Armenian government officials and parliamentarians have publicly mooted the idea of taking Russian TV networks out of the country’s public broadcast package, claiming that they broadcast “anti-Armenian” content.
Armenia’s state broadcaster carries a number of foreign channels available to any viewer in the country even without cable or satellite service. Those include three networks from Russia – Channel One, RTR Planeta and Rossiya K – as well as Mir Interstate, operated by the Commonwealth of Independent States, and CNN.
When Tigran Hakobyan, the head of the National Commission on Television and Radio, testified in parliament on April 10, he was asked by some parliamentarians about dropping the Russian channels from the national service. One MP from the ruling My Step alliance, Narine Tukhikyan, complained that Rossiya, in particular, regularly spreads “hatred against Armenians.”
"I agree with you,” Hakopyan answered. “Russian TV channels are often broadcasting racist messages and calls for religious violence.”
Trying to limit Russian information is a common practice in many post-Soviet states wary of Moscow’s overbearing influence. But the issue is particularly fraught in Armenia, which depends heavily on Russian security aid and energy.
Hakopyan alluded to some other countries’ experience: “This [Russian broadcasting] poses a threat to Armenia's information security. Many countries, such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, have realized that idea, but they have paid a very high price and three of them have been deprived of their territories.”
One MP from the opposition Bright Armenia party also was on board with the idea. "Russian TV is regularly propagandizing hatred towards Armenia, its authorities and events in the country," Arman Babajanyan told Hakobyan.
But some have suggested that the problem may not be that Russian TV is anti-Armenian, but that it is critical of the new authorities. For example, these stations regularly portray the ongoing legal campaign against former president Robert Kocharyan as a political vendetta.
Since taking power last year and implementing a new team including many pro-Western figures, the new Armenian government has had an uneasy relationship with Moscow, though both sides have been unwilling to open up a significant conflict with the other. (Even under the previous, more pro-Russian authorities, however, Russian media wasn’t averse to picking fights with Yerevan when the mood suited.)
Russia’s ambassador to Yerevan, Sergey Kopirkin, weighed in to deny that Russian TV is anti-Armenian.
“Maybe there are some assessments from some people. But this doesn’t have to do with the overall coverage of Armenian in the Russian media, which I think you can’t at all call anti-Armenian,” he told reporters on April 23.
On April 24, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told the Russian news site RBK that there would be “absolutely no” censorship in Armenia. But he added: "Sometimes I notice that there are discussions on social networks, saying that Russian TV is pursuing an anti-Armenian policy. And if they [Russian TV networks] are pursuing an anti-Armenian policy, something should be done about it.”
In any case, it's not clear how much effect the Russian channels are having. According to figures obtained by Eurasianet, the most-watched of the Russian channels under debate is Channel One, and it is only in tenth place among Armenian viewers.
Ani Mejlumyan is a reporter based in Yerevan.
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