International organizations have criticized controversial Armenian legislation that media freedom groups say will allow the government to retain its control over Armenia's broadcast media, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Dunja Mijatovic, the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's representative on media freedom, released a critical statement about the final version of the bill on June 15. She said the Armenian government has ignored "crucial" recommendations from the OSCE and civil society in enacting the package of amendments to a broadcasting law.
The New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) also came out against the legislation. In a letter on June 15 to Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, HRW expressed "its concern regarding the negative impact on media pluralism [the legislation is] likely to have."
The proposed amendments are meant to regulate the ongoing transition to mandatory digital broadcasting, which is due to be completed in 2013. Local media watchdogs and opposition groups say the authorities have initiated the process to extend their influence on virtually all the country's television and radio stations.
The OSCE's Mijatovic had expressed her concerns about the bill when she visited Yerevan late last month. Her office presented the authorities with a long list of recommendations related to the amendments.
Government officials assured critics the bill would be significantly changed when the National Assembly approved it on first reading on May 20. They subsequently claimed to have accepted most of the recommendations made by OSCE experts and local media groups.
Mijatovic said the final version of the bill passed by parliament last week "fails to promote broadcast pluralism in the digital era." She pointed to
provisions reducing the number of channels, making all forms of broadcasting subject to state licensing, and setting what she says are "ambiguous procedures" for establishing private TV and radio stations.
Critics also say the new bill may prevent the embattled independent TV channel A1+ from regaining a broadcast license. A1+ was closed just before the presidential election in 2002. It is actively seeking to obtain a license so it can resume broadcasting.
The government pushed the bill through the parliament dominated by Sarkisian's loyalists despite apparent concern expressed by the European Union. In a June 10 statement issued on behalf of Yerevan-based EU ambassadors, the EU Delegation in Armenia urged the government to bring the legislation "further in line with international standards to enhance plurality in the Armenian media."
The EU has not yet reacted to the bill's final passage later on June 10. The bill needs to be signed by the president to become law.