The most recent history of Armenia needs to be quickly recapitulated as it provides the framework to understanding the state of the media. In 1992 a war started in the Karabakh region, the Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan. Armenia supported the Karabakhi people in their self-determination movement and became a party in the conflict. In response Azerbaijan blockaded the only operating transport connection between Armenia and the rest of the world. Turkey joined Azerbaijan in closing its borders from the west. Land locked, Armenia had to rely only on its other two neighbours, Georgia and Iran, with whom it did not have any transport infrastructures. In addition, environmentalists closed the only major energy resource of Armenia, the nuclear station. Moreover, most of the factories stopped due to the collapse of the over-integrated structure of soviet industry.
These unfortunate developments drove the country into terrifying economic crises leaving the nation without almost any recourse for survival and development. For more than three years the people of Armenia faced a limited supply of electricity as well as in a deficit in food and other products.
Poverty, war, injured and dead soldiers, enormous number of refugees, paralysed industry and economy, collapse of social and moral values, legal chaos, shortage of food and medical care, huge emigration - these are the main attributes of the new Armenian State of the early 1990s. One could add to this miserable picture only the deficit of information and entertainment, which is what the media of 1992-1994 was trying to provide to the Armenian population.
The Media landscape of Armenia was more than simple: There were two national TV broadcasters. The 1st State Channel was on air only three hours a day and the 2nd State Channel was repeating the programmes of the former. Besides two national channels a further two Russian channels were each broadcasting three hours. The radio broadcasting was twice as large but also only by state-owned. The main source for information was the print media, which reduced its of circulation and the number of outlets more than a hundred times due to the shortage of paper, fuel and other means of distribution and production.
The second era of the post-Soviet history of Armenia was more optimistic and promising. Since 1994 the geopolitical situation started to improve. The Karabakh conflict was not solved, but a ceased fire stopped the human losses from both sides. Armenia built roads and infrastructures with Georgia and Iran. Foreign aid and loans helped to rehabilitate part of the industry. The post-Soviet government gained some experience during 1991-1994 and started functioning in a more organised way. The Nuclear Station was reopened and the energy crisis was overcome. The Media landscape started to enlarge.
In 1995, in addition to one state and two Russian TV broadcasters four TV companies ("A1+", "Shant", "Tsaig", "Interkap") and soon after another five private TV companies ("Mair Hairenik", "Ar", "Aig", "Armenia" "Dar 21") started operation. All private broadcasters were local and none of them had national coverage. Five of those were broadcasting in the capital, Yerevan, and the rest were broadcasting in two large cities in Armenia (Giumri, Vanadzor). Simultaneously, cable TV became a popular business, and had very simple programming. Cable TV showed mostly pirated movies and private announcements from the local communities. None of the cable broadcasters ever expanded their operations further than to a few small communities with up to 500 subscribers.
Private radio broadcasting also enriched the limited media landscape. A few regional FM radio stations were opened, mostly broadcasting pirated western and Russian songs without any political-social programming or own production. The print media that lost its popularity since the soviet collapse never rebuilt its power in the media market. The highest circulation of the most popular newspaper was just 5,000 copies, mostly distributed in the capital.
Hence, from 1995 up to 1999 the media was growing: 440 media outlets registered with the Armenian Ministry of Justice. These included 294 newspapers; 59 journals; 53 TV stations, 16 radio stations and18 news agencies. However only about 100 of these media outlets were functioning regularly.
The third era of the "New History" of Armenia and the Armenian media is the current stage, which is described in separate sections.
2. MEDIA LEGISLATION
The constitution protecting free speech and freedom of information in Armenia declares: "Everyone is entitled to assert his or her opinion. No one shall be forced to retract or change his or her opinion. Everyone is entitled to freedom of speech, including the freedom to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas through any medium of information, regardless of state borders."
Even before the adoption of the constitution, the law on Press and Other Means of Mass Media was adopted in 1991. The law guaranteed that the press and other media are free and shall not be subject to censorship. According to the law, all governmental and public agencies, corporations, institutions, social and political organisations, social movements, cultural associations, scientific and educational entities have the right to found media outlets by submitting an application for registration to the relevant public body. It shall review the application within one month and register the applicant as a media outlet with corresponding rights and responsibilities. The application for registration can be rejected on very limited grounds (e.g. another entity has already been registered under the proposed name or the applicant did not pay the state duty, an amount of approximately 20 euros).
