The audit of radiofrequency intended for broadcasting turned out to be a pacifier

Upon the query, the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression received a reply from the RA Ministry of Economy with the report on the results of radiofrequency audit conducted in Armenia by the Canadian Company “Aerosystems International.” Only one and a half out of 141 pages of the report refer to the broadcasting sphere, and there are no answers to the main questions the public is curious about. Particularly, how many frequencies are intended for TV and radio broadcasting, which of them are occupied and which of them are free?

It is at least the third year that these questions have been of great interest to the journalistic organizations. The reason for this was the report of an expert from the Council of Europe, Alec Thomas, during the parliamentary hearings on “The process of digitalization of TV and Radio broadcasting and the prospects for its implementation in Armenia.” He particularly mentioned in his report that there are unused frequencies in Yerevan, and suggested conducting audit. Consequently, the statements of the officials that broadcast licensing competitions were not announced because of the lack of free frequencies were untrue. However, the statement of the Council of Europe expert served as a justification and basis for several journalistic organizations of the country to form an opinion that tenders for distribution of frequencies no longer take place, first of all, to maintain the existing situation in a totally controlled broadcasting field, and not to involve new “players.”

Nevertheless, in connection with the transition from analog to digital broadcasting an audit of radio frequencies was organized. However, its results remained unavailable for quite a long period both for local and international society.

In particular, in 2010 the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression (CPFE) twice sent official queries to Nerses Yeritsyan, the Chairman of the Interdepartmental Commission on implementation of digital TV and Radio broadcasting in the territory of Armenia, RA Minister of Economy, with the request to provide the radio frequencies audit results. In the first case we received an answer, according to which the draft of the final report on the audit was being discussed and after sum up of the results it would be presented to all the interested parties. It was written in the second answer that the Armenian side rejected the document and returned it for revision.

After more than a year, the CPFE sent a new query to the RA Ministry of Economy. For this time, together with the response letter signed by the current Minister of Economy, Tigran Davtyan, we received a 141-page report on the audit of radio frequencies. As it was already mentioned, only one and a half pages of the report refer to the broadcasting sphere, and actually this part of the document contains nothing new, only some well-known information, or rather a short overview of a doubtful quality. The report does not show the objective situation with the broadcasting sphere, its capacities and unused resources.

Thus, in a small paragraph concerning broadcasting, it is only written that “the television is the leading media in Armenia, upon which 90% Armenian citizens rely (underlined by the CPFE) for news and entertainment, that Armenia has a mix of public and private TV stations, the majority of which is based in Yerevan”; the top three TV stations and the list of regional TV stations are introduced. It is also mentioned that “the transmission of TV signals in rural and remote areas are carried out mainly by Armenia Public TV and are relayed to all most parts of the country through repeaters.” Nothing else!

Apparently it was quite clear for the authors of the report that this part of the document is too incomplete, so they noted in the end of the chapter: “Obtaining data on the total number of licenses, frequencies assigned, and spectrum allocation to various services and how much spectrum is utilized within a given allocation or assignment is difficult in the absence on up to date automated data.”

It’s a remark very much to the point. This means that there is no account and control in the broadcasting sphere of Armenia if the auditors did not manage to collect such elementary information, or the Canadian company was simply not provided of those data. In any case, the fact that the report was being discussed for several months, and later was returned for revision (quite a strange action from the aspect of the conduction of an independent audit, isn’t it?), causes serious doubts concerning the sincerity of the intentions to receive the objective picture of the broadcasting sphere.

But if it is so, why it was necessary to conduct the audit? Had it an aim to please the international organizations? Or was its aim to imitate a demonstrative transition from analog to digital broadcasting? It may have been necessary to create additional arguments and to refer to them in case of necessity realizing the digitalization scenario developed in advance. Most likely, all this assumptions together or separately are quite relevant. It’s obvious now that, when in 2010, during the discussion of the draft law “On Television and Radio,” Nerses Yeritsyan stated that the decisions on technical issues of transition to digital broadcasting had been made with consideration of the audit results, did not correspond to reality. There are two simple reasons for that: firstly, the audit was not finished yet at that moment, secondly, the report based on the results of the audit does not contain enough information for making responsible decisions.

Ashot Melikyan,

Chairman of the CPFE

P.S. Below we present to your attention the scanned pages of the report concerning the broadcasting sphere.