air promotional videos on national and local channels. But they said that is not enough to present their candidate’s platform to voters.
The television coverage of the presidential race has so far centered on two candidates, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. The Yerevan Press Club, an independent media watchdog, has strongly criticized Armenian state TV and the main private networks for being openly supportive of Sarkisian and extremely hostile towards his most bitter challenger. Two of them dismissed the criticism on Tuesday.
While lamenting the perceived lack of access to the TV air, the Orinats Yerkir leaders were confident that their party will have no trouble raising donations for Baghdasarian’s election campaign. Armenia’s Election Code allows presidential hopefuls to spend up to 70 million drams ($230,000) each for that purpose.
“We will do everything to raise the maximum [amount of campaign funding,]” said Bisharian. “We will not have any financial problems.”
Bisharian, who is also Baghdasarian’s campaign manager, claimed that “many businessmen” continue to support the ex-speaker despite mass defections of wealthy Orinats Yerkir parliamentarians that accompanied the party’s 2006 ouster from the governing coalition. She did not name any of those businessmen, though.
“Those who have a good taste are with Artur Baghdasarian,” she said.
(Photolur photo: Young Orinats Yerkir activists hold up Baghdasarian's posters.)