AZERBAIJAN


| Introduction | Ownership of Media | Public Broadcasting in Azerbaijan | Emerging Trends in Media | Regulation of Media | References
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The Azerbaijan Flag



Introduction


Azerbaijan's current media landscape lies in stark contrast with it's earlier, more humble beginnings. With the economic and social developments of the second half of the 19th century, the formation of national media seemed a necessity. With that, came the introduction of the first newspaper publication "Ekinchi", published twice a month with 300-400 copies in circulation each for two years.

The press played a hugely unique role in the progress of Azerbaijan as a nation, as it kickstarted the process of awakening a national consciousness. The Azerbaijani intellectuals and literati dubbed the press "the people's eyes, ears and tongue", an apt reflection of how indispensable it was for their society as the nation found it's feet and developed their idea of statehood.

With the ensuing years witnessing a worldwide technological revolution, Azerbaijan's media landscape has grown to incorporate these new varieties of media. Further to that, Modern day Azerbaijan's media sector sees state-run, public media in competition with private and opposition publications and broadcasters.

In 2011, the BBC found that TV was the most popular medium and in 2005, a public broadcaster was introduced which was intended to be free of government control. InternetWorldStats found that by June 2010, there were 3.7 million internet users in the country and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said they had found evidence of a "vibrant and growing" culture of online media.

This landscape is far from picturesque however, as many modern day nations see their still struggle between properly revelling in their fourth estate functions and balancing government demands. The RSF criticised the government for failing to provide citizens with affordable, high-speed internet access, a huge obstacle in the dissemination of new ideas and values. In addition, even though freedom of speech is guaranteed by the constitution, it was reported in 2010 by the RSF that both journalists and bloggers "work in a climate of of endemic impunity and under persistent pressure from the authorities". They also added that the influence of the state over broadcast media "stifles diversity".


Ownership of Media


Ownership of media within Azerbaijan is concentrated by state-run and public media. However, government control over media is in constant competition with private and opposition publications and broadcasters which attempt to provide the public with information that is free from government agenda.

Public expectations of improvements to freedom of speech and media remain high, however only a few media outlets, mainly opposition-affiliated newspapers whose circulation does not exceed 10,000 to 15,000, were able to question openly the status quo. Electronic media, the major source of public information, remain under control of the government (Osmanqizi 2012, p.163).

Despite the fact that private owned media exists within Azerbaijan, they do not succeed in reaching the public in the same way state-run and public media does. As mentioned previously, this is primarily due to the electronic media being incomparably more influential than the print media. Furthermore, financial constraints limit the purchasing power of the 8.3 million population and the relatively undeveloped advertising market – most newspapers that do not benefit from state subsidies appear in print runs of only a few thousand (Fuller 2006).

A survey held on the 18th of July 2006 “established that a mere 2.8 percent of respondents read newspapers regularly, while 70.8 percent read them only rarely or not at all” (Fuller 2006). For the 70.8 percent of Azerbaijanis who do not read newspapers, there are three alternative sources of information: state-controlled Azerbaijani TV and radio, which provide only minimal, and generally biased information about opposition political parties; several private television channels that provide primarily entertainment but little in the way of “hard” domestic or international news; and foreign television and radio broadcasts.

A public broadcaster, set up in 2005, intended to be free from government control and was created on the basis of being one of the two existing channels of state television, however this has done very little to expand the choice of media exposed to the public. Furthermore, despite the fact that it is publicly owned and deemed less tendentious than that of state-controlled media, it is still by no means wholly objective and was said to be providing only a “limited dose of political pluralism,” according to the independent daily echo-az.com on March 26 (Fuller 2006).

Authorities have increased pressure on independent media through the licensing of broadcast media. It remains highly unfair and strictly political. The National Television and Radio Council (NTRC) are responsible for issuing and renewing television and radio licenses. A new law on broadcast media mandates closure of a television station for three regulatory infringements in two years. It is believed that the strict regulations imposed on television and radio media is intended to keep broadcasters dependent on the government (Osmanqizi 2012, p.164). Also, as digital media is the most popular form of media within Azerbaijan it is of greater importance to the government that complete control is maintained.

