THE FOUNDER OF “A1+” FILED A SUIT AGAINST THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON TELEVISION AND RADIO
On April 1 the founder of “A1+” TV company, “Meltex” LLC filed a suit with the RA Commercial Court demanding that the decisions of the National Commission on Television and Radio on holding competitions for licensing TV and radio broadcasting on the vacant and vacated frequencies be annulled. As it has been reported, the competitions were announced by the National Commission in February 2002 (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 16-22, 2002).
The demand of the plaintiff was grounded on the violation by the National Commission of a number of procedure norms in announcing competitions. According to the suit application by “Meltex”, Articles 48 and 49 of the RA Law “On Television and Radio” stipulate that the National Commission should have announced one competition for all the vacant frequencies, and the applications for a broadcast license should have been submitted for any vacant frequencies. Having announced several competitions for each frequency separately, the National Commission violated the right of “Meltex” to be considered a candidate for all the vacant frequencies. It is also noted in the suit that the license granted to “Meltex” to broadcast on 37th frequency expired on January 22, 2002, and, according to the Article 54 of the Law “On Television and Radio”, the competition was supposed to be announced two months before the license expiration, namely, in November 2001.
The consideration of the suit of “Meltex” LLC is scheduled for April 16.
THE RESULTS OF THE COMPETITION FOR THE BROADCAST LICENSING ANNOUNCED
On April 2 the National Commission on Television and Radio announced the results of the competition for the licenses to broadcast on 21st, 35th, 37th and 44th UHFs of Yerevan (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 16-22, 2002).
The competition for the 21st frequency applied for only by “Hayrenik TV” company ended quite unexpectedly. The tender was annulled, since, in the opinion of the jury, the broadcast concept presented by the applicant did not meet the requirements put forth. “Hayrenik” has a right to continue going on air until a new competition is announced for the frequency.
Out of three applicants for the 35th frequency, “Noyan Tapan”, “Shoghakat” and “Yan TV” companies, the Commission gave the highest scores to “Shoghakat” TV company, patroned by Holy Echmiadzin.
The former “owner” of the 44th frequency, “Avetis” TV company, had to concede the channel to “Shark” company.
The competition for the 37th frequency, claimed by its “owner”, “A1+” TV station, and “Sharm” and “Dauphin TV” companies, was won by “Sharm” with a significant difference in scores.
On April 2, “A1+” represented by its founder “Meltex” LLC addressed an appeal to the RA Commercial Court, requesting to prohibit the National Commission to stop the broadcasts of “A1+” until a decision on the suit previously filed by “Meltex” (see above) is made and as a measure to ensure the suit.
On April 3 the RA Commercial Court declined the request of “Meltex” with the reasoning that the mandate of the National Commission on Television and Radio does not include the stoppage of the air of TV companies, and the claims presented are groundless.
The situation once more proves the imperfection of the broadcast law. Neither the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, adopted in October 2000, nor the charter of the National Commission stipulate a precise procedure of stopping the air of a broadcaster if it is refused a license.
At 22.30 on April 2 “A1+” TV company received a written notification from “Television Network of Armenia” SCJSC, informing that the broadcasts of the company will be stopped at midnight following the directions in the letter signed by the Chairman of the National Commission on Television and Radio Grigor Amalian. Having said good-bye to the viewers at 24.00, “A1+” announced its programs could still be seen on AATV cable network. Yet in 12 minutes AATV stopped broadcasting “A1+”. According to the Director of “A1+” Mesrop Movsesian, by doing this AATV violated the contract provisions and “A1+” considers the possibility of suing the cable company.
There is an opinion that the haste with which AATV CJSC switched “A1+” out from air may be explained by the pressure exerted “from above”. Notably, in early September 2001 the National Commission on Television and Radio refused re-licensing AATV as previously this company, transmitting programs of various TV channels, was awarded a license for the construction and servicing of air and cable systems only, and not for broadcasting (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, September 1-7, 2001). Meanwhile, AATV continues operating.
Today the only channel for “A1+” to disseminate news is the web site of the company, and the number of its visits has increased drastically during the past few days. The newscast “Ayb-Feh”, working on-line, still catches attention.
PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS EVALUATE THE DECISIONS OF THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON TELEVISION AND RADIO AS AN INFRINGEMENT OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH. STATEMENTS BY YEREVAN PRESS CLUB AND INTERNEWS, “ASPAREZ” JOURNALISTS’ CLUB, ASSOCIATION OF INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS, JUA AND “IRAVUNK” NEWSPAPER
The decisions of the National Commission on Television and Radio on the 37th and 35th frequencies have generated an extremely negative response of the journalistic community.
On April 2, Yerevan Press Club and “Internews” public organization made a joint statement:
“On April 2 the National Commission on Television and Radio passed a decision, recognizing “Sharm” company the winner of the competition for the broadcast license on 37th UHF of Yerevan. This decision actually deprived one of the best TV companies of the country, “A1+”, of its air.
We voice our concern with the fact that “A1+” is being ousted from the broadcasting sphere, a fact which may impoverish the TV air of the country, restrict the diversity of information and opportunities to express various opinions. We are convinced that for the adoption of an objective decision the Commission was to take into account the activities of “A1+” during the past years, the contribution made by the TV company in the establishment of freedom of speech and diversity of opinion in Armenia.
We believe that the decision made on April 2 politicizes the issue and may become a precedent for silencing and intimidation of the unwanted media and insist that the issue should be viewed purely from a professional angle.
Obviously, the situation is the consequence of the imperfect legislation allowing the judgmental formation of the National Commission on Television and Radio and reshaping the broadcasting sphere, ignoring the interests of the acting and established TV companies. This point is confirmed also by the results of competition for the 35th UHF, making “Shoghakat” company the winner, while leaving out “Noyan Tapan”.
We will support all the legal actions of the TV companies to protect their rights and insist on the necessity for the legislative amendments.”
“Asparez” Journalists’ Club joined the statement of YPC and Internews, noting that “by depriving (…) “A1+” and “Noyan Tapan” (…) of frequencies, the National Commission on Television and Radio (…) became a serious lever for restricting the freedom of speech and opinion”.
On April 2 a joint statement was made by the Association of Investigative Journalists of Armenia, Journalists Union of Armenia and “Iravunk” newspaper. The statement says in particular that the decision of the National Commission of April 2 was a “huge attack on the democratic achievements of Armenia, including freedom of speech”, and voices a demand for the decision to be canceled. The frequency licensing competition was held with a severe violation of the acting legislation, and, therefore, cannot be legally binding, the statement authors note.
On April 4 the Public Television of Armenia expressed its readiness to provide air to “Ayb-Feh”, the newscast of “A1+”, once a day for a month. Previously, the founder of the Armenian Center for National and Strategic Studies, the former RA Foreign Minister Raffi Hovhannisian also offered “A1+” and “Noyan Tapan” to use the media published by his Center for the preparation and dissemination of news and analysis.
THE U.S. EMBASSY IN ARMENIA EXPRESSED ITS CONCERN OVER THE FUTURE OF ARMENIAN INDEPENDENT MEDIA
On April 3 the U.S. Embassy in Armenia issued a press release noting, in particular, that: “The decision on April 2 to award TV frequency 37, to date held by “A1+” television, to the “Sharm” group raises serious questions about the future of free and independent media in Armenia.” The U.S. Embassy “welcomes President Kocharian’s public statement that he would like to see “A1+” stay on the air, and is willing to explore the options for this to happen”. “If the broad spectrum of political opinion loses its access to the media, this will only undercut Armenia’s efforts to attain its place in the community of democratic nations, integrated in all appropriate international structures”, the press release says.
After the USA Embassy, the RA Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its opinion on the issue. “We think it important to note that the competition for the 37th frequency, like those for other frequencies, was announced in accordance with the RA Law “On Television and Radio”, which was developed with the participation of all TV companies, adopted by a vast majority of votes of the National Assembly, comprising all the influential political forces of the country, after which was given a positive evaluation by an appropriate subdivision of the Council of Europe”, the statement of the Foreign Ministry says in particular. The Ministry expressed confidence that the application of law and its governance are the only guaranteed way to a democratic and legally protected society.
