The RA Law “On Television and Radio” is the one most amended legislative act related to the media. Since it was adopted in 2000 it has been amended 29 times: 13 times by the year 2010 and then 16 more times following the drastic change of the digitalisation legislation. All of these processes aimed at resolution of certain issues of the moment but not at fundamental reform.
‘The law in general has a number of gaps. We have the 2020 licencing tenders pending and if the law is not amended, they will be held by the same rules as in 2010, which means final degradation of the field,’ Boris Navasardyan, President of Yerevan Press Club notes.
Tigran Hakobyan, Chairman of the Television and Radio Commission also admits that the law has imperfections but he also believes that even if perfect amendments are made to the law to reflect our current demands, the circumstances of the state, the development of our civic institutions and the technologies, in two years the law may again become outdated both morally and conceptually.
Nouneh Sarkissian, Executive Director of Media Initiatives Center underlines the need for introducing completely new approaches in line with the demands of the time.
What were the consequences of the legislative shortcomings after all?
- It was not possible to create a private multiplex;
- 10 TV companies were not involved in the process of digitalisation in regions;
- The licencing procedure is outdated and problematic;
- The problem of ownership and transparent funding of the broadcasters has not yet been resolved.
This leads to dozens of other serious problems.
The analogue-digital transfer process was the most problematic in Armenia. Some television companies suffered financial problems due to imperfection of the law.
David Hakobyan, the Executive Director of “Yerkir Media” TV companies remembers: ‘After we had applied for the announced digital broadcasting frequency tender, we did not have digital broadcasting for almost seven years. Nevertheless we kept paying all the state fees, which were foreseen for digital broadcasting in 2010-2016. In other words, we paid 20 million AMD as state fees in the course of 6 years’.
The main goal of the amendments made in 2015 was to ensure the entry of a private digital network – the multiplex – into the sphere of broadcasting. However, the only player in the field was the state multiplex – the public broadcasting digital network, which concentrates the 37 television companies broadcasting in the capital and regions.
‘At present, the absence of a private multiplex obstructs the birth of new television companies and is a restriction for those that for some reason, sometimes unfairly, failed to win the tender,’ Tigran Hakobyan, President of the TRC notes. ‘I can assume that the reason for this was the desire to preserve the monopoly of the public multiplex so that new television companies did not enter the media market.’
Nouneh Sarkissian highlights one of the expert approaches: ‘We want to recommend that opportunities are created for small multiplexes, which will enable regional television companies not only to produce content but also to be able to impart this content, i.e. also assume the role of a multiplex having a multiplex licence.’
Due to ungrounded legislative restrictions, partisan and unfair tenders, subjective and biased decisions-making and implementation, around 10 local broadcasters were excluded from the process of digitalisation. ‘Either we need to find channels and instruments for them to be able to broadcast digitally or they will not exist at all,’ Tigran Hakobyan, Chairman of the TRC says. He believes that not all of them deserve broadcasting though. ‘I am really grateful to non-governmental organisations that invested efforts in preserving these television companies in the analogue domain. However, only 4-5 out of these 10 can be considered television companies in the classical sense of the word, the rest, with all my apologies. are not …’
The experts in the field also believe that the current system of licencing of television companies is outdated. In this age of digitalisation when the technologies are so advanced, the complicated and practically subjective tenders must be replaced by simpler procedures. Three media organisations – The Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, the Media Initiatives Center and Yerevan Press Club are in the process of drafting recommendations along these lines.
‘When you limit the right of other players to find technical possibilities and provide access to their audiences, you simply breach the principles of freedom of speech, freedom of the media and this can never be in line with the international standards,’ Boris Navasardyan, President of Yerevan Press Club says.
‘Do we have to licence those who bring content or those who impart content?’ Nouneh Sarkissian reiterates one of the most discussed issues. ‘We recommend that only the one imparting content, i.e. the multiplex be licenced. Therefore, in the classical sense we remove them from the field of licencing.’
The Law “On Television and Radio” must also bring clarity to the issues of ownership and funding of television companies.
Tigran Hakobyan, Chairman of the TRC believes it is important that the people know who the founders of the broadcasters are: ‘The current law does not completely open the names and family names of those founders… There is a barrier for political parties to found television companies but this barrier is easily circumvented. It must be clear to citizens that this is the ideological platform of this or that political party to be able to treat the content offered by these channels more critically.’
Boris Navasardyan, President of YPC makes the following comparison: ‘A buyer needs to have clear information on whether this or that food product has GMO or not, whether it contains chemicals that may be harmful to health. If a person does not have this information, s/he cannot be a literate and informed consumer. And as long as the activities of television companies have huge influence on the mental and psychological health of the people, they also need to show what they are made of, who makes them, who commissions their content, who funds them for the people to know the extent to which they can trust those companies. In other words, this principle is not our desire, although it is, but also an international standard which cannot be questioned. I can see that lately the media started to complain that this would be a pressure on the right to freedom of speech but this is an international obligation for Armenia.’
The established expert group is currently drafting the new Law “On Television and Radio”, which will be circulated and submitted to the parliament in the nearest future.