A group of pro-government parliamentarians have drafted a bill that would give an Armenian regulatory body more powers to monitor broadcasters and “cleanse” their programs of what they see as harmful content.
Under the bill, TV and radio stations will have to clearly separate facts from opinions, air only credible and verified information and avoid any calls for violence, hatred and illegal “overthrow of the constitutional order.”
The bill stipulates that the broadcasters would have to devote 20 percent of their weekly programming to children, culture and education. Also, TV channels would be allowed to show films featuring violent, scary or sex scenes only after midnight.
These requirements would be enforced by the National Commission on Television and Radio, a state body issuing broadcasting licenses. Although the commission can also revoke those licenses in certain cases, its legal authority to influence the content of TV and radio programs has been quite limited until now.
The authors of the bill mostly affiliated with Armenia’s ruling My Step bloc insisted on Thursday that its purpose is to “cleanse” and “disinfect” television content, rather than shut down any broadcasters or ensure government control of the airwaves.
“This would run counter to our value system, and we hope that there will be no comparisons with the former authorities’ practices,” said Mkhitar Hayrapetian, the chairman of the parliament committee on science, education, culture and youth affairs.
“Our objective is to set new, healthy rules of the game, and yes, many, many TV channels and TV programs will have to follow them,” he said.
Boris Navasardian, the chairman of the Yerevan Press Club, expressed concern over some provisions of the bill, while noting with satisfaction clear mechanisms for sanctioning broadcasters set by it.
“How will violations of this law be interpreted and sanctioned?” Navasardian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “On one hand, it could be perceived as declarative provisions and not affect [broadcasters] in a negative way. But it could also endanger freedom of speech as a result of a biased perception.”
Armenia’s former governments had a strong influence on the news reporting of virtually all TV stations that were mostly owned by businesspeople loyal to them. The situation changed significantly after the 2018 “Velvet Revolution.”
Some TV channels are now controlled by political groups or individuals challenging the current Armenian government. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has repeatedly accused them of seeking to discredit and weaken his administration. The broadcasters have rejected the accusations.