Armenia: Radio Liberty To Remain On Air

Gayane Abrahamyan

EurasiaNet, NY
Aug 6 2007

A new agreement signed between the US Broadcasting Board of
Governors and an Armenian private radio company will allow Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty to continue broadcasting in Armenia.

The new contract, signed July 31 with the privately owned AR Radio
Intercontinental, will be in force from August 15, 2007 until September
14, 2008. AR Radio Intercontinental claims 80 percent coverage in
Armenia. The station, ironically, belongs to the executive director
of Armenian Public Radio, Armen Amirian. Its programming primarily
consists of re-transmissions of public radio’s Radio Yerevan programs.

Alexan Harutiunian, chairman of Armenia’s Public Television and Radio
Council, told EurasiaNet that the deal was envisaged as a next-best
option to a contract with the US government-funded broadcaster
that would have allowed RFE/RL to continue transmitting in Armenia
via public airwaves. Radio Liberty’s broadcasts on Public Radio are
slotted to end August 9, due to the failure of contract talks in late
July. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

AR Radio will reduce the time for public radio programs by two hours
and five minutes per day to make room for re-broadcasts of Radio
Liberty programs, Harutiunian said. The broadcast fee to be paid
under the contract was not immediately available.

The broadcast reach for RFE/RL, known within Armenia as Radio Liberty,
will be considerably reduced under the new arrangement – a detail
that some critics argue was the government’s goal. "The fewer people
listen to Liberty’s programs, the less they will be informed about
what’s going on in the republic," commented Yerevan Press Club Chairman
Boris Navasardian. "This is one of the few media in Armenia that says
what the authorities want to conceal."

RFE/RL Armenian Service’s Prague Bureau Director Harry Tamrazian
told EurasiaNet that the station cannot yet predict the size of the
decrease in audience, though stated that a decrease is expected.

Public Radio has three times as many transmitters in Armenia as AR
Radio, he said. An RFE/RL press release put the number of AR Radio
transmitters at 23, and stated that they "cover Yerevan and a number
of outlying districts."

In the August 1 announcement to announce the deal, RFE/RL President
and Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Gedmin indicated that the station’s
sights are still on Armenia’s national public radio. "We remain deeply
committed to nationwide coverage of Armenia," Gedmin said.

Opposition parliamentarian Larisa Alaverdian, a former ombudswoman
of Armenia, sees the new contract as a sign that limitations on
freedom of speech are simply becoming more sophisticated. "They have
even taken care of the timing so that there is as little noise as
possible: August is the time when the majority of the media are on
vacation as are the human rights and civic activist organizations,"
said Alaverdian, a member of the Heritage Party faction.

Despite numerous attempts, pro-government parliamentarians and
government representatives involved with the Radio Liberty issue could
not be reached for comment. Despite the signing of a new broadcast
contract for Radio Liberty, some government critics believe the
station’s difficulties are not over yet. They suggest that fresh
legislation could be introduced to block Radio Liberty’s broadcasts
when parliament reconvenes in September. Said Shavarsh Kocharian,
head of the opposition National Democratic Party and a former member
of parliament: "New adventures are still ahead."

Editor’s Note: Gayane Abrahamyan is a reporter for the online weekly
ArmeniaNow in Yerevan.