A simple registration procedure is required for every other media except for audiovisual. For radio and TV broadcasting the legislator requires a more complicated procedure of licensing. According to law, TV and Radio broadcasting is legal only on the merit of a license given by the National Commission on TV and Radio. The various provisions of the Armenian law set the procedural and content requirements for the licensing of TV and Radio Companies.
While the Law on Licensing provides general procedural requirements for all the activities subject to licensing in Armenia, the Law on Broadcasting has more sector specific regulations. Article 4 prescribes the right of the citizens to receive programmes through terrestrial broadcasting as well as via satellite, cable and wire networks (paid or unpaid), decoding devices and open networks of TV and radio broadcasting. The Law requires that there shall be at least one Public Television and one Public Radio. The establishment of the Public broadcaster, the formation of its managerial bodies as well as the principles of functioning are set in the same Law. Both the Council of Public TV and the National Commission on TV and Radio are formed by presidential decree. The five members of the Council and nine members of the Commission are appointed by the President.
The licenses for terrestrial broadcasting are given on basis of a competition by the National Commission on TV and Radio and according to the list of frequencies provided by the Ministry of Communication. The selection of the winner for the licenses is based on the following criteria: a) the prevalence of local programmes; b) the prevalence of national programmes; c) the technical and financial possibilities of an applicant; d) the professional level of the staff. The procedure for the competition and other details are set by the National Commission.
Licenses are given: a) Seven years for terrestrial broadcasting; b) Ten years for cable broadcasting. The licensing for broadcasting via other devices (cable, satellite, etc) does not require competition and has simple procedures. There are several grounds for suspension and abolishment of the terrestrial broadcasting license, among them are:
There have been violations of the license conditions and three notifications about it within one year by the National Commission.
The discrepancy of the technical equipment of the TV and radio company to the accepted standards, proved by experts, is threatening to the health of people, creating obstacles for function of other television and radio broadcasting companies, does not have sufficient level of technical quality, and 15 days after the notification of the National Commission these problems are not solved.
The licensee, six months after obtaining the license, has not been engaged in broadcasting television and radio programmes.
Article 24 of the Law prescribes the main limitations on programming of the broadcasters by forbidding the programmes that actively promote overthrowing the Government or changing by force the Constitution, as well as programmes containing ethnic, religious or racial discrimination; state or other secrets protected by the law; advocacy of war, criminal or other acts, forbidden by law; pornography materials; horror movies, programmes damaging the education of teenagers; libel violating other people's rights.
The Law on Advertising puts some time, language and content limitations for broadcasters. Particularly, the advertisement should be either in Armenian or with Armenian simultaneous translation. The advertisement shall not last more than 10 minutes every hour. Children shall not be used for advertising services and products other than made for children. The advertisement of tobacco and most alcohol is banned from going air any time of the day.
The internet media is not regulated by any specific law or by any separate section of any Statute. Some general requirements for mass media can refer to the online media, but there is no clear indication of the lawfulness of such reference.
Another legal act that has passed two readings in parliament in April 2003 is regulating the access to information in Armenia guaranteeing the right to seek information from public bodies for all citizens including journalists and media representatives. The law is expected to pass the last reading and enter into force in September 2003. This law could play a major role in further development of investigative journalism in Armenia.
Armenia has joined the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; European Convention of Human Rights (with its protocols) and Bern Conventions.
3. WRITTEN PRESS
A wide range of publications is currently available in Armenian and Russian. Foreign language publications, such as American or European newspapers and magazines are available, but are very expensive and available only by subscription.
While less than five per cent of the population buy newspapers as their primary source of news, more than 50 per cent read newspapers at least occasionally using them newspapers as their second or third source of information. The survey suggested that while actual per-copy sales may be extremely low compared to the population, readership is broad. One paper can be read by several people, passed from one to one or from family to family. Therefore, newspapers do exert considerable influence on the government, business, and the community at large.
There are currently 33 different newspapers available. The maximum circulation cited is 10,000 copies and the average real circulation for most popular newspapers is 3,000-4,000.
The printing facilities have been improved by the support of USAID, which financed the establishment of a printing plant as an alternative to the partly state-owned printing house. Nowadays, there are several print facilities so there is competition and the cost of output is decreasing.
During 2002-2003 there was a minor increase in circulation of some major newspapers. For example, "Novoe Vremya" (New Times) began publishing three times a week, and has increased its circulation from 3,000 to nearly 4,000. Two other publications have increased the frequency of their appearance. Five new publications have been launched: Dailies "Ayb-Fe" (A-Z), "Or"(Day) and "Orran" (Cradle), as well as "AvantGuard", which is a weekly and "Aizhm" (Now), which is twice weekly.
