YEREVAN -- The Armenian parliament has passed in the second and final reading a controversial bill which local press freedom groups say will fail to end strong government influence on the country's broadcast media, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
The final version of the amendments to the Armenian law on television and radio, adopted late on June 10, contains the most important of the provisions criticized by local media associations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In a joint statement issued earlier in the day, the Yerevan-based ambassadors of the leading European Union member states urged the Armenian government not to put the amendments to a final vote for now.
"The EU Heads of Mission encourage the government and legislators to continue working closely with civil society, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE experts with a view to bring the law further in line with international standards to enhance plurality in the Armenian media and to promote media freedom," the statement reads.
However, the National Assembly dominated by pro-government lawmakers adopted the bill at a late-night emergency session. Only 13 deputies of the 131-member assembly, mainly representing the opposition Dashnaktsutyun and Zharangutyun parties, voted against it.
The proposed amendments are meant to regulate Armenia's ongoing transition to mandatory digital broadcasting, which is due to be completed by July 2013. Media watchdogs and opposition groups say the authorities have initiated the process to prolong their de facto control over virtually all Armenian TV and radio stations.
Government officials assured critics that the bill would undergo significant changes before its final passage as they pushed it through parliament in the first reading on May 20. They subsequently claimed to have accepted most of the recommendations made by OSCE experts and local watchdogs.
However, the government continued to insist on keeping a clause that would reduce the number of TV and radio stations operating in Armenia and likely complicate the emergence of new independent broadcasters. It also refused to drop another amendment that allows the National Commission on Television and Radio not to explain its decisions to grant or revoke broadcasting licenses.
Some observers believe the amendments were intended partly to prevent a resumption of broadcasting by the independent TV channel A1+, which was taken off the air in 2002.
But Mesrop Movsesian, the owner of A1+, told RFE/RL today he still optimistic. He said he plans to participate in a tender next month for a new broadcasting license. He said A1+ will also launch news broadcasts through the Internet, probably later this month.