On April 2 in the letter addressed to the Armenian President Robert Kocharian the international organization “Reporters Without Borders” protested against the deprivation of “A1+” of a broadcast license, qualifying it as ”the most serious violation of pluralism in Armenia in the past few years”. The Secretary General of RSF Robert Menard appealed to the President to make a personal intervention for the National Commission to reconsider its decision. A promise that the “A1+” station will be assigned a new frequency – “at indefinite time” – is not enough, Mr. Menard stressed.
In the opinion of Armenian authorities, the agitation that rose on the issue of “A1+” is a political manipulation. The competition results were not announced yet when Robert Kocharian admitted he would like to see this channel on air: “If there were no “A1+”, it would have to be invented.” At the same time the President expressed his wish for the “A1+” staff not to become a tool for those who were consistent in their attempts to destabilize the situation in Armenia.
The Prime Minister of Armenia Andranik Margarian adheres to a similar opinion. He noted that the statements and declarations of opposition political parties on the loss of air by “A1+” have only political goals. The Prime Minister advised “Noyan Tapan” to appeal to the court, as it was done by “A1+”: “Disputes of this kind must be solved in the court room, and not in the city squares.”
On April 3 at the session of the RA National Assembly the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture and Youth Issues Shavarsh Kocharian, deputies Hrant Khachatrian and Haik Babukhanian proposed to summon an extraordinary session the next day to introduce amendments into the RA Law “On Television and Radio”. The amendments were supposed to legally stipulate a right for a broadcaster , who lost the license and challenged the decision in court, to be entitled to go on air until the court makes a decision. Had this amendment been passed, “A1+” would have been able to resume broadcasting. Yet, “Unity” faction, possessing the majority of seats in the Parliament, asked for a twenty-minute break, and since only a few minutes were left till the end of the session, the discussion of the proposal made by deputies was delayed for the next three-day session to be held in ten days’ time.
A number of political and public figures keep stating their support to “A1+” and “Noyan Tapan”. On their part, the opposition political forces called on the public to participate in the protest action on April 5, at 17.00 at the Freedom Square in Yerevan.
THE FIRST WORKING MEETING UNDER A JOINT PROJECT HELD
On March 31 – April 3 in Gudauri (Georgia) the first working meeting under a joint project of Yerevan Press Club and Baku Press Club supported by OSI Network Media Program was held. The representatives of YPC and BPC discussed the course of monitoring of Karabagh problem coverage by the media of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Mountainous Karabagh. The meeting participants also clarified a number of questions on conducting opinion polls in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Mountainous Karabagh since mid-April to reveal the opinion of various society segments on the MK problem.
THE NEW VERSION OF THE DRAFT LAW “ON MASS COMMUNICATION” DISCUSSED
On April 4 in Yerevan a discussion of the draft law “On Mass Communication”, organized by the OSCE Office in Yerevan and the NGO Strengthening Program “World Learning”/Armenia. Journalists, lawyers, representatives of non-governmental organizations took part in the meeting. The event was opened by the Head of OSCE Office in Yerevan Roy Reeve and the acting director of “World Learning” Jan Carpovic. The RA Deputy Minister of Justice Ashot Abovian presented the new edition of the draft, stressing that the recommendations and proposals of the media and interested organizations will be collected till April 8, after which the task force of the Ministry will start working on the consideration and finalization of the document together with the journalistic community.
As it has already been reported, on March 27 the RA Ministry of Justice introduced the new revised edition of the draft law “On Mass Communication” (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 23-29, 2002). The previous version of this document, approved by the Government, caused a wave of protests of the media and professional associations, received a negative assessment from the experts, also from the Council of Europe (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter in late January, February and March, 2002).
THE UNPLEASANT INCIDENT AT “TSAYG” TV COMPANY
On April 1 an unpleasant incident happened at “Tsayg” TV station (Gyumri, Shirak region). In the evening “Tsayg” transmitted the speech of the Chairman of the opposition party “National Unity” Artashes Geghamian at a party meeting. According to the Chairman of Shirak regional organization of “National Unity” Marzpetuni Margarian, a group of insober people, with the Mayor of Gyumri Vardan Ghukasian among them, intruded into the office of “Tsayg” TV company and started a brawl. As Marzpetuni Margarian informed, the TV company itself preferred to forget the episode, as the Mayor apologized to “Tsayg”.