With the initiative of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech, Journalists representing more then ten national newspapers, as well as Radio Liberty and Hetq Online newspaper visited the Gyumri based GALA TV, which has come under growing political and economic pressures from various State agancies after broadcasting the address of Armenia’s First President Levon Ter-Petrossian at the opposition rally staged on October 26, 2007 on the Freedom Square in front of the Opera House in Yerevan.
The founder and owner of GALA TV Vahan Khachatryan informed the journalists, that the tax officers have not been able to find anything wrong with the accounting records of the TV which has existed only two years so far. However, the impacts of state pressures against the TV company are already felt: “They have been ‘asking’ all the companies advertising on our channel to stop advertising with us. Of 27 companies working with us only 3 are left at the moment, and we expect them to quit working with us in the course of next two-three days” Vahan Khachatryan told us. “Soon we won’t have advertisement left. Instead, we will broadcast articles from the Republic of Armenia’s Constitution during the slots allocated for advertisement”.
He wasn’t sure who is exactly after him: State Security Service, or the 6th department, Tax Service, President’s office, or perhaps all of them jountly. However, the messages received in various forms from various officials has been clear: if GALA TV continues its policy of covering all political forces in the country objectively and reports information related to Nikol Pashinyan (editor of “Haykakan Zhamanak” newspaper, leader of anti-government “Aylyntranq” movement) and First President of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrossian, they will make sure, that Vahan Khachatryan loses all his businesses in Gyumri and leaves the country. The owner of GALA TV was sure, that the mentioned agencies will make something up – but, he seemed firm on his principles and prepared to fight back.
Vahan Khachatryan, Owner of GALA TV, Gyumri, Republic of Armenia © Artur Papyan / The Armenian Observer Blog 2007
This visit of the journalists from the capital was perceived as an act of moral support and solidarity by the staff of GALA TV, and indeed, I felt a sudden twist of pride and sense of the power of media (small as it was in this case), when the tax officers entered the TV company for their third day of inspections which started on 29th October, and found Vahan Khachatryan surrounded by journalists from the capital. Two of the officers literally ran away from the camera, while the third – Gagik Ohanyan, head of the First Department of State Taxation Service, Operative Intellignece Agency, faced the microphones and cameras to say, that this is a routine checkup and has nothing to do with politics.
The work of the journalists continued in the office of Shirak governor – Lida Nanyan, and then on to the streets of Gyumri, asking the people – what they thought of the developments around GALA TV.
Today, as I’m writing these lines A1plus and Azg have already published articles online about the visit. The rest will come on Monday, I suppose. However, it is clear to me, that Vahan Khachatryan and GALA TV are going down, and when the State machine is at work, no amount of reporting on the newspapers can change the fate of this little TV company with its clumsy studio and mediocre quality, but OBJECTIVE reporting. And it really hearts my heart to watch this process. And I’m also sad to see, that neither Public TV of Armenia, nor even Gyumri based Tsayg, Shirak or Shat TV companies are mentioning the State pressures their collegues at GALA TV are facing. But I’m sure they envy GALA for their determination and decision to stand up and fight for their freedom.
News Studio, GALA TV, Gyumri, Republic of Armenia © Artur Papyan / The Armenian Observer Blog 2007