By Anna Saghabalian
Armenia’s Appeals Court on Monday sustained the verdict of the lower court on an independent regional TV’s parent company’s claim to retain a tower that ensures its transmission.
The ruling still leaves the Gyumri-based GALA TV company an option to turn to the Court of Cassation, but also in practice allows Gyumri’s municipality, which asserted its ownership right to the TV tower last November, to ask bailiffs to step in to enforce the decision.
GALA TV Executive Director Karine Harutiunian told RFE/RL that the verdict was not a surprise to them and said they were ready to seek an overturn of the decision also at the Court of Cassation and by further applying to the European Court of Human Rights.
Ara Sarkisian, the chief of the Legal Department at Gyumri’s Municipality, effectively rejected the lingering concerns that the decision might be the continuation of the government actions against GALA, an independent TV that provided coverage to Armenia’s opposition in the pre- and post-election periods, and said that they did not demand that the company vacate the premises earlier because they got the certificate proving their ownership right to the tower only in November 2007 and therefore could turn to court only at that time.
But Harutiunian insisted that for years they had made inquiries as to who was the owner of the TV tower, but never received a reply to their inquiries from the municipality. She said the amount of rent the municipality asked for during negotiations preceding the announcement of the verdict by the lower court – about $650 a month – was a huge sum of money for the provincial TV company to pay, especially that it did not cover expenses connected with the maintenance of the transmitter, electricity and other expenses.
“Companies using other TV towers pay a maximum of $450-$500 and this payment also covers all maintenance operations on the transmitter,” Harutiunian said. “There are many places in the city where people of goodwill have offered us to rent premises for the transmitter. Besides, there are different means to continue on the air.”
Last month GALA avoided an immediate closure owing to an unprecedented popular fund-raising campaign that helped it pay a hefty fine imposed by the court.
The television company has been facing uncertain future ever since it broke ranks to air a September speech by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian which contained harsh criticism of Armenia’s government.
Tax officials raided the offices of the small station and inspected its books in late October. They claimed to have found more than $80,000 in unpaid taxes, asking a local court to force GALA’s parent company, Chap, to pay the sum. The company denied wrongdoing and said the case had been fabricated in retaliation for its decision to provide airtime to the opposition.