Armenia’s ongoing controversial transition to digital broadcasting, which is significantly reducing the number of domestic TV and radio stations, will be completed by January 2015, the government said on Thursday.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s cabinet announced the date after approving basic parameters of digital transmitters that are due to be installed and operated by a single company.
The operator is to be chosen in an international tender already called by the government. Andranik Aleksanian, a deputy minister of transport and communications, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that ten local and foreign firms have already submitted preliminary bids.
The Armenian authorities began the digitization process in June 2010 with the passage of amendments to a law on TV and radio that were criticized by local and international press freedom groups as well as some Western governments. Armenian media associations believe that they initiated the transition to prolong and tighten their control of the airwaves.
The authorities dismissed the criticism, with the National Commission on Television and Radio (HRAH) holding tenders for digital broadcasting licenses later in 2010. The state regulator refused to grant a frequency to A1+, Armenia’s leading independent TV station taken off the air in 2002, accepting instead a rival bid submitted by a government-friendly channel.
The HRAH also ruled against another, functioning independent broadcaster based in the country’s second city of Gyumri. The GALA channel and more than a dozen other regional TV stations will have to discontinue their broadcasts in the existing analog format at the end of the digitization process.
While stating that Armenia will fully switch to digital broadcasts from January 1, 2015, the government said that analog broadcasts will continue until at least 95 percent of households have digital TV sets or signal decoders. According to Aleksanian, the government is confident that this target rate will be achieved in time for the announced date.