The court decision to terminate the license of the national private television channel ANS TV is politically motivated, and part of a systematic government clampdown on free expression, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) said today. IRFS calls on Azerbaijani authorities to immediately restore the broadcasting license of ANS TV, and to allow the channel to operate freely in Azerbaijan.
On July 29, the Baku Court of Appeal ruled to terminate the special broadcasting license granted to ANS TV. On July 18, National TV and Radio Council (NTRC) suspended the channel’s license for a one-month period at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office. The NTRC also requested the annulment of the license , on the grounds that airing of previews of an interview with Fetullah Gulen, who is accused of organizing the recent coup in Turkey, constitutes “promotion of terrorism.”
“It is nothing less than an outrageous act of censorship”, said IRFS director Emin Huseynov. “We call on the authorities to overturn the decision immediately and allow ANS TV return to on air, and to allow the media to cover political issues without censorship”, he said.
IRFS declares that the termination of the TV channel’s license constitutes a violation of freedom of expression. Azerbaijan’s Law on TV and Radio Broadcasting states that TV and radio broadcasting is free and that any censorship in this regard is prohibited. However, the government of Azerbaijan has grossly interfered with the TV channel’s freedom of broadcasting at the request of another state (Turkey).
The Turkish government recently closed down 16 TV channels, 3 news agencies, 23 radio stations, 45 newspapers, 15 magazines and 29 broadcasting companies in a single day. Following the example of its neighbor and ally, Azerbaijan has taken radical steps to curtail the freedom of broadcasting.
IRFS emphasizes that the broadcaster’s coverage is governed by the principles of comprehensiveness, objectiveness, completeness and trueness of information, free expression of thoughts and views by citizens, ideological and political pluralism, impartiality, non-intrusion into private and family life, protection of national and moral values, compliance with professional ethics and moral standards, and good quality of programs. The broadcaster has the right to interview even a person against whom a court verdict has entered into force. In the case of Fetullah Gulen, there no such verdict.
IRFS underlines that depriving ANS TV of its license for exercising its right to independent broadcasting violates state obligations to ensure freedom of expression. The Azerbaijani government must uphold its commitments and restore the broadcast of the TV channel.
IRFS urges Azerbaijani government to restore the transmission of ANS TV and refrain from censoring freedom of expression.
IRFS is also concerned by the failure of relevant international organizations to react to the closure of the television channel, and calls on the OSCE and Council of Europe to react.