By Hovannes Shoghikian
Acting on a recent verdict by the European Court of Human Rights, the Armenian government approved on Thursday payment of 30,000 euros ($39,000) in damages to an independent television station that was controversially pulled off the air in 2002.
The A1+ channel was stripped of its broadcasting license in a tender administered by the presidentially appointed National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR). The TV station, backed by local and international media watchdogs, considers the decision politically motivated. It filed a lawsuit to the European Court of Human Rights after unsuccessfully challenging the ban in Armenian courts.
In a largely symbolic ruling, the Strasbourg-based court last June fined the Armenian government 30,000 euros and said the NCTR’s consistent rejection of A1+ applications for a new frequency ran counter to the European Convention on Human Rights. However, it stopped short of obligating the Armenian authorities to allow A1+ to resume broadcasts.
The government was given until December 17 to comply with the ruling. One third of the fine is to cover A1+’s legal expenses incurred during the Strasbourg litigation, meaning that the company will have only 20,000 euros at its disposal.
“I can not consider the compensation ordered by the European court to be full because the losses that we have incurred during all these years have been much greater,” Mesrop Movsesian, the A1+ owner and chief executive, told RFE/RL.
“But I wouldn’t want to accentuate on the financial aspect of the matter because the restoration of my rights in the Republic of Armenia is more important to me,” said Movsesian. He said A1+, which has remained afloat by publishing an online journal and producing programs for regional broadcasters, still hopes to return to the airwaves.
These hopes were dealt a serious blow in September when the Armenian parliament approved government-drafted legal amendments that froze the holding of fresh tenders for frequencies until July 2010. The government claimed that the measure is necessary for expediting Armenia’s planned transition to mandatory digital broadcasting by 2012.
But government critics believe its real purpose is to fend off renewed Western pressure for the reopening of A1+. In a June resolution, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) urged Armenia to "ensure an open, fair and transparent licensing procedure" and allow A1+ to apply for a new license.