An independent television station based in Armenia’s second city of Gyumri lost on Thursday a government-administered tender for a new broadcasting license and will therefore be almost certainly taken off the air by 2015.
The development is the latest result of the country’s ongoing controversial transition to mandatory digital broadcasting overseen by the National Commission on Television and Radio (HRAH).
The process envisages, among other things, a significant reduction in TV and radio frequencies available for bidders. In particular, only one TV station will be allowed to operate in each of Armenia’s ten provinces outside Yerevan starting from 2015.
The GALA TV channel, which has been at loggerheads with the Armenian authorities for the past three years, vied for one such digital frequency with another Gyumri-based broadcaster, Tsayg. The latter is loyal to the central and local governments, rarely airing criticism of their policies.
The HRAH has for months been expected to grant the tender to Tsayg, and it lived up to those expectations on Thursday. The regulatory body announced the decision in the conspicuous absence of any GALA representatives.
“We anticipated no other decision,” GALA’s owner Vahan Khachatrian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service “We already said two months ago that there is going to be a political decision.”
GALA fell foul of the Armenian authorities after breaking ranks in September 2007 to provide airtime to opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian. It has since been the country’s sole TV channel that regularly features opposition politicians and broadcasts reports critical of the government.
Later in 2007, GALA was raided by tax officials and accused of tax evasion, a charge it strongly denied. A fund-raising telethon in early 2008 allowed the small TV station to pay almost 27 million drams ($75,000) in fines imposed by tax authorities and avoid closure.
The result of the Gyumri frequency bidding was announced one week after the HRAH again refused to give a frequency to A1+, a Yerevan-based independent TV station that was controversially pulled off the air in 2002. The regulatory body accused the broadcaster of submitting fake documents.
A1+ representative reject this claim, saying that the HRAH decision stemmed from President Serzh Sarkisian’s intention to maintain a de facto government control over virtually all broadcast media in Armenia.