Monday, 24 September

Illegal broadcasting? The president pushed the button



September 4, 2004 saw the grand opening of CS Media City, the compound where the television companies Armenia TV (director - Gagik Mkrtchyan), ArmNews TV (director - Eduard Saribekyan), and TV-5 (director - Nune Yesayan), the Media TV Advertising Company (director - Hovhannes Tovmasyan), the CD Records Center, the FM-10 Radio Station (director - Grigor Nazaryan) and the CS Publishing House (director - Vardan Aloyan) are located.

Armenia TV is owned by Bagrat Sargisyan and Gerard L. Cafesjian. Sargisyan and his family own the other companies as well.

At the opening ceremony, which President Robert Kocharyan attended along with Gerard L. Cafesjian and many senior Armenian officials, the introduction of a "super system" was announced. This system, as Armenia TV advertises periodically, retransmits more than 50 TV channels. But it's not yet clear what frequency will be used to transmit the programs being advertised, since, as the National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR) has stated on many occasions, there are no vacant frequencies in Armenia .

In a September 9 th interview with the newspaper Aravot, Iskhan Vardanyan, the head of the licensing department at the NCTR said, "The NCTR at the moment is not in possession of any vacant frequency to allow transmission in the gigahertz wave band. We have not provided frequencies in this wave band to any company. The A-UP Satellite Transmission Company, which is being advertised continuously, is not known to us and has no license. In other words, the commercial stating that more than 50 TV channels are being retransmitted in this wave band has been a real revelation for the National Commission. I would like to emphasize that there has been no tender organized by us to provide any frequency to any company for such retransmission. In the meantime, the Commission has already informed the relevant agencies, asking that they take the necessary measures to prevent any illegal broadcasting."

So on September 4, 2004 , Robert Kocharyan personally pushed the button launching illegal broadcasting.

Bagrat Sargisyan has offered no explanation as yet. The presidential administration is silent, as is Gerard Cafesjian.

Television broadcasting without a license is a criminal offence in Armenia . In the official translation, Article 188 of the Criminal Code of Armenia, Illegal Entrepreneurial Activity , states: "Entrepreneurial activities without state registration or without special permit (license), when such a special permit (license) is mandatory, accompanied with infliction of a large damage to the citizens, commercial organizations or to the state, is punished with a fine in the amount of 200 to 400 minimal salaries, or with an arrest for the term of 2 to 3 months."

And according to Paragraph 2 of the Article, "The same act accompanied with infliction of a large damage to the citizens, commercial organizations or to the state: is punished with a fine for the amount of 300 to 500 minimal salaries, or deprivation of the right to hold certain posts or practice certain activities for up to 3 years and with or without a fine in the amount of 50 minimal salaries, or imprisonment for the term of up to 2 years."

In a practical sense then, the president of Armenia is now an accomplice in a criminal act. It's not clear yet whether Bagrat Sargisyan will be called to task, but we do know that the media mogul has been summoned to the president's office.

The commercial aired on Armenia TV also claims that CS Media is connected to the US-based Dish Network, which means that Armenia TV programs can be seen in the United States . It turns out that this is false information; many American Armenians have tried to watch these programs, only to be told that the network had no such channel.

So Armenia TV has also violated various articles of the Law on Advertisement of the Republic of Armenia, by disseminating false information, and deceiving and swindling hundreds of thousands TV-viewers and customers.

But will the law be applied in this case? Of course not.

This is what had to happen

The president's entourage had to deliver the president and have him press some buttons. It was the same thing when he cut the ribbon to open the Prometheus Factory in Vanadzor for the second time. Rest assured, he will cut the ribbon a third time as well. For there is no one in his entourage to tell him, "You shouldn't do that-it's immoral, it's dishonest, it's wrong."

We were silent as the Armenia TV "balloon" was inflated; a once non-existent TV station has now become a giant. The Sargisyan family kept going, and none of us said that that's not the way to create television, that it's not enough to take foreign TV shows, attach some text, and put Bagrat Sargisyan's name on them as director. That if you don't mention where these scenes, these documentaries come from, which other people have worked on for years and spent vast amounts of money on, then you're just a plagiarist. We didn't say any of this because we were their colleagues, we thought, "At least they have a job." None of us told Artem Sargisyan (Bagrat's father) that he shouldn't spend so much time preaching the purity of the Armenian language, since it's the Bernard Show, broadcast by his family's TV station, which pervert the language. We only cast about for ways to justify our silence later on.

At the September 4, 2004 opening CS Media City, the president was brought in, put in front of a button, and told to push it. And he did push it. Standing next to him was Gerard Cafesjian, who doesn't know anything about the morals and manners of Armenia . The philanthropist pushed the button, too, without realizing that he had been dragged in an illegal act.

Bagrat Sargisyan is in a position to avoid responsibility now. He can say, "I'm not the one who pushed the button, it was the president of the country and a US citizen, Gerard Cafesjian."

And the members of the entourage just made the show complete. Even the outspoken oppositionist, Victor Dallakyan, played a role. He was sparkling, he was pleased, he liked it up there. Parliament member Hranush Hakobyan put in a fine performance, as always: "This is further proof that there exists in Armenia an independent mass media." Congratulations!

The day CS Media City was opened, Armenia TV's news program established a connection with a certain US senator. No one actually heard what he said; his voice was not audible under the Armenian translation, which we can only hope had some connection to what the senator really said.

The foreign minister was present, of course. This was an especially important event for him, since his advisor, Salpi Ghazarian, played a significant part in making Gerard Cafesjian's investment in Armenia TV happen.

This is what had to happen, because we tacitly tolerated it when three TV broadcasting frequencies were awarded to the Sargisyan family at once. This is what had to happen, because everyone watched as the ArmNews reporter would carry two microphones into a press conference, and switch between the ArmNews microphone TV-5 microphone in the middle.

The government's response will be, "So what?" And they'll be right. So what? So what that the president pushed the wrong button? They'll organize another show, and arrange things so that when the president pushes the button this time, it'll be legal.


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