New Licensing Rules Enter The Field

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

A competition will be announced on September 22 to get a license to use a slot in the public multiplex.

Armenian terrestrial broadcasters will participate in the competition in accordance with a new law, which was quickly developed and adopted a month ago. One of the reasons for the rapid adoption of the law was that the previous licenses issued in 2011 expire in January 2021, and the tender must be held four months before that.

And the state set a goal to hold the tender in the conditions of the new legislative provisions.

The Law on Audiovisual Media, which entered into force on August 7, 2020, has established a procedure for holding a licensing competition for the use of slots in the public multiplex.

And since no private multiplexes have been formed in Armenia yet, the public multiplex remains the only digital broadcasting network, 100% of which belongs to the state.

Slots (part of a multiplex network stream that corresponds to a single TV program) are as follows:

  • Republican broadcast – 6 slots
  • Capital Broadcast – 9 slots
  • Regional broadcasting – 10 slots, one in each region.

Foreign broadcasters can appear in the public multiplex only in the presence of interstate agreements.

It is now known that according to such an agreement, the Russian VGTRK channel will be included in the public multiplex of Armenia from 2021 (the American CNN, the Russian “First Channel” as in previous years, will no longer be on that list).

The Public Television of Armenia also has a place in the multiplex without any competition.

Applications for the competition will be evaluated by the Television and Radio Commission (RFC).

Terms of the competition

The competition for licensing the use of slots in the public multiplex will be according to the six defined criteria․

  • Dominance of own production programs
  • Dominance of Armenian programs
  • Ability to promote pluralism
  • Technical and financial capabilities
  • Professional training of the staff
  • The dominance of programs aimed at the recognition and strengthening of national, universal, caring and lasting cultural values.

Each criterion can be evaluated with a maximum of 20 rating points, the points will be added later.

This procedure is similar to the procedure of the joint university examination, when the participants of the competition do not apply for a specific slot, but submit a joint application, later claiming points for either a national or a capital broadcast. The requirements are the same for all slots.

If the points are not enough for a slot with a larger spread, the channels automatically appear in the second list of slots with a smaller spread.

The passing threshold is one third of the sum of the points.

In case of equal distribution of points, the relevance of the program presented in previous years will be taken into account (what you said, what you did not do).

Any channel that owes a debt to the TV tower cannot participate in the competition.

The new order obliges (and this is new) that at least 20% of the programs of the channel wishing to appear in the public multiplex are in the public interest.

RAU President Tigran Hakobyan considers this minimum threshold of public benefit programs to be a step towards ensuring quality content.

He said, “Finally, the new law has clear definitions. For example, what content that is useful to the public is.”

The previous law did not even define what, for example, a “children’s program” or “channel for youths” was, according to which the definition could be followed.

In Tigran Hakobyan ‘s opinion, even though this law is not complete, it will reduce the spread of harsh and dense propaganda to some extent, as there is already a definition of “comprehensive content.”

The law will try to reduce the spread of misinformation. Channels wishing to appear in the public multiplex must take into account Article 7 of the Law on Audiovisual Media, which deals with the provision of reliable information.

And the execution of that article is the most difficult to control and ensure, because it is fluid, leaving room for misinterpretations.

The law requires the broadcaster to provide:

1) the right to reply to a person’s nominal speech;

2) in the case of errors in the submitted information, notification of the same program in a short period of time, and in case of the absence of an opportunity, notification during another program;

3) Awareness: of the anonymity of the submitted facts or the authenticity of sufficiently unverified sources.

There has been a lot of talk that the media, under the guise of freedom of speech, often gives guests who can spread blatant lies or deliberate misinformation the right to speak, and the media is not responsible for it (we aren’t saying it, our experts are, and we are just quoting them).

This article of the law is a cautious and small step towards preventing misinformation. Now, if an unverified assertion is made,  and a complaint is received by the supervisory body (in this case the RRC), the complaint will be the first step in launching the field clearing mechanism.

The complaint can be from any legal or natural person or organization. Including the audience as well.

And the media outlet is obliged to either deny or substantiate the misinformation or propaganda information on its air.

“Any propaganda has the right to exist, privately, via cable. And the public multiplex is the small island where the rules of the game are clear. It is not called public in vain, there can be no dirty propaganda,” said Tigran Hakobyan.

Another mandatory condition for appearing in the public multiplex has become the code of ethics, which is another inevitable necessity. Although the ethical norms of different media service companies do not differ much, it is now possible for each broadcaster to create, develop, and publish their own. Signing that they will follow the code of conduct as created.

Public multiplex slots are provided for a period of seven years. And RFA claims that in addition to the technical and financial component, the vision, the plan of future developments, which will be presented by the channels, is more valuable.

During the meeting with the representatives of the TV companies, Tigran Hakobyan asked that the program document be realistic. Including when the financial sources are mentioned to the potential sponsors.

“Please, do not be grandiloquent, let’s break the tradition of beautiful and common writing. Present a sincere program,” he said.

Tigran Hakobyan thinks that a lot depends on the players on the field. If there is a TV channel that creates serious content, the changes in the field will develop faster and more dynamically.

RFE/RL has already handed over credentials to several new TV stations, which means new ones are appearing next to the old players.

In the public multiplex slot competition, of course, large and long-distance, technically and financially armed channels have an advantage, but it is also possible to inject a new dose of air in the field of surface broadcasting.

Nune Hakhverdyan

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