The new bill "On Television and Radio" — submitted to the National Assembly of Armenia — contains several key issues, and adoption of this bill may pose a threat to freedom of speech and the future operation of television companies in Armenia. This is stated in the statement issued by Media Advocate initiative.
The complete text of the statement reads as follows:
“A couple of non-governmental organizations have submitted to the National Assembly a new bill "On Television and Radio", which contains several key issues, and adoption of this bill may pose a great threat to freedom of speech and the future operation of television companies in Armenia.
First and foremost, what is not clear is why these non-governmental organizations are rushing to develop this law without the engagement of representatives of television companies and public demand. Both television viewers and those creating television shows believe wasting the resources of the National Assembly on a new law "On Television and Radio" is inadmissible in a period when there are bills on the economic revolution, the anti-corruption strategy and the reforms in the legal system and in the case when it was possible to ensure operation with the previous law.
By the new law, only the public television company shall be granted the right to benefit from a public multiplexor with its 5 channels, leaving private television companies with just cable and the assumed private multiplexors that may be established in accordance with the requirements of this law. At a time when media outlets around the world are being liberalized, what is strange is the tendency of the non-governmental organizations to provide incomparable advantages to government-funded media outlets under state control. This will not only jeopardize the competitiveness of private television companies, but may also lead to the elimination of this business. A public multiplex is the most powerful means of communication that 65-70% of television viewers benefit from.
As far as the private multiplexor(s) is(are) concerned, their existence if problematic for several reasons. First, it is extremely expensive and requires billions of dollars in investments, and very few people in Armenia will start such a risky business in Armenia; moreover, the emergence of private television companies in the multiplexor is doubtful.
What’s more, the operation of a private multiplexor will become merely a business and technical operation, while the right to issue a license to them is granted to the National Commission on Television and Radio which, by this bill, is composed of well-known journalists and artists and estimable people, who should have a certain picture of business and technical issues on which they have to make decisions. Here the big risk is that the members of the Commission might make decisions under the influence of other people’s opinions and state levers, not within the scope of their competence.
The legalese of the bill is weak, several provisions are imperfect, including the transitional provisions which may simply mislead television companies.
What is troubling is the presentation of this law restricting freedom of press by organizations that, through funding from foreign countries, have declared that they deal with protection of freedom of speech for years. This law might have also been developed through funding from Europe.
We believe this bill is fundamentally unacceptable. If there is a real need to adopt a new law "On Television and Radio" (and that need has yet to be substantiated), we demand developing the bill through the engagement of field specialists and beneficiaries.
We call on interested citizens, political parties and international organizations to speak out against this crude attempt to restrict their right to receive news.”