YPC Weekly Newsletter

2006


DIGITAL BROADCASTING: PROS AND CONS

On November 22 at “Congress” hotel in Yerevan the draft program for introducing
digital TV and radio broadcasting in Armenia was discussed. The event was organized
by OSCE Office in Yerevan, Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the
Media, and Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia in partnership
with the RA Ministry of Transportation and Communication. The discussion opened
with speeches by RA Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communication Vruyr
Arakelian, Head of OSCE Office in Yerevan Ambassador Vladimir Pryakhin, the
Advisor of OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Ana Karlsreiter.

The head of “TV and Radio Networks of Armenia” CJSC of the Ministry of Transportation
and Communication Ashot Simonian presented the draft program on introducing
digital broadcasting in the country. The document was developed by an interdepartmental
task force headed by Vruyr Arakelian upon the commission of the RA Government.

Experts shared their opinions on the draft, too: Professor of Law at universities
in Estonia and Sweden Katrin Nyman Metcalf; head of Center for Information Law
and Policy, member of Information Technology Development Support Council David
Sandukhchian (Armenia); security and political analyst Richard Giragosian (Washington,
USA). In the opinion of experts, the introduction of digital TV and radio broadcasting
will be generally a progressive development for Armenia. At the same time it
was noted that the draft program proposed has a number of serious deficiencies
and omissions.

In particular, the draft stipulates to stop the licensing of analogue broadcasting
as of January 2007. This may result in a situation when during the upcoming
years the analogue TV and radio channels will cease from existing and the digital
ones will not have come into being yet. Besides, the concept of “social package”
is introduced, that is, subsidizing the economically vulnerable groups to get
a minimal set of TV programming – public and private. The Government is to decide
which of the private broadcasters will be included into the package. This is
a violation of independent broadcasting principles. Such decisions should be
made solely by an independent regulatory body and not by the Government. It
is also unclear how the rights of consumers with regard to program content and
diversity will be ensured. The draft program also calls for significant budget
investment into state transmitting company, possibly creating a misbalance between
it and private transmission operators and resulting in a monopoly of telecommunications
market. In other words, these and other provisions of the draft generally contradict
the principles of fair market competition – in terms of both budget investment
and regulation, state policy in telecommunications sector.