This thesis was expressed by a Latvian media expert Jānis Juzefovičs who participated in a three-day (October 6-8) conference in Yerevan entitled "What Future for Democracy and Civil Society?" organized by the Open Society Foundations-Armenia.
The focus of Jānis's report "Decreasing audience: the future of post-soviet public broadcasters in digital environment" was the fact that over 20 years after the collapse of communism, public TV and radio broadcasters of Central and Eastern European countries have not managed to transfer the idea of state broadcaster to public, and till today, the overwhelming majority of the society accept public TV and radio as part of the government as it was in the Soviet times.
Besides, as a result of digitalization, public broadcasters will have to face new challenges, and funds allotted to public TV and radio from the state budget become groundless.
Jānis Juzefovičs, a teacher of Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences, in his PhD work suggests a thesis that the idea to disseminate information of social importance can be preserved but not necessarily through public TV and radio.
If we import the Latvian thesis into the Armenian reality we will have the following picture: the yearly allocation of $10 million from the state budget to public broadcasters would be executed not by one structure only but by different private companies which would be selected through a contest of programmes. In this case, TV and radio programmes of social importance would be broadcasted by different private TV and radio channels.
Before saying "yes" or "no" to this thesis, it is necessary to evaluate the present role of the public TV and radio in today's Armenian reality.
And our reality changes very fast in the digital era.
In Armenia, besides half a dozen of free channels, it is possible to pay and watch cable, satellite and IPTV channels. And Armenians spread all over the world can now watch public "H1", and private "Armenia", "Shant" and "Yerkir Media" Armenian channels through satellite.
However, in recent years, "H1" has a stable audience, though some private TV companies are almost at the same level with it. For instance, according to the AGB Nielsen Media Research company, last year the most viewed TV channel was the Public TV that had the 20% of audience, the second was "Armenia TV" - 18%, and the third "Shant TV" - 12%. In 2009, "Armenia TV" managed to surpass the rating of "H1".
Another important circumstance: in 2015, Armenia will transfer from analog broadcasting of TV and radio programmes into digital. This means that the Public TV will no more have the monopoly of broadcasting in some regions of the country from the point of view of accessibility.
It should be taken into account also that the variety of informational flows is increasing day by day, and this means of communication spreads very fast, becoming number one source of information in the digital era.
These observations refer only to technical opportunities. Concerning the content, any TV viewer can make his own conclusions on the Public TV programmes comparing them with the programmes of competing private TVs. If the quality of the private ones does not give in to that of the Public TV, it is something to think over.
And another private observation of a problem the authors of which is a group of hearing impaired people.
On October 5, the National Assembly accepted an amendment to the "TV and Radio Law" according to which from now on not only the Public TV but all the channels have to broadcast one children's program and one informational program in sign language or with Armenian subtitles.
But the deaf demanded a differnt solution of their problem. They only demanded to eliminate the expression "or with Armenian subtitles" from the law, to make the Public TV broadcast a children's program and a news program in sign language. But it turned out now that besides the Public TV all other TV channels appeared under this ambiguous expression, and it is not clear whether any of the TV channels will choose the sign language or not.
If privet TVs can be obliged to accomplish the duty of the public one then what is the purpose of the Public TV? Why is the tax payers' money allocated to the Public TV?
The difference of the public and private broadcasters is as following: the private ones think on how to earn money, and the public on how to spend it.
Suren Deheryan is the chairman of the "Journalists for the Future" NGO and is involved in a workgroup studying the process of digitalization of TV and radio broadcasting in Armenia organized by the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression.