Monday, March 10, 2008

Washington Times: Broadcasters unplugged during state of emergency

March 8, 2008

By Svitlana Korenovska - Broadcasts of the Voice of America and other international media have been blocked in Armenia under the state of emergency declared this week, U.S. officials and press rights groups said.

Armenia TV, the local affiliate of VOA in Armenia, informed the U.S. broadcaster that under the emergency rules that went into effect Sunday, the broadcasting of television reports will be restricted until March 20, when the state of the emergency is scheduled to be lifted.

The Armenian service of the VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty currently are not being broadcast within the country. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that several opposition Web sites with Armenian domains were also blocked.

For now, the Armenian press is under orders to cite only official sources when covering national politics.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees U.S. international broadcasting, criticized the blackout of independent media in the time of political crisis in the country.

"Censorship and harassment of the media are the antithesis of democracy," said board Chairman James K. Glassman. "Our broadcasters wish to serve the audience in Armenia by providing reliable news and information at this critical juncture. Unfortunately, that is not an option at the moment, unless you are a patient and resourceful Internet user."

Armenian President Robert Kocharian declared a 20-day state of emergency on March 1 after mass protests and clashes in the capital, Yerevan, over the result of the Feb. 19 presidential elections.

CPJ said Armenian authorities should immediately cancel restrictions on independent reporting.

"We're alarmed by this blatant attempt to censor news of the disputed election," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said.

Meanwhile, the Armenian service of VOA in Washington continues to produce its reports. "They still are producing their TV programs, and they are transmitting them, but they're not being broadcast," VOA spokeswoman Letitia King said. The Armenian affiliate has agreed to save the feed for future use, she said.

The Armenian Embassy in Washington did not comment on the situation.

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