Independent Armenian TV Loses Another Frequency Tender

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–An embattled Armenian television company controversially kept off the air for nearly a decade has been defeated in another frequency tender administered by the state regulator after allegedly submitting fake documents.

The results of the supposedly competitive process published by the National Commission on Television and Radio (HRAR) on Thursday showed A1+ yielding by far to the operating TV channel, ArmNews.

A1+, represented by Meltex Ltd., received only 2 points from the commission. In contrast, the company representing ArmNews, a TV station that currently alternates its news programs with half-hourly retransmissions from pan-European news channel EuroNews, received 44 points.

HRAH head Grigor Amalian and six members of the commission gave a zero point to A1+’s bid. Only one member gave the company 2 points. In the end, the commission unanimously voted to recognize ArmNews as the winner.

Amalian said A1+ had submitted a number of fraudulent financial documents bearing the seal of a British-registered company that stopped operating in 2007.

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, however, Meltex director Mesrop Movsesian denied presenting any false documentation, arguing that the company in question has affiliates in different countries, which accounted for the confusion.

This is the 13th time A1+ has failed to regain its broadcasting right since 2002 when the country’s arguably sole TV station critical of the authorities controversially lost it in a similar licensing competition.

Local and international media watchdogs have repeatedly criticized the Armenian government for keeping A1+ off their air and many have viewed this attitude as retribution for the company’s critical news reporting.

This criticism was stoked by the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights issued in favor of the company in June 2008. The Strasbourg-based court fined the Armenian government over the HRAH’s consistent rejection of A1+ applications for a new frequency in what, it said, constituted a violation of the “freedom of expression” article of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Still, A1+ was not immediately offered an opportunity to regain its broadcasting license as shortly after the European Court’s decision the Armenian authorities controversially suspended the licensing process, citing the need for expediting the country’s transition to mandatory digital broadcasting.

The latest tender in which contests for only two frequencies have been competitive is the first to be held after the suspension term expired last summer.

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