Film director Tigran Keosayan and his wife Margarita Simonyan attend an event in Moscow, February 12, 2018.

Armenia Suspends Broadcast of Russian State Radio Sputnik

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YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — In a move denounced by Moscow on Thursday, December 21, Armenian authorities have suspended the radio broadcast of Russia’s state-run Sputnik news agency in Armenia after it aired a program highly critical of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

A view of the main newsroom of Sputnik news, part of the state run media group Russia Today, in Moscow, April 27, 2018

The Sputnik Armenia news service’s weekly program broadcast on November 17 was authored and presented by Tigran Keosayan, a Russian film director and TV commentator of Armenian descent. It featured disparaging comments about Pashinian and his government’s policies.

Keosayan and his wife Margarita Simonyan, who runs the Russian television network RT and several other Kremlin-funded media outlets, are vocal critics of the current Armenian government. Simonyan was banned from entering the South Caucasus country last year.

Armenia’s National Commission on Television and Radio (HRAH) on Wednesday accused Keosayan of making “mocking and derogatory” statements about Armenia and its people in breach of Armenian law. It said foreign nationals also have no “moral right” to do that.

The commission announced that it has therefore banned an Armenian radio station from retransmitting any Sputnik Armenia programs for the next 30 days.

The Russian Embassy in Yerevan criticized the decision the following day, saying that it limited Armenians’ right to “receive information from a source of their choice.”

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“This step cannot but look like a concession to those who are increasingly in favor of breaking the traditional, mutually beneficial and mutually respectful allied relations between Russia and Armenia,” the embassy added in a statement.

For his part, Keosayan responded to the ban by attacking and insulting Pashinian on his Telegram channel. The Armenian premier “once again proved the correctness of all my words addressed to him,” he wrote on Thursday.

The embassy statement noted that the HRAH’s decision came just three days after Russian and Armenian government officials met to discuss Yerevan’s discontent with Russian television’s recent coverage of Armenia. The two sides made differing statements on that meeting.

Russian Ambassador Sergei Kopyrkin was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan in October after Russia’s leading state broadcaster, Channel One, derided and lambasted Pashinian during an hour-long program aired. The program featured pro-Kremlin panelists who portrayed Pashinian as a Western puppet tasked with ending Armenia’s close relationship with Russia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the Armenian charge d’affaires in Moscow the following day. Ministry officials condemned what they called anti-Russian propaganda spread by Armenia’s government-controlled media.

In the last few years, Armenian Public Television has regularly interviewed and invited politicians and commentators highly critical of Moscow to its political talk shows. Their appearances in prime-time programs of the TV channel run by Pashinian’s loyalists have become even more frequent lately amid rising tensions between Moscow and Yerevan.

The HRAH on Wednesday, December 20, also fined Sputnik Armenia 500,000 drams ($1,240) for the latest talk show by former opposition parliamentarian Arman Abovyan during which he effectively accused Pashynian’s government of planning to cede much of Armenia’s territory to Azerbaijan. The commission accused the broadcaster of spreading false and unverified information.

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