The editor of a leading oppositional newspaper has taken over leadership of a Yerevan television company that has tangential government affiliation.
The new director.
Aram Abrahamyan, editor of Aravot (Morning), Armenia’s leading daily, has been named director of the former Kentron (Center) television company, an enterprise recently purchased by pro-government National Assembly member and businessman Murad Guloyan. The newly-named company will air May 10.
The TV company was previously owned (for one year) by another MP, Gurgen Arsenyan. Recent coverage by the channel of oppositional party demonstrations was not favorable for the government, leading to speculation that Arsenyan was later pressured by authorities to sell the company.
The appointment has raised questions of whether the oppositional journalist and the MP-owned television company will have matching ambitions for how the station should position itself in Armenia’s media, broadly divided according to political persuasion.
Media observers are further intrigued that Abrahamyan will be inheriting a channel that, in its inception two years ago, helped kick A1+ off the airwaves, stirring a controversy alleging government censorship which continues these two years later.
(In April 2002, A1+, the republic’s leading oppositional channel, lost its license in a disputed bidding war in which a presidential-appointed commission gave the license to Sharm, primarily an entertainment and advertising company that did not even have a reporting staff at the time. Guloyan bought the company last week .)
Abrahamyan was in fact a co-founder, with Mesrop Movsisyan, of A1+ in 1991 and until the channel lost its license, was host of its most popular talk show, “Post Script”.
Abrahamyan says he puts his journalistic reputation behind his new role and that Aravot television will in fact join efforts to see A1+ resume broadcast. But he says any speculation that Aravot will become the new A1+ are “absurd”.
“The Aravot TV, which I will be heading will become a rostrum from where we will always speak about the opening of A1+,” Abrahamyan says. “I will be participating in all kinds of events (marches, demonstrations) which will be organized in support of A1+.”
Abrahamyan goes so far, in fact, to say that should the National TV and Radio Commission hold a contest for the 37 th frequency (currently held by Aravot, but previously belonging to A1+), “we will not take part in it and will do everything possible to help A1+ win the contest”.
The new director dismisses notions that either his newspaper or his television company should be labeled.
“Political figures can be oppositional or pro-governmental but these categories must not touch us,” he says.
Guloyan, who is in his first term as MP, was elected on the ticket of the Republican party (though he, himself, is not a member). Not a well-known figure in Armenia, he is the owner of Milta, a food-production company. He comes from the same village as Armenian strongman Gagik “Dodi Gago” Tsarukyan. Some interested parties have speculated that the powerful millionaire is behind the purchase of the television company, which is believed to have sold for $500,000.
Recent news programming (prior to Guloyan’s purchase) by Kentron was praised by Abrahamyan, especially for its coverage of the violent April 13 clash between State police and oppositional protestors.
Kentron, “was the most independent media among all others,” Abrahamyan says.
But others are claiming that those very reports riled the government and that Arsenyan was “forced” by high-level government officials to sell his company because of his company’s broadcast of the clashes between police and demonstrators.
It is an opinion shared by A1+ director Mesrop Movsesyan.
Movsesyan says that, when A1+ was denied its license, President Robert Kocharyan promised to create another company like it. Kentron, Movsisyan says, was to have been that channel.
“The president wanted to do that via Gurgen Arsenyan,” Movsisyan says, “but when Arsenyan stumbled, he was forced to sell Kentron.”
Unofficial talk in Yerevan is that Kocharyan in fact called a meeting with Arsenyan following the broadcasts of the April 13 events.
Ashot Kocharyan, spokesman for the President told ArmeniaNow there is no record of a meeting between the President and Arsenayn. The spokesman had no comment on rumors to that effect.
ArmeniaNow attempted to get Arsenyan’s version of the claims. He said he is reserving comment on the matter until after the new company begins its broadcast. Asked whether Arsenyan had been pressured into selling Kentron, an assistant for Arsenyan said the MP “does not wish to speak about it now”.
Movsesyan, meanwhile, criticizes his former colleague Abrahamyan for taking the directorship of a company that effectively put A1+ off the air.
“By making that decision, he (Abrahamyan) demonstrated that he has changed his team,” Movsisyan said. “Of course, this country always needed an imitator like Aram in the struggle of freedom of speech, and such person was found. Aram is a good journalist and he can create an imitation of an independent channel. I’m only surprised that he agreed to that.”
Abrahamyan, though, refutes accusations that he has switched his political allegiance by assuming a position seen as connected to the government.
The journalist says he is confident the new owner will not use the television company as a rostrum for advancing his politics.
“It's just a business for him to make investments for gaining profits in the future,” Abrahamyan says. “I’m sure this is the only way for creating independent media. Media, but not the means for propaganda.”
Abrahamyan, a musicologist by profession, graduated Yerevan State Conservatory and defended his Ph.D. thesis. He served as press secretary for the first president after independence, Levon Ter Pertrosyan. He became editor of Aravot newspaper in 1994.
Before hosting the A1+ talk show, Abrahamyan had been host of various music programs.
“I always dreamt of working in TV,” he says. “When I first came to TV in 1983 I realized it was my world and I had always been dreaming of working there.”
His aim at Aravot TV, he says, is to direct a company that serves the public need for reliable information.
“The strategic goal of the TV company is to become an informational and public channel like Freedom radio station,” says Abrahamyan.