The Armenian parliament elected on Wednesday four new members of a key regulatory body that has the exclusive authority to grant and revoke broadcasting licenses in the country.
The National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR) was until now single-handedly formed by the president of the republic. Many believe this is the reason why there are virtually no TV and radio stations in Armenia that regularly air reports critical of the government.
Faced with strong domestic and international criticism, the Armenian authorities pledged to make the commission more independent with one of the constitutional amendments enacted in late 2005. Under the resulting changes in an Armenian law, the NCTR must now be formed anew. The president and the National Assembly shall each appoint four members of the body.
The assembly elected four members by secret ballot from a pool of seven candidates. Most of them are thought to be loyal to the country’s leadership.
One of them, Hayk Kotanian, managed the parliament staff until last year, while another, Aram Melkonian, worked in the administration of former President Robert Kocharian as an economist.
A third NCTR member, Koryun Arakelian, is a leading member of Artashes Geghamian’s National Unity Party, a once influential opposition force that now supports President Serzh Sarkisian. Arakelian made clear both during the discussion of his candidacy and after his election that he will not resign from the party.
“That won’t hinder me,” he told RFE/RL. “The commission needs very oriented people.”
Arakelian and the three other men vowed to “perform our duties impartially … regardless of any political and economic interests” as they were promptly sworn in as NCTR members.
Among them is also Armen Mkrtchian, a former senior member of the opposition Hanrapetutyun party. Mkrtchian is also known as a the first Armenian citizen to win a case against the Armenian government in the European Court of Human Rights.
Members of the parliament’s pro-government majority were confident that the newly elected officials will turn the NCTR into a more independent and credible body. Artak Davtian, a parliament deputy from Sarkisian’s Republican Party, described them as “the most deserving candidates.”
But Stepan Safarian of the opposition Zharangutyun party disagreed. “My impression is that not all candidates clearly meet the requirements laid out by law,” he said. Safarian also lamented the fact that virtually no prominent media experts and civil society representatives chose to take part in the selection process.
The NCTR began its activities in early 2002 with an extremely controversial decision to take A1+, the only national TV station not controlled or influenced by the authorities, off the air. The commission has since repeatedly blocked the popular station’s attempts to resume broadcasts.