(Prague/Washington--October 19, 2004) RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine today sent a letter to Armenian President Robert Kocharian, denouncing the "Soviet-style" cancellation of the new RFE/RL Armenian Service news and analysis program, "Azatutiun" by the private Armenian television station Kentron. Dine urges President Kocharian "to denounce this contemptible Soviet-style act, and to help return "Azatutiun" to the air."
In his letter, Dine asserts that he is "determined to get "Azatutiun" back on the air and will make every effort to make that happen--including raising this issue with the Bush Administration, the U.S. Congress, the Council of Europe, and non-governmental organizations worldwide."
"Azatutiun," 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, three days after it debuted to rave reviews on Kentron. 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 suspension of the "Azatutiun" program has been widely covered in the Armenian press. On October 14, "Aravot" daily alleged 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. Harutiunian, in an interview published by "Aravot" on October 15, denied any involvement in the suspension of "Azatutiun". In his letter to President Kocharian, however, Dine states that he has been "personally informed that this cancellation was the result of pressure from a high-level Armenian government official."
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.