Armenia’s leading independent television station controversially forced off the air almost three years ago suffered another blow to its hopes for survival on Monday as its attempts to switch to radio broadcasts were blocked by a state licensing body.
The once popular A1+ channel was taking part in a tender for two vacant FM frequencies through the MS Explorer company created by its owner Mesrop Movsesian and the head of an Armenian civil rights organization. Both of its bids were rejected by the National Commission on Television and Radio in favor of two new radio stations.
One of them, Auto Radio, is believed to be owned by the family of Armen Amirian, director of the state-owned Armenian Public Radio. It is not yet known who controls the other station, called Avrora.
The commission’s chairman, Grigor Amalian, claimed that the A1+ subsidiary lost the bidding because its competitors promised to ensure higher “technical standards” in their broadcasts.
But Movsesian shrugged off the explanation, alleging political motives. “The commission has always been and will remain in the president’s pocket,” he charged.
Movsesian has been downbeat about his chances of success ever throughout the two-month bidding process, saying that Amalian’s commission, which is appointed by President Robert Kocharian, is not independent.
The commission’s decision in April 2002 to strip A1+ of its broadcasting license was condemned by domestic and international media watchdogs, the Council of Europe and even the United States. A1+, the only national channel that was critical of Kocharian, has since taken part in about a dozen TV frequency tenders and lost all of them.
Asked by a reporter whether he too thinks the result of the FM tender was a forgone conclusion, Amalian said, “The outcome was not predictable. If it was predictable for you, you should explain why. I can’t explain why it was predictable for you.”
Senior officials from the Council of Europe had indicated in the past that they received assurances from Kocharian that A1+ will be allowed to resume broadcasts. “This problem will be solved in the near future,” a representative of its governing Committee of Ministers, Pietro Ago, said in Yerevan in May 2002.
Visiting Armenia in February 2004, Ago expressed “disappointment” at the authorities’ failure to honor their pledges and admitted that the Strasbourg-based organization lacks the muscle to have the de facto ban lifted. “The Council of Europe can not do anything specific on A1+ because it is a matter of internal regulation,” he said.