Under an amended law and by the regulatory body’s decision only 18 television companies late last year got licenses for digital broadcasts in supposedly competitive tenders, and this narrowing of the field, according to experts, first of all hits freedom of speech in Armenia.
Some specialists urge the television companies that lost or could not renew their licenses as a result of the competitions to unite and battle together over this matter.
“The television companies that were deprived of the air have not united yet, but I still believe that time will come and they will join their hands together. Employees, founders, directors of TV companies must understand that we can fight and not give in,” said Gyumri GALA TV Executive Director Karine Harutyunyan at a Wednesday discussion organized by the Civilitas Foundation.
(GALA, based in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri, is a rare television company giving voice to the opposition. It will go out of the air in 2015 after losing its license in the December contest administered by the National Commission on Television and Radio. A1+, off the air since 2002, also failed to regain its license, while ALM lost one and is off the air since January 21. Another three companies had not even made a bid to renew their licenses from the very beginning.)
Experts also say that unlike television companies, which are largely controlled by the authorities, there is a certain variety among the print media, but this area also has drawbacks.
“The problem is that in Armenia newspapers still do not depend on their readerships, if they have money, they go into print, if they don’t, they don’t come out. It is not the readership that decides the orientation and style of a given newspaper, and as long as there is no link between media and the public, media cannot be independent,” says editor-in-chief of the Karabakh-based Analitikon magazine Gegham Baghdasaryan.
The number of internet users in Armenia grows from year to year. While websites have seen more visitors recently and some believe it is possible that in the near future the internet will completely replace television, most specialists at the Civiltas-moderated discussion did not agree that it will happen soon.
“The internet provides ample opportunities, but it is still too early to say that it will soon replace television, but, of course, there is such a prospect. The thing is that journalists do not yet manage this field,” says co-founder of the Epress internet magazine Armen Melikbekyan.
Civilitas founder Vartan Oskanian, too, does not see any essential impact of the internet on the political field in the next few years.
“I agree that the internet is rapidly developing in Armenia, but it will still take 5-10 years for the internet to be able to make an essential change in our political field,” said Oskanian, who served as Armenia’s foreign minister in 1998-2008. “So, one shouldn’t pin too much hope on it at this moment.”
Specialists are also concerned that there is no independent media institution in Armenia.
According to the Committee for the Protection of Freedom of Speech, nine cases of physical violence against journalists were reported in Armenia in 2010, as compared to 11 in 2009. Instead, the number of reported cases of exerting pressure on journalists increased.
The Committee’s report also notes that very often no criminal cases are instituted in connection with violence against journalists.