“The eleven-month-long inactivity imposed on the A1+ TV Company, and the television picture that became complete with the removal of A1+, give us reason to believe that there is nothing for us to do in this country”, said the employees of the A1+ TV in a statement addressed to foreign embassies in Armenia in which the journalists requested political asylum.
A1+ started working in 1991. The company produced video reportage about the events taking place in the republic for various programs on local and Russian (Vesti), French (TF-1), German (ZDF), and US (CNN) TV stations. From 1993 to 1995, A1+ bought airtime from the State Television of Armenia to broadcast its news reports. In 1995, the company was reorganized and A1+ became an independent television station owned by Meltex Ltd. Starting on September 12, 1997, it aired 24 hours a day.
In September 1999, A1+ created the Hamaspyur independent television network consisting of 9 regional TV Stations. The Hamaspyur network reaches 70% of the territory of Armenia.
In February 2002 the National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR), whose members are appointed by the president of Armenia, announced a tender for transmission links. A1+, Sharm, and Dofin TV Companies applied for Channel 37. On April 2, 2002, in accordance with the decision of the National Commission on Television and Radio, the Sharm Company won and was awarded Channel 37. On April 3, 2003 A1+ was taken off the air.
“The A1+ independent TV Company was closed not because it lost a legal competition, but within the framework of a political order,” a number of media outlets said in a joint statement adopted on April 3, 2002. Rallies and mass-meetings in support of A1+ were held in Yerevan, to protest this blow against freedom of speech. The protesters demanded that the results of the tender be declared invalid, and that A1+ be reopened. In contrast, the heads of the 17 pro-government media outlets signed a statement claiming that there was no threat to the freedom of speech in Armenia.
Before this, on April 1, 2002, A1+ had gone to the Court of Economic Arbitration requesting that the NCTR decisions on TV frequencies be invalidated because they had been made in violation of the law. The Court turned this request down. Then A1+ challenged the verdict in the Court of Appeals. But A1+ met with no success in the Armenian courts. The courts never acknowledged that the tender had been held with numerous violations of the law. On November 1, 2002 the A1+ case was taken on by the European Court on Human Rights. “I am confident that we will win the case - we have a team of experienced lawyers. According to their evaluation we will prevail”, says Mesrop Movsesyan, the chairman of A1+. In an interview with Hetq Weekly, Toby Mendel, director of legal projects for the international organization Article 19, noted that A1+ has a good chance of winning. “I think there are at least three grounds. First, the National Commission on Television and Radio which was created by law is not independent. The law doesn’t guarantee the commission’s independence from the government, which runs counter to international standards, and the recommendations of the Council of Europe. Second, there was a biased attitude toward A1+ during the competition. The third argument is quite interesting - by depriving A1+ of the license they, in fact, denied people an important voice. People must have an opportunity to receive diverse information. If these arguments are correctly presented to the European Court, I see a great chance to win the case”.
A1+ also submitted an application for the TV frequency tender scheduled for October 15, 2002. But the tender has not yet been held. First it was postponed as a result of unlawful actions by the NCTR. The NCTR did not accept the application of the Noyan Tapan TV company, on the grounds that the company had failed to mention the specific frequency for which it was competing. Noyan Tapan went to court. The court passed an ambiguous decision - it obliged the NCTR to accept the application and obliged the TV company to mention the specific frequency. Thus, although the court satisfied Noyan Tapan’s request, the company gained nothing.
The tender was postponed once again. This time five TV Companies - Dar 21, ArmenAkob, TV5, Yerevan, and EV (CNN rebroadcast) -- took the NCTR to court. They requested that their applications be returned in seven days, as they were applying for the November 19, 2002 tender. The tender, however, was postponed until January 30, 2003. Thus, it was impossible for them to realize their projects. A1+ is still awaiting the end of these proceedings. Nobody can predict when these court procedures will be finished. But many people are convinced that A1+ will be kept off the air until after the May parliamentary elections. The NCTR will always find ways to postpone the tender on the grounds of various court applications.
”The government is doing everything it can to get rid of us. They play one-sided chess on two chess-boards”, says Mesrop Movsesyan. The A1+ journalists are getting offers from various media outlets. But the staff is not splitting up. Today they prepare video reports the Hamaspyur network and the company’s Web site (www.a1plus.am). They also publish the Aib-Fe daily but it sells badly. “When the A1+ journalists realized that our colleagues from other media outlets were creating obstacles for us on the orders of the government, they made the statement addressed to the embassies”, says the A1+ director.
The company’s journalists view their statement as an act of protest, and a warning.
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