(Prague/Washington--October 15, 2004) A new television program created by and featuring news and analysis from RFE/RL's Armenian Service, was abruptly pulled from the schedule of the local Armenian television station "Kentron" on October 13, according to service director Hrair Tamrazian. Although the television station's management has made no comment on the decision, it is widely suspected that Kentron was pressured to suspend further broadcasts of the program, either by official interests or local media competitors.
The television show, a 30-minute long analytical program called "Azatutiun" (Liberty), debuted to rave reviews on Kentron Sunday, October 10 and was rebroadcast by Kentron the next day, October 11. Two days later, Tamrazian was informed by Kentron director Petros Ghazarian that the show would be "indefinitely suspended." Kentron has not commented on the reasons behind his station's decision.
Tamrazian said, "I am very disappointed that, after tireless efforts by RFE/RL and Kentron that resulted in a very successful TV show, it was suspended for as yet unknown reasons. I call on the authorities to investigate this matter and hope that Kentron and RFE/RL will continue in a joint project that was eagerly awaited by many viewers and listeners in Armenia."
Many viewers called the Armenian Service after the show, to express their appreciation for the program. Viewers said that the program was a "breakthrough" for Armenian television, because of RFE/RL's objectivity, as well as for featuring a new format with two moderators (male and female) and the show's ability to "connect" with its audience. The first show featured an exclusive report from Strasbourg on recent debate about Armenia in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), as well as exclusive interviews about Armenian-Turkish relations with Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and new U.S. Ambassador John M. Evans.
Viewer enthusiasm, however, was tempered with suspicion that the show may not remain on the air for long. Said one caller, a teacher: "My neighbors and I would only love to watch Radio Liberty programs on TV. But will the authorities agree to that? They kicked out A1+. Will they let you go on TV?"
The suspension of the "Azatutiun" program was widely covered in the Armenian press on October 14. According to the daily newspaper "Haykakan Zhamanak," "Last Sunday Kentron viewers watched the televised version of Radio Liberty, but their joy did not last long because Kentron management decided to limit liberty on its air."
"Aravot" daily reported on its front page that "Azatutiun" had been "closed." The paper went on to allege that the head of Armenian state television and radio, Aleksan Harutiunian, was instrumental in the ban because he wanted RFE/RL to lease airtime from his channel and pay for that. But, "Aravot" writes, it also did not rule out political motives behind the move, noting that it could be that "the authorities still do not tolerate any uncontrolled programs on the air." Harutiunian, in an interview published in today's edition of "Aravot," denied any involvement in the suspension of "Azatutiun".
RFE/RL's Armenian Service broadcasts four hours of programming a day to Armenia, produced in Prague and the service's Yerevan Bureau and transmitted to listeners via shortwave, satellite and FM, AM, Cable Radio, UKV and longwave signals provided by local affiliate stations. Armenian Service programming is also available via the Internet, at the service's website www.armenialiberty.org
and at www.rferl.org