Several NGO’s have submitted a new draft law “On Television and Radio” to the National Assembly. It contains a number of key issues and the adoption of the principles of this law may pose a major threat to the existence of free speech and the further operation of television companies in Armenia.
First of all, the urgency of law-making by some NGO’s without the involvement of the representatives of the TV sector and the public demand is incomprehensible. During this tense period of time, when the country is waiting for economic revolution, anti-corruption strategy and legal system reform packages, wasting National Assembly resources on the law “On TV and radio” is impermissible both for TV consumers, viewers and product makers especially when the former was able to secure the activity of the sector.
According to the new law, Public Television with its five channels is only allowed to use public multiplexer; leaving private television companies with cable sector and possible private multiplexers only which may be established in accordance with the requirements of this law. When the process of media liberalization is taking place all over the world, the tendency of NGO’s to provide incomparable benefits to state-owned and state-controlled media is strange. This will not only question the competitiveness of private TV companies, but may also lead to the abolishment of this business. Public multiplex is the most powerful means of communication used by 65-70% of viewers.
As far as the private multiplexer (s) is concerned, their existence is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it is extremely expensive; requires billions of investments, and very few will undertake such a risky business in Armenia, and thus the emergence of private television companies in any multiplex is under doubt.
Moreover, the business of a private multiplexer becomes a pure business and a technical activity, while the right to give them license is granted to the Commission on Television and Radio, which, according to the same bill, is made up of well-known journalists and artists, respectable people, who only must have indistinct visions of business and technical issues that they have to make decisions about. There is a serious danger here that the members of the Commission on Television and Radio will make decisions, not within their competence, but under the influence of foreign opinions and state levers.
The draft law is made in a poor legal language, with a number of imperfections, including transitional ones, which may simply make a mess in the sphere of the telecommunications industry.
It is troubling to see this law restricting freedom of the press by organizations that have been receiving foreign funds for years stating that they protect the freedom of speech. It is not excluded that this law has also been drafted with European funding.
We consider this bill simply unacceptable. If there is a real necessity to adopt a new law “On Television and Radio” (this necessity still should be substantiated by the way), then we demand that this draft is developed with the involvement of professionals of the relevant field and beneficiaries.
We urge the interested citizens, political forces, and international organizations to raise their voices against this blatant attempt to restrict people’s right to receive information.