Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, with the assistance of Friedrich Ebert Foundation, organized a round-table meeting on the topic “Developments and Challenges to Transition from Analogue to Digital Broadcasting in Armenia” on July 30 at the Congress Yerevan Hotel.
The chairman of CPFE Ashot Melikyan opened the discussion with a brief on the recent legislative amendments relating to the process: on June 23 the National Assembly adopted the draft law on amendments to the RA Law on Television and Radio according to which the deadline for transition from analogue to digital television has been postponed till 1 January 2016. The speaker reminded that three journalist organizations – Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, Yerevan Press Club and Media Initiatives Center – had developed a package on the legal framework of broadcasting which was submitted to the NA National Assembly Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs in November. This large document running on 23 pages suggested solutions to the issues existing in this sphere. The key idea was the adoption of a simplified process of licensing which can result in fundamental changes.
The higher levels of authorities assured the journalist organizations that this voluminous package of suggestions would underlie the new draft law being developed by the RA government. However, a document consisting of several sentences was submitted to the National Assembly. “Instead of resolving the problems relating to broadcasting the authorities once again postponed the deadline of the digitalization process,” said Ashot Melikyan, CPFE Chairman.
Armenian Television and Radio Broadcasting Network CJSC has fulfilled its function. According to its deputy general manager Sahak Davtyan, as of June 30 the installation of 211 television stations required for digital television transition had been completed. Sahak Davtyan said the broadcasting network is entirely ready, the quality is excellent, there are no technical issues.
According to Ashot Melikyan, CPFE Chairman, the technical component is the only one of the three components of the process of digital switchover which has been completed. The other two components, the legislative and social ones, are still pending. According to the chairman of CPFE, five months are left but one cannot state confidently that on 1 January 2016 Armenia will entirely switch to digital television. The authorities have not started the acquisition and distribution of decoders for 150,000 underprivileged families, and the destiny of the legislative component remains vague.
Which government agency is responsible for the entire process, who is going to deal with the reform of the RA law on Television and Radio, which government agency is going to implement the import and distribution of free decoders to underprivileged families? A number of questions are still unanswered. “The entire process of transition from analogue to digital broadcasting demonstrated the lack of organization in our government,” Ashot Melikyan said.
Time will show how efficient the activities of the authorities will be in the upcoming five months. On the one hand, it is almost impossible to postpone the process again because there is an international commitment and failure to implement it in time will cause serious trouble and have a negative impact on the country’s rating. On the other hand, full transition to digital television is impossible without legislative amendments and solution of social issues. Furthermore, unless the Law on Television and Radio is changed, in the regions where several local TV companies operate, one TV company per region will remain, and the rest will close. This is what the notorious law prescribes. It contradicts the logic of digital broadcasting, as well as the current trends in the world.