Legislative Initiative to Shut Down Radio Liberty in Armenia

According to Yerevan Press Club expert Mesrop Harutyunyan the
proposed changes to “Law on State Duties ” and “Law on television and radio” are aimed specifically against the RFE / RL(am).
Not going into technical details on how exactly this is reflected in the proposed legislative changes, let us restate the words of the expert, that the Radio Liberty has been one of the best sources for information throughout the Parliamentary elections campaign for a wide range of audience, and such an initiative, which according to the Radio Liberty was put forward by President Kocharian, is undoubtedly related to the upcoming presidential elections in Armenia.
Check out today’s Aravot or RFE / RL(am) for more. The Podcast(am) included with this post is the radio clip from RFE / RL(am) morning report – in Armenian.

Artur Papyan

Journalist, blogger, digital security and media consultant


  1. […] Armenian Observer also has a post on what appears to be this unexpected attack on RFE/RL. Speaking as a journalist and also as […]

  2. […] Armenian Observer also has a post on what appears to be this unexpected attack on RFE/RL. Speaking as a journalist and also as […]

  3. Here’s some updates:

    Armenia Postpones Vote On Bill Limiting Foreign Media
    221 words
    27 June 2007
    Radio Free Europe Documents and Publications
    (c) 2007 Federal Information & News Dispatch, Inc.
    News Stories and Documents
    (RFE/RL) — A vote by Armenia’s parliament on a bill that would impose severe restrictions on foreign broadcast media has been postponed, RFE/RL’s Armenian Service reported.
    The decision to delay the vote until June 28 was made following objections by opposition parliamentarians, who said they had not had enough time to read the lengthy bill.
    Under the draft law, Armenian broadcasters would have to pay the equivalent of $205 in taxes for each aired program made by a foreign media organization.
    The bill would also bar all media outlets from broadcasting on frequencies used by the state-controlled Public Television and Radio Company.
    Some media observers have said that the measures are primarily aimed against RFE/RL, which broadcasts in Armenia via public and private affiliates and has a bureau in Yerevan.
    Azerbaijani Model?
    In neighboring Azerbaijan, the national independent TV and radio channel, ANS, was from the beginning of this year after authorities said it lacked the proper licenses.
    ANS, previously an RFE/RL affiliate on FM, had also aired programs of the BBC and Voice of America.
    Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. http://www.rferl.org [http://www.rferl.org]
    Document RFEUR00020070627e36r00036

  4. RFE / RL have already translated the original article in Armenian I referenced above into English, it’s here:

  5. More info on E-channel:

    For 5 months, the Public radio has been broadcasting the programs of Liberty radio station without any agreement. We learnt from Liberty that this February the management of the Public radio refused to sign a new agreement.
    2007-06-28 03:58
    Before that, based on the agreement, Liberty used to pay the Public radio an amount equal to 150.000 US dollars annually – about 28.000 dram for each program.
    According to the amendments to the law On State Dues offered by the government, the fee for each program will form 70.000 dram.
    If the changes are adopted, Liberty that has five daily programs will have to pay 350 thousand dram to a private radio station instead of the current 140 thousand dram.
    Broadcasting of the national services of the foreign media by the public television and radio company is completely banned, based on the expected amendments to the law On Television and Radio.
    The discussions at the National Assembly still go on. Deputy Zaruhi Postanjyan presenting Heritage suggested returning the law to the government for making more amendments.
    Hranush Hakobyan, the chair of the National Assembly standing commission on science and education, suggests decreasing the defined amount of state dues, which is 70 thousand dram.

  6. […] broadcasters in the country, is under increasing pressure from the government, report Oneworld and The Armenian Observer. Share […]

  7. Hi Observer,
    Are there any Action Alerts on the internet so that I can send a letter to Kocharyan or someone protesting this ridiculous legislation? If you know of any, could you post it on the blog?

