YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—An international media watchdog criticized the Armenian authorities on Tuesday for maintaining a tight grip on the country’s broadcast media and accused them of routinely harassing local journalists challenging them.
In its annual Attacks on the Press report covering the entire world, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) singled out amendments to an Armenian law on broadcasting which were enacted by the authorities last year despite strong domestic and Western criticism.
“The amendments enable government regulators to grant or revoke licenses without explanation, as well as impose programming restrictions that would confine some stations to narrow themes such as culture, education, and sports, according to news reports,” said the CPJ.
Citing analysts, the New York-based watchdog suggested that they were primarily aimed at keeping the independent TV station A1+ off the air. It also pointed out that GALA TV, another, functioning independent broadcaster based in Gyumri, will be taken off the air in 2015 because of the amendments.
Both channels failed to win new licenses in supposedly competitive tenders administered by the National Commission on Television and Radio late last year.
“The amendments positioned Sarkisian to maintain control over the country’s docile television and radio stations, most of which were owned by pro-government politicians and businessmen,” reads the CPJ report.
Citing press reports, the report also claims that the Armenian police officers “routinely harassed, assaulted, and arrested journalists” in 2010. “Prosecutors regularly colluded in this practice by failing to investigate police officers, even filing charges on occasion against journalists who protested abuses, CPJ research showed,” it says.
Ashot Melikian, chairman of the Yerevan-based Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech, agreed with the report’s findings. “According to our monitoring, there were many cases of various kinds of pressure on journalists and media outlets, and their number increased compared with 2009,” Melikian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Only the number of cases of physical violence was down from 2009.”