The climate for press freedom has improved, the head of the Azerbaijan National Press Council Aflatun Amashov said addressing the 6th congress of the Azerbaijani journalists. The congress, widely attended by the pro-governmental media, was held on July 11 at the State Song Theatre named after Rashid Behbudov. According to Amashov, Azerbaijan enjoys press freedom and journalists are protected. He claimed that there is no single journalist in the country jailed for their professional activities, but ‘even theoretical opportunities for imprisoning journalists have to be eliminated and law on defamation has to be adopted’. RFS reminds that there are seven journalists in Azerbaijan detained or imprisoned on trumped-up charges related to their professional activity. They are Khural newspaper chief editor Avaz Zeynalli, Tolisy Sado newspaper chief editor Hilal Mammadov, azadxeber.org news website chief editor Nijat Aliyev, xeber44.com news website director Araz Guliyev, Yeni Musavat newspaper journalist Tofig Yagublu and independent journalists Fuad Huseynov and Faramaz Novruzoglu.
Azerbaijani journalists are provided with free apartments, Amashov said. What in many countries would be considered a corruption appears to be an indicator for press freedom for the Head of the National Press Council.
During his address, Amashov extended his thanks to President Aliyev for providing immediate assistance to journalist Nijat Daglar to pay his medical expenses.
Seventeen active members of the Press Council were elected at the congress. Aflatun Amashov was re-elected as the chief of the Press Council on a no-competitive base and with unanimity. He has held this position since the establishment of the Press Council, which was founded in 2003 as a self-regulating organization with the support of the Council of Europe. However at the present time this agency has become a non-independent structure serving the government’s interests.
A number of independent journalists and mass media organizations has left the Press Council to protest against its pro-governmental agenda. As a non-governmental organization, the Press Council regularly monitors the activities of newspapers and labels many newspapers as “racketeers” by including them in its “black list”, while in fact the duty of the Press Council should not be assigning negative names to newspapers, but contributing to the development of the press and working to improve press organizations’ financial status.
Now, with the Press Council’s mandate extended to the Internet media, there are a lot of worries that new restrictions would come t stifle critical voices online.