  8. Updates from RFE / RL – legislative initiative passed in Parliament:

    Parliament Paves Way For Curbs On RFE/RL
    By Ruzanna Khachatrian, Karine Kalantarian and Ruzanna Stepanian
    The Armenian government pushed through parliament Friday a controversial bill that could lead to severely restrict RFE/RL’s broadcasts in Armenia and is seen by local opposition and civic groups as a serious blow to press freedom.
    The National Assembly voted by 79 to 16, with one abstention, to pass in the first of two readings the bill taking the form of two legal amendments. One of them would ban the state-controlled Armenian Public Television and Radio (HHHR) from retransmitting programs of foreign broadcasters.
    RFE/RL’s Armenian Service primarily relies on the HHHR’s radio frequencies to air its daily news programs across Armenia. Some of those programs are also aired by private radio stations mainly covering Yerevan and surrounding regions. Under another legal amendment tabled by the government, those stations would have to pay the hefty fees to the state for such retransmission.
    They will now have to pay more than $200 in taxes each time they retransmit a program produced by a foreign media organization. That is 70 times more than broadcasters must pay for a locally made program.
    The deputies who approved the bill are mainly affiliated with Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) and its junior coalition partners, the Prosperous Armenia Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). They are expected to pass it in the second, final reading early next week.
    Voting against were deputies representing the opposition Zharangutyun, Orinats Yerkir and Dashink parties as well as two independent lawmakers. The Zharangutyun and Orinats Yerkir factions condemned the bill during Thursday’s heated parliament debates, saying that it is aimed at muzzling what they call the only Armenian-language broadcaster not controlled by the government.
    Leaders of the pro-government majority insisted that the proposed legislation is not directed against RFE/RL. But they admitted that the multinational broadcasted funded by the U.S. Congress should not be able to use HHHR’s broadcasting frequency anymore. Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian also made this clear as he presented the bill to lawmakers on Thursday.
    “The Public Television and Radio must provide the state and citizen with information reflecting public interests and must not engage in this kind of entrepreneurial activity,” Danielian said. “Namely, ceding its radio frequency to any foreign TV or radio company.”
    Still, parliament speaker Tigran Torosian insisted on Friday that the changes do not apply to RFE/RL because it does not have a broadcasting license and can therefore not be deemed a “broadcaster.” He repeated his arguments at a meeting with Anthony Godfrey, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan who expressed serious concern at the possible end of RFE/RL broadcasts in Armenia.
    “I told the speaker that the United States is very proud of the work that Radio Liberty has done over its long history and that if such a law was directed against Radio Liberty, we would not understand how such a law would be in support of Armenia’s own goals of democratization,” Godfrey told reporters. He said Torosian “suggested that we study more closely the draft legislation.”
    Godfrey refused to be drawn on what the U.S. might do if the state-run and private radio stations refuse to retransmit RFE/RL Armenian service programs. I don’t take hypothetical questions,” he said. “But I did express our concern to the speaker and he was very open to hearing our concerns.”
    Meanwhile, leading Armenian media associations and other civic groups continued to voice alarm at the future of RFE/RL activities in the country. More than a dozen of them issued a joint statement shortly before the passage of the amendments.
    “The analysis of the bills submitted to the National Assembly demonstrates that they are primarily directed against Radio Liberty’s Armenian service, the only broadcast media outlet not controlled by the Armenian authorities, because their passage would effectively end re-broadcasts of that service’s programs on Armenian radio channels,” the statement said. It warned that the recently elected legislature risks turning itself into an “enemy of democracy and media freedom.”
    Among signatories of the statement were the Yerevan Press Club (YPC), the Armenian Helsinki Committee as well as the Armenian branches of international organizations like Transparency International and the Open Society Institute.
    “These are politically motivated bills sent from 26 Baghramian avenue,” YPC expert Mesrop Harutiunian charged, referring to the Yerevan address of President Robert Kocharian’s office.
    Condemnations also continued to pour in from opposition parties not represented in the parliament. Several of them plan to hold a joint rally in Yerevan next week to demand continued RFE/RL broadcasts.
    “This is a disgraceful development and we must fight against it,” said Aram Sarkisian of the radical Hanrapetutyun party. “The public must take to the street to fight for its right to receive information, which is what we will try to organize along with our opposition partners.”
    The People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) backed the initiative. “This affair must concern not only political forces,” HZhK leader Stepan Demirchian told RFE/RL. “The entire society must rise up to defend Radio Liberty.”
    The issue was also the main theme of a weekly rally held in the city’s Freedom Square on Friday by another opposition group, Aylentrank. Its outspoken leader, Nikol Pashinian, urged about 200 people attending it to gather in the same place on Saturday and Sunday evenings for a public listening of RFE/RL’s main Armenian-language news program. Pashinian said Aylentrank plans to stage more such protests in the course of next week.
    According to independent research, from 15 to 18 percent of the Armenian population over 15 years of age listens to RFE/RL’s Armenian service every week. Respondents rate the radio the first- or second-most popular station along with Armenian public radio.