The list below demonstrates the type of media; whether they are public, private or state owned, and are in order from the most popular (being the first) to the least popular (being the last) within each category of media:

The press

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Television



Radio


News agencies


  • Azartac - state-run, English-language pages
  • Turan - private, English-language pages
  • Trend - private, English-
    language pages

The list demonstrates that, clearly, there are a variety of private owned media that does exist. However, one cannot ignore that despite the futile attempts to provide diversity in political opinions, the major owners of media - state-run media - have successfully suppressed independent media through legal framework. 'Independent media outlets - print or electronic - have struggled over the past 10-15 years to fill the "information gap" by reporting on issues ignored by the state-run media and have been repeatedly subjected to arbitrary official harassment and reprisals and, in some cases, to libel suits that have result in the imposition of huge fines' (Fuller 2006). In addition, move by Azerbaijani authorities on November 24 2006 to curtail broadcasting by sister stations ANS TV (an established private network) and ANSW Ch.M radio (private network) have highlighted the precarious future of independent media in the country. Overall, the complicated nature of ownership of media within Azerbaijan is spread across a variety of public; private and state-run media. Nevertheless, it is dominated by state-run media which does not provide the public with objective and diverse information.



Public Broadcasting in Azerbaijan


The purpose of public broadcasting in Azerbaijan is to "ensure the interests of population of the Azerbaijan Republic – the society as a whole and its different groups in quality information,culture, education, entertainment and other fields, to prepare and disseminate information based on the concepts of freedom of speech and ideas, based on the balancing division, corresponding to high technologies and qualitative standards, respecting the dignity, rights and freedoms of people, and based on the principles of ethics" (http://www.azerweb.com/laws/16/index.pdf).

National Television and Radio Council of the Republic of Azerbaijan

Chairman: Nushiravan Maharramov

The National Television and Radio Council of the Republic of Azerbaijan was created in 2002 by decree of the president and it's purpose is the "regulation in sphere of television and radio broadcasting, protection of independence of broadcasters and interests of the public" (http://www.ntrc.gov.az/?/en/). The council oversees the public broadcasting of Azerbaijan and is financed by the state budget. All programs broadcasting companies show must adhere to the laws associated with broadcasting, which includes:

  • 8.1.1. to realise the right of the citizens to get information about significant events in the country and in the world, unbiased and neutral news concerning activities of the governmental organs, political parties, social movements, religious confessions, financial and commercial structures;
  • 8.0.2. to ensure meeting interests of individuals through educational, informational and entertaining programs maintaining and developing national-cultural and universal values;
  • 8.0.3. to record masterpiece plays, movies, documentary films and cartoons, television serials, works of art based upon works of Azerbaijan and foreign authors, events bearing thelargest significance to our history and culture and to maintain the golden fund of the broadcaster for future generations;
  • 8.0.4 to create equal opportunities for everybody to freely express their thoughts on the air
  • 8.0.5. to ensure right of individuals for reply;
  • 8.0.6. to ensure use of fair, unbiased, precise and accurate information;
  • 8.0.7. to eliminate broadcast of pornographic materials, programs agitating for violence,cruelty, religious and racial discrimination;
  • 8.0.8. to respect privacy, honour and dignity of individuals;
  • 8.0.9. to follow professional ethics rules in process of broadcast

AzTv or Azeri TeleVision

Chairman: Arif Alishanov

AzTv is the national public broadcaster of Azerbaijan and is closely tied with the government. Due to its close relations with the government, it was denied membership of the European Broadcasting Union. The company broadcasts news, sport, radio and entertainment and was launched in 1926 (radio broadcasts) and 1956 (television broadcasts).



