Banned TV station resumes broadcasting… via mobile

In its annual worldwide survey on the media, Freedom House has once again categorized Armenia as "not free," a situation which has been the case since 2002 when the pro-opposition A1 Plus TV station was taken off the air. A huge question mark then hung over the future of the company as many of its staff left to work elsewhere.

The Council of Europe and international media watchdogs decried the move seen by many as a precursor to later attempts to silence the press in the run-up to the presidential election held less than a year later. However, demands to let A1 Plus return to the air fell on deaf ears. 

In June last year, the European Court of Human Rights even ruled in the station’s favour in an action against the government, but the victory was only symbolic. The station still remains without a broadcasting frequency. Instead, undaunted by attempts to silence its voice, A1 Plus went online.

Also using blogs and YouTube, especially during last year’s controversial presidential election, its web site is probably the most visited online news source in Armenia, with around 10,000 visits per day. That might not seem much, but in a country where Internet penetration stood at 5.7 percent in 2007, it’s quite something.

Now, in an effort to expand its reach, the banned station this week turned its attention to an estimated 1.9 million mobile phone subscribers in the country, offering short video headlines for users to download. True, the news is hardly extensive, but it does represent another attempt to take on governmental control of the broadcast media


Starting from May 6, for the first time ever, you can find out about the most important events in Armenia on your cellphone.

You can also watch "A1+" on your cellphone screen through the GPRS service.


Whether you are an "ArmenTel" or "VivaCell" subscriber, send the 111 code to 1618 and you will receive the corresponding link. Press the link and your phone will download the latest news in video format. You will have the chance to watch the latest news anywhere, anytime. link

Meanwhile, with 3G services recently introduced into Armenia alongside lower cost Wimax and ADSL Internet connections for PC users, the move offers another source of information to those weary of pro-government television news. This is a trend I touched upon in an article for Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso yesterday.

Internet penetration remains low in regions such as the South Caucasus. However, as costs come down and connection speeds increase, there is no doubt that online and mobile communication will become important tools in the hands of civil society and political activists alike.

[…] […] In short, with a broadcast media still firmly controlled by governments, the online world represents the only alternative. As further sign of that, A1 Plus, a pro-opposition TV station yanked off the air in 2002, this week launched the first ever mobile video news service in Armenia. 

Costing less than a dollar, mobile phone subscribers can now download video headline news after sending an SMS to a static four-digit number. […] link

What remains to be seen, however, is how the authorities will react to this new wave of alternative information now available online, and especially if the number of readers, viewers and subscribers increases enough to rival what the government has spent years putting in place.