The independence of print media is still an issue in Armenia. Newspapers continue to be controlled by political parties, and wealthy individuals. Though progress has been made among some news media in responding to social needs, the majority remains closely linked to the political and power elite. There are almost no truly independent newspapers existing in Armenia. Each has a sponsor, and this means that sponsors expect certain points of view to be expressed in publications. This also results in self-censorship by journalists. "Ordered articles", also called indirect advertising, are therefore a widespread practice. This is due to Armenia's financial situation and the absence of a relevant media market, which largely reflects the financial situation of newspapers and consequently the quality of journalism.
The overall quality of journalism has fallen below what are generally accepted standards of quality, because there are so many poorly written newspapers and badly trained or untrained journalists. The level of journalism taught at the universities is very low because professors are generally unaware of modern journalism. Few professors have actually worked as journalists themselves.
In the regions, the situation is much worse. The regional press is very limited in terms of finances, because most villagers live at subsistence levels and few people can afford to buy newspapers there. Information availability in the regions is in stark contrast to the capital. Because of the high cost of getting newspapers to the regions and low sales there. Newspapers are delivered there with very limited numbers.
Distribution in general is considered to be the weakest part of the newspaper business. However, the state monopoly distribution business is being privatised. The break-up of the main state distributor has created an estimated eight new companies in the market who specialise in newspaper distribution on a small scale. This has created a competitive market for new and small distribution companies to open. Most newspapers sell all their newspapers through the kiosk system. In the regions, contractors deliver newspapers door to door.
According to the Media Sustainability Index of IREX, "in general most newspapers fall into two camps: pro-government or opposition. Newspapers such as Aravot (Morning) and Haykakan Zhamanak (Armenian Times) and Iravunk (Right) are supported strongly by opposition forces and their news reflects their backing. Government owned and/or pro-government newspapers include Respublica Armenia (Republic of Armenia), Hayots Ashkar (Armenian World) and Golos Armenii (Voice of Armenia), which is a Russian language publication. Middle-of-the road newspapers, which are also the most progressive financially, are Azg (Nation) and Novoe Vremya (New Times). Of all of these, New Times has made the most strides to becoming financially independent."
There has been an increase of pressure on media by the authorities, as reported by international organisations such as Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) or IFEX. Attacks and intimidation of media owners and journalists have led to a climate of uncertainty and intrigue. Also, the law has been used to put pressure on the press. A preferred tool is the libel law, which in Armenia is both a civil criminal offence.
4. AUDIOVISUAL MEDIA
Currently there are 41 private TV stations and two public television channels (one national and one in the second City). Most of the private TV channels are regional and only two: "Prometheus" and "ALM" (Alternative Media), have national coverage. Two Russian TV channels (ORT and RTR) have full retransmission of their programmes over the most territory of Armenia. Several other Russian TV stations are broadcasting in Yerevan, three with mixed content: NTV, TV6 and TV Centre, and two entertainment channels, MuzTV and MTV. Another foreign broadcaster is CNN, but it covers only the capital. The number of private radio stations is 10 in addition to one Public radio channel with national coverage.
Cable TV appeared in 1995 and almost disappeared with the launch of various terrestrial broadcasters. The only cable broadcaster is the "ACC", which does not have its own production but is transmitting 26 foreign and local channels in one package. This package is available only in limited districts of the capital at a price that is not affordable to most.
The radio, being the second lowest source for news after the print media, is a popular form of entertainment. Armenia has a wide range of stations that reflect a wide range in musical tastes, from traditional music to European, American and Russian pop. Radio is undoubtedly the least politicised of any information or entertainment medium. News and information are provided daily from around the world in Russian, Armenian and in French from a French-language station. Radio is listened to regularly by about 10 per cent of the population.
The most popular media is television, which is viewed by 85 to 90 per cent of the population and is considered as their primary source of news. The television market is characterised by several features. Small local broadcasters are weakening due to weak local economies. The advertising profit is being concentrated in hands of several large broadcasters. Public TV has the biggest portion of advertising. Although Public TV and Radio are largely financed from the state budget they also have equal rights with private broadcasters of advertising.