Public Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (İTV)

Chairman: Ismail Omarov

İTV is a public television channel in Azerbaijan. It is not state run or owned and is a member of the European Broadcasting Union, making it a part of the Eurovision Song Contest. The company also broadcasts radio stations, focusing on the literature, art, culture, and music of Azerbaijan. The departments the company focuses on are:

  • News department
    Ictimai radio news are aired 12 times a day. It provides the latest news from the world and Azerbaijan as well as on-air phone calls and live reportages. Besides, topics, which the audience is interested in, are discussed in analytical programs.
  • Enlightening Programs Department
    The department's mission is to enlighten the radio listeners about Azerbaijan, its key historical events, the best known personalities, national heroes, famous scholars, discoveries, actual problems of education and sport events.
  • Literature and Art Department
    The main goal of the department is to familiarize the wide audience with classical and modern figures of Azerbaijani literature, ashug art and poetics.
  • Music and Entertainment Programs Department
    The department propagates Azerbaijan's classical and modern music, mughmas and folk art. Through the program the listeners learns more about prominent art figures, composers and singers of Azerbaijan.


    (http://en.itv.az/radio/departments/3700.html)


Emerging Trends in Media


Azerbaijan, being a relatively recent nation to achieve independence, has a comparatively short history when it comes to the trends of media ownership. Due to Azerbaijan's history with the Soviet Union, some aspects of the previous Soviet rule remain in the government of Azerbaijan. These aspects included the heavy use of censorship and the use of the media as a source of propaganda. While these aspects are no longer apparent in the current day government of Azerbaijan, traces of history still remain in the media of Azerbaijan. The independence of Azerbaijan in 1991, which is also the year in which the Soviet Union dissolved, can be identified as the starting point of media ownership trends due to the separation with their Soviet past and the restoration of independence in Azerbaijan leading to the freedom of the media compared to the old media of the Soviet Union which, as mentioned before, involved using the media for propaganda and strong censorship.

The trend of the media after 1991 had shifted from a tightly controlled media into a free media environment, much like the ones seen in first world countries today. However, due to the level of control shown by the government over suppressing independent media, it is debatable whether the Azerbaijani media is truly free. This level of control is attributed to the government’s influence on the media despite their advocations for freedom of the speech within the media and may also be affected by a resurgence of post-Soviet attitudes in the government.

Due to the tight control displayed by the Azerbaijani government, especially the suppression of journalists and critics of the government, there has been a shift from traditional media to digitised media on the internet. The rising trend of media integration into the internet is a trend seen in many other countries due to heavily regulated and controlled media such as newspaper and television. The popularity of digitised media can be attributed to the minimal filtering of the internet by the Azerbaijani government, although the internet has been slow in reaching the population of Azerbaijan. By 2010, only a third of Azerbaijanis were able to access the internet, most of which were wealthy citizens who lived in the urban areas of Azerbaijan (Pearce & Kendzior, 2012).

As the popularity of the internet grows and more people begin to discover the freedom of the internet, the government has begun to act upon the activity of online critics of the Azerbaijani government. Some of the reactions from the government include the use of software monitoring and filtering of emails. Although the general scale of the government’s activity on the internet is small in comparison to traditional media, control over the internet by the government slowly begins to increase and may indicate a possible trend in the future of the Azerbaijani media. (Pearce & Kendzior, 2012).


Regulation of Media

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"It has always been dangerous to be a journalist in Azerbaijan. Now the situation is deteriorating every day" - Idrak Abbasov, journalist (HRW(b), 2012).

Recent reports from Human Rights Watch (HRW) have attracted significant media attention regarding the lack of media freedom and freedom of expression in Azberjian, suggesting perhaps the media situation is lending towards extreme overregulation. There appears to be a strong pattern of violence from government agencies, including police, regarding regulation of media, particularly journalists and reporters.

Legislation/Government Regulation

Azerbijan authorities regularly bring spurious criminal charges against many activists and journalists who criticise the government. Such things include obviously false claims of drug possession and extortion, resulting in extended incarceration periods for the accused. The authorities also punish publications who critique the government and government decisions by ordering advertising and printing companies to cease business commitments with offending publications.

