Six years after it was effectively removed from the airwaves, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has finally ruled in favor of the A1 Plus TV Station. Known for its criticism of the authorities, A1 Plus failed to win a tender for its own broadcasting frequency in April 2002. The disappearance of the station from television screens was seen as politically motivated as the country entered the period leading up to the disputed 2003 presidential election.
Demonstration in support of A1 Plus in 2002 after it was taken off the air, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia
The loss of the TV station saw the main medium for the dissemination of news to the population totally controlled by economic or political forces close to the authorities. And despite subsequent tenders and calls from international bodies such as the Council of Europe as well as local civil society to allow the station to resume broadcasting, it still remains off the air.
A1 Plus Director Mesrop Movsesyan confronted by police during a 2007 protest action to mark the fifth anniversary of the station being taken off the airwaves, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia
The Armenian Observer reports on the ruling by the European Court.
I just heard the best news for the Freedom of Speech in Armenia in the course of the past 7 years! A1plus has won the case against the RA Government in the European Court of Human Rights.
The Armenian authorities will have to pay EUR 30,000 to A1plus – which is of course very little, but what is more important, is the precedent. Admittedly, the Armenian government has been loosing case after case in the European Court of Human Rights in the recent months. […]
Unzipped congratulates A1 Plus on its belated victory, but also notes that the ruling does not mean that the station will resume broadcasting. However, the blogger thinks, it does increase pressure on the government to allow it back.
Congratulations to A1+ TV company, its journalists, anyone who cares about media freedom in Armenia, and anyone who wants to see Armenia a better place to live.
This decision does not mean that A1+ will have to get back on the air, i.e. it does not oblige government to do so. […]
From now on, the legality of depriving A1+ its broadcasting rights is no longer there, on a formal, European level. Of course, Armenian authorities may wish to downplay it, limiting their liabilities to paying 30 000 euro to A1+ for damages and expenses (as stated in a Court decision). But they can no longer ignore it.
Demonstration in support of A1 Plus in 2004
Nazarian, however, is less than convinced.
In practice, this means very little for the rights of the Armenian citizens. It simply means that the Armenian government can suppress free speech for one easy payment of 30,000 Euros.
Who thinks that the Armenian government will fix the problem rather than put a small amount aside to pay people after suppressing their free speech?
Blogrel also offers its opinion on the matter.
It is unclear what this will behold for the tv company itself, but this gives strong weight A1plus’ long established view that they were effectively forced off the air for political reasons, pro government sources claim their tender bids were not of a high enough standard to compete.
Considering today we have one tv channel owned by a businessman who sits and talks to you all day about how great he is, one channel that seems to show nothing but adverts for cars in between an occasional Russian show, and one channel that does nothing but rebroadast another channel – I am unsure what A1plus’s tender proposal must have been.
Only a blank screen 24 hours a day could be worse – or perhaps better, these days?
Regardless, the embattled TV station has increasingly looked towards other mediums to continue its work. In May last year, for example, A1 Plus set up its own blog and during the recent state of emergency following the disputed February presidential election, its YouTube Channel was one of the most popular.
Incidentally, there is an interview from April 2002 with the station's Director, Mesrop Movsesyan, conducted by myself on the day following the decision which saw A1 Plus stop broadcasting here.
A1 Plus Director Mesrop Movsesyan after the European Court Ruling yesterday, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia
Photos: © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2002-8