On June 17 the European Court of Human Rights released its judgment on the case of the founder of “A1+” TV company, “Meltex” LLC and its President Mesrop Movsesian versus Republic of Armenia. As it has been reported, “A1+” TV company was deprived of air on April 2, 2002 after it was refused a broadcast license by the National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR). The TV company had further taken part in numerous broadcast licensing competitions, but every time its bids scored lower than those of its rivals. The attempts of “A1+” to challenge the decisions of the NCTR in courts remained just as futile: the suits filed by the TV company were refused each time. Having gone through all levels of domestic courts, the founder of “A1+” addressed the European Court of Human Rights. On August 27, 2004 the suit of “Meltex” LLC and its President Mesrop Movsesian versus Republic of Armenia was lodged with the ECHR.
The case was examined through five clauses: the victim status of Mesrop Movsesian, the second applicant; the recognition of the seven refusals of a broadcasting license in 2002-2003 to be a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“Freedom of Expression”); recognition of the results and processes on the suits of “Meltex” LLC during the same period at Armenian courts to be a violation of Article 6 of the European Convention (“Right to Fair Trial”); recognition of decisions by NCTR and domestic courts to be politically motivated – in violation of Article 14 of the European Convention (“Prohibition of Discrimination”); compensation of the pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage in accordance with Article 41 of the European Convention (“Just Satisfaction”).
The ECHR declared the complaint of the applicant admissible on the second clause. Thus, the refusals to grant a broadcast license to “Meltex” LLC were recognized to be a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention, i.e., of the right of the applicant to freely impart information and ideas. The ECHR noted that the Armenian broadcasting legislation stipulates a number of criteria to determine the winner of the broadcast licensing competition, but at that time it did not explicitly require that the licensing body give reasons for the decision made. In other words, NCTR simply announced the competition winner, without giving any reasons why that applicant was chosen over “Meltex” LLC. In the opinion of the ECHR, the licensing procedure which did not require a licensing body to justify its decisions did not provide adequate protection against arbitrary interference by a public authority with the fundamental right to freedom of expression. In its decision the European Court also recalls the guidelines adopted by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in the domain of broadcasting regulation, which called for open and transparent application of the regulations governing licensing procedures and specifically recommended that “all decisions taken (…) by the regulatory authorities (…) be (…) duly reasoned”. The judgment also quotes the PACE Resolution on Armenia of January 27, 2004, which concluded that “the vagueness of the law in force had resulted in (NCTR) being given outright discretionary powers”.
The ECHR committed the Republic of Armenia to paying “Meltex” LLC 30,000 euros within three months after the enforcement of the judgment: 20 thousand in respect of non-pecuniary damage and 10 thousand to in respect of costs and expenses incurred.
The judgment of the European Court on the case of “A1+” was commented on by the Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis, who released the following statement on June 18:
“Television is a very influential part of the media. Decisions of regulatory bodies on the award, refusal or withdrawal of a broadcasting license can have a direct bearing on freedom of expression and therefore on the functioning of democracy.
The decision of the European Court of Human Rights brings an end to the long drawn-out saga about the refusal of the Armenian authorities to award a broadcasting license to the A1+ television station. The decision comes after numerous calls from different bodies of the Council of Europe have been ignored by the Armenian authorities. All member states of the Council of Europe are legally bound to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. They should do so without being reminded of their responsibilities by the European Court of Human Rights.
The decision of the Court is a victory for freedom of expression. It should also serve as a lesson to all governments inclined to arbitrary interpretations of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees this essential freedom.”