  9. Tamar – I’m not aware of any such initiatives. My personal petition has been this post on this post, as well as joining the announcement of the Armenian Media NGOs spoken about in the RFE / RL article I’ve just posted in the comment above.
    I welcome any comments or letters concerning the issue posted here on this blog. You may also share your thoughts on Onnik Krikoryan’s post on the same issue where we have a discussion going on as well: http://oneworld.blogsome.com/2007/06/27/government-attack-on-rferls-armenia-service/

  10. Thanks 🙂
    keep up the good work

  11. […] from the airwaves in April 2002. There’s also some discussion going on in the blogosphere here and here. Posted by Onnik @ 2:58 pm. Filed under: Armenia, Democracy, Media, Freedom of Speech, […]

  12. I’ve just come back from a very interesting interview on Karabakh with Heritage’s Stepan Safarian. Anyway, afterwards we spoke about the RFE/RL issue and not least because Safarian is quite vocal in parliament as to the bill. Anyway, his opinion is pretty much what many people are concerned about.
    That is, this initiative is designed to take RFE/RL off the airwaves in a way that makes it seem that this is not a personal attack on the station by Kocharian. Obviously, it is believed that the initiative is timed as Armenia is about to enter the presidential pre-election period.
    Under what many people consider to be the scenario that will then play out, RFE/RL will be unable to broadcast nationwide on public radio. Some pressure will be applied on private radio stations not to take RFE/RL broadcasts although some limited reach stations might. According to Safarian, if this happens then this is significant enough to damage Armenia’s position with regards to MCA funding.
    Interestingly, there is also word that there is a personal side to this and not one just connected to the presidential election. Apparently, Jermuk is believed by some to be owned by Kocharian and the recent ban on the bottled medicinal mineral water in the US was some kind of warning sent to Armenia. This legislation is a tit-for-tat response from Kocharian back.
    Not sure how true any of that is and for sure I think limiting RFE/RL’s audience ahead of the presidential election is the main reason for the legislation, but anyway. Safarian will be presenting Heritage’s position on the bill on Monday and will also suggest the wording of the bill is changed.
    That is, as the legislation is based on the idea that public radio and TV is financed from the State budget, Heritage will suggest that RFE/RL can broadcast on public radio as long as it pays the money into the budget instead of to the station. Of course, it’s unlikely that such a change will be accepted and after waiting a few months, RFE/RL will effectively stop broadcasting and it will be hard pressed to find a station which will accept its broadcasts and which can reach the same audience.
    Hopefully, some brave private stations such as Radio Hye will work out a deal with RFE/RL, but I suppose significant pressure will be applied on them not to. Let’s see, but I don’t expect anything good to come from what in my opinion is the latest attack on media freedom in Armenia. Certainly, Safarian is convinced that it has everything to do with the presidential election in 9 months. Basically, he argues, many of those that take bribes in parliamentary elections are less likely to do so in what are considered more important presidential ones.
    On that basis alone, RFE/RL has always played an important role in broadcasting balanced coverage and it is for this reason that the president and government do not want them doing the same early next year when the stakes are the highest they’ve been in recent years. That is, the issue of succession to Kocharian when he has to step down.

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