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Armenian Independent TV Station Uncertain About Future

GALA TV in trouble?

GALA TV in trouble?

YEREVAN -- The owner of an independent Armenian television station has predicted that the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian will try to take it off the air in the next few years, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Vahan Khachatrian, the owner of the GALA TV channel based in the northern city of Gyumri, was skeptical on July 22 about his station's chances of winning a new license in one of the nationwide tenders to be held by the National Commission on Television and Radio (HRAH) later this year.

"I think the presidential administration will do everything to bar our TV company from the airwaves," he told RFE/RL.

The HRAH put virtually all television and radio frequencies in Armenia up for grabs this week as part of the ongoing transition to mandatory digital broadcasting. The tenders for those frequencies will be held under controversial legal amendments that the government pushed through parliament last month.

One of the amendments to the Armenian law on broadcasting stipulates that after 2015 there can only be one television channel in each of the 10 provinces outside Yerevan. There are presently four stations operating in the northwestern Shirak region, of which Gyumri is the capital. All of them except GALA are known to be loyal to the government.

GALA has been at loggerheads with authorities ever since it broke ranks in September 2007 to provide airtime to opposition leader and former President Levon Ter-Petrossian. It has since been the sole television channel that regularly airs criticism of the government.

HRAH Chairman Grigor Amalian told RFE/RL on July 22 that the dispute will not reflect negatively on GALA's chances in the upcoming bidding. "The commission has not issued any reprimands to the GALA company," he said.

Meanwhile A1+, a Yerevan-based TV station controversially taken off the air eight years ago, is also planning to compete for one of the tenders, although it has little hope of success. Its owner and Executive Director Mesrop Movsesian predicted last week that A1+ will not be allowed by authorities to resume broadcasts anytime soon.