Whatever is said about the print media in regard of lack of economic independence is true of the Television media as well. This media did not sustain as a business and the limited advertising market is not covering the expenses of the broadcasters. Although many TV channels fill their programmes with pirated films and music, with low quality own production and free national production of soviet time, they are still getting a huge amount of funds from their owners, who are part of the political and/or economic elite. There are very few really independent broadcasters and this independence is still questioned by some.
In spite of the requirement of the law that each broadcaster can have only one frequency in each area, some found ways to get more then one. As the chairman of the National Commission on TV and Radio, Grigor Amalyan, in one of his interviews stated: "Sargsyans family, through different registered legal entities owns three-four frequencies" in Yerevan which is possibly due to the unclear provision of the law. Although it prescribes that "one legal entity" cannot have more then one frequency, it does not further clarify the issue, leaving the regulator legally unarmed.
Because of obscure legal procedures for competition and licensing in the law on TV and Radio, another unfortunate development took place that largely influenced the audiovisual landscape of Armenia. One of the country's most popular television channels and one of the first private broadcasters, A1+, lost its license on 1 April 2002. This made the choice for the Armenian audience much poorer and damaged the reputation of the country in regard to freedom of speech. The TV company appealed the decision on all three levels of the judicial system of Armenia, which reaffirmed the decision of the National Commission on TV and Radio. The case was then brought in front of the European Court of Human Rights, which found the case admissible. The decision of the European Court may bring some legal and political clarity over this very controversial case. A1+ recently, in June 2003, applied for another tender for one of the frequencies operated by the Sargsyans family but lost. In spite of this A1+ expressed its will to participate in all further tenders and finally to be back on air.
5. OTHER MEDIA OUTLETS AND ORGANIZATIONS
The online media in Armenia is far from being a mass media. It still has no market and a very limited number of readers use the online sources. Therefore, although some large newspapers and TV companies have some news reporting on their websites, the online media is not a popular source for information or entertainment. There are currently six online media in Armenia. The existing online media targets mostly Armenians living abroad and do not have substantial advertisement to sustain as a business.
However, some growth in internet and e-mail use raises some optimism for future development of online media. Currently there are 17 internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Armenia, virtually all servicing the city of Yerevan, but a few providing limited support in other cities. The declared data rate of internet connections is 44,000 kbps for analogue phone lines and 56,700 kbps for digital phone lines. However, the real data rate of internet connection is 20 per cent less than that declared by ISPs. The number of ISPs' clients varies from 4,000 for big providers to 50 - 300 subscribers for medium and small companies.
There is one state owned news agency, "Armenpress" and seven private agencies, "Noyan Tapan", "Arminfo", "Arka", "Mediamax", "Photolur", "New Image" and "Spiur".
There are various local media organisations and several donors that support the media. The foreign aid that is generously invested into the media sector is not clearly targeted. It is quite often enriching some of the grant-consuming NGOs and is lacking joint actions to meet the real needs of the media with specific and approaches for the country. Instead, various "cliché-projects" are replicated from other countries without tangible impact. In spite of this observation several organisations make efforts to build a strong media. They undertake various projects and activities aimed at higher professional standards and media sustainability in Armenia.
The real dangers for Armenian media are: economic dependence, the lack or absence of financial sustainability; low quality of professional performance; complex and contradicting legislation with poor implementation.
However, decreasing standards of journalism are the biggest enemy of journalists in Armenia. The public trust towards media, which is hard to gain and easy to lose, is vanishing day by day. This creates the danger of diminishing the role of the media as a meaningful public watchdog and can cause severe consequences for the society and for the media itself.
Yasha Lange, Media in the CIS,
Constitution of the Republic of Armenia of May 5, 1995
The Law of the Republic of Armenia on Press and Mass Media of October 8, 1991
The Law of the Republic of Armenia On Advertising of April 30, 1996
The Law of Republic of Armenia on TV and Radio Broadcasting of October 9, 2000;
Law of the Republic of Armenia on Licensing of May 30, 2001.
Regulation of the National Commission on TV and Radio on the Licensing Tender for the Broadcasters of January 24, 2002
Anna Israielyan, "Is Monopoly Allowed?", Aravot Daily, 10 June, 2003
Reporters Without Borders, Armenia - Annual Report 2002,
Reporters Without Borders, Armenia - Annual Report 2002,
IREX/Promedia (2002), Armenia - Media Sustainability Index (MSI) .
Dr. Karen Andreasyan, Markle Senior Fellow in the Center for Socio-Legal Studies at Oxford University, Lecturer at the Law department of the Yerevan State University, Yerevan, Armenia Mail to: email@example.com