YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Tuesday criticized a controversial bill which media freedom groups say will enable the Armenian government to retain its de facto control over the country’s broadcast media.
Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE’s Vienna-based representative on media freedom, said the government have ignored “crucial” recommendations from the OSCE and domestic civil society in enacting a package of amendments to an Armenian law on broadcasting.
“Although some recommendations from the legal review have been addressed, other recommendations that are of crucial importance for a smooth transition from analogue to digital broadcasting have not been taken into account,” she said in a statement.
The proposed amendments are meant to regulate Armenia’s ongoing transition to mandatory digital broadcasting, which is due to be completed by July 2013. Local media watchdogs and opposition groups say the authorities have initiated the process to prolong their strong influence on the news coverage of virtually all Armenian TV and radio stations.
Mijatovic added her voice to their concerns when she visited Yerevan late last month. Her office presented the authorities with a long list of recommendations related to the amendments.
Government officials assured critics that the bill will undergo significant changes when the National Assembly approved it in the first reading on May 20. They subsequently claimed to have accepted most of the recommendations made by OSCE experts and local media groups.
Mijatovic stressed on Tuesday that the final version of the bill passed by the Armenian parliament on Thursday “fails to promote broadcast pluralism in the digital era.” She pointed to provisions reducing the number of broadcast channels, making all forms of broadcasting subject to state licensing and setting what she sees as ambiguous procedures for the establishment of private TV and radio channels.
The OSCE official also objected to “a lack of clear rules for the licensing of satellite, mobile telephone and online broadcasting.” The newly amended law also empowers Armenian courts to terminate broadcast licenses on the basis of its clauses containing “undue limitations on freedom of the media,” she added.
The government pushed the amendments through the parliament dominated by President Serzh Sarkisian’s loyalists despite what appeared to be concern expressed by the European Union. In a June 10 statement issued on behalf of Yerevan-based EU ambassadors, the EU Delegation in Armenia urged the government to bring them “further in line with international standards to enhance plurality in the Armenian media.”
The EU has not yet reacted to the bill’s final passage later on June 10.