Information regarding Azerbaijan's legislation, which dictates the appropriate methods and rules around media and its production, are difficult to both find and access in an online facility. However there are interesting points of legislation to note that can be found regarding language, including:
  • on September 30, 2002, Article 6.1 on the Law of State Language was amended, meaning all television and radio broadcasting, no matter the form of ownership, must be carried out in the official state language (Azerbaijani).
  • since January 1, 2008, all movies broadcast on local channels in Azerbaijan must be spoken in Azerbaijani or Turkish.
These two pieces of legislation combined mean there is very little that can be broadcast from outside the nation locally. One major impact this has is the exclusion of many Russian programs and Russian originated materials in the post-Soviet environment. The Ukraine has similar regulations, with no more than 30% of programmes aired may be in the Russian language (Corley, 2012).

In 2011, several amendments to the Constitution came into effect, including the banning of Azerbajiani journalists from filming, recording and photographing without permission, and does no longer exempt public officials. “This is a very serious blow to freedom of media that emanates from the constitution itself,” said Khalid Aghaliyev from the Media Rights Institute. Confidentiality and protection of sources of information is another major issue of concern, with all journalists now, by law, being required to identify all sources. Azerbaijan in 2011 also further tightened regulations against the illegal spread of religious literature with an order by the president increasing the fine for importing, selling, and distributing religious literature from AZN 2,000 ($2,550AU) to between AZN 5,000 and AZN 7,000 ($6,350–$8,900AU), (Corley, 2012).

EBU

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The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) is the professional association of national broadcasters who negotiate and advocate for interests of public broadcasters in the region. Their main role in regard to media freedoms and regulation involves negotiating with networks and the government to control what is broadcast on television and radio. They also are in charge of the major music event the Eurovision Song Contest. They are limited by the legislation and media control of individual countries in Europe.

The EBU Declaration on the Core Values of Public Service Media includes the following principles:
  • Universality
  • Independence
  • Excellence
  • Diversity
  • Accountability
  • Innovation (EBU site).

"The EBU depends on freedom of speech for its very existence" - Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW (HRW(c), 2012).

On May 2, the eve of World Press Freedom Day, the EBU held a workshop in Geneva on the level of media freedom in Azerbijan. The Committee to Protect Journalists and several other media and human rights groups have issued a letter in response to their participation at the workshop - though pleased to have the opportunity, all criticised the conference for not securing "clear, tangible commitments from the Azerbaijani government to amend its alarming record of press freedom violations" (Ognianova, 2012).

Recent Media Attention

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Idrak Abbasov, courtesy of IRFS

In March, police detained Jamal Ali, lead singer in a popular band, and Natig Kamilov, bassist, as they performed at a public demonstration, after a scuffle broke out between them and unidentified men, apparently in response to some vulgar language Ali used to criticize the government. Police allegedly beat Ali and sentenced the musicians and one of the protest organisers to administrative detention for “hooliganism” in perfunctory and effectively closed trials (HRW(a), 2012).

On April 18, in the outskirts of Baku, Idrak Abbasov, a prominent Azerbaijani journalist, was hospitalised after police and security personnel from the state energy company viciously attacked and beat him (HRW(b), 2012). Abbasov, who works for the newspaper Zerkalo and the Institute for Reporters' Freedoms and Safety (IRFS), was supposedly filming the demolition of illegally constructed housing in a settlement called Sulutepe on the outskirts of the nation's capital.

These houses were located on land owned by the state oil company SOCAR, who were demolishing the houses to reclaim their land, despite residents protesting the destruction and still attempting to move their belongings out. When found by over 20 policemen and security guards, Abbasov was beaten unconscious and is now suffering permanent facial and internal damage.

Gunay Musayeva, a fellow journalist, describes the attack:
"He was on the ground and they continued to kick him. I saw his nose and eye bleeding as well as foam on his mouth, but they continued to kick him. I screamed and wanted to help, but someone grabbed me by my hair and another person grabbed my hand. They did not let me go. I was standing about a meter and a half away from the scene and saw how mercilessly he was beaten. It lasted about 5 to 7 minutes," (HRW(b), 2012).

These issues raise many questions about the government's disregard for media freedoms and human rights.



References

















  • Pearce, K. E., Kendzior, S. 2012 ‘Networked Authoritarianism and Social Media in Azerbaijan’, Journal of Communication, vol. 62, issue 2, pp.283 - 298.





By:

Brian Luo, Rebecca White, Justin Wee, Lara Mao; and Natasha Joukhdar.