Today, 30 September, in the press center of the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety, a roundtable was held within the framework of “Free Airwaves” project. Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety Chairman Emin Huseynov opened the event, which was dedicated to the initial results of television monitoring that began in May 2009.
The roundtable also focused on the existing situation of television channels and legislation regarding this sector. Emin Huseynov said that the “Free Airwaves” project conducted with financial support from the European Commission has two main parts: “One of these parts is professional, comprehensive, and objective monitoring to assess the pluralism of ideas, accuracy, and balance in news reports presented on Azerbaijan’s eight nationwide TV channels during the course of 20 months,” said E.Huseynov. “The second part is to look through the legislation on TV and Radio Broadcasting and the see where the gaps in this legislation are, accordingly prepare draft laws conforming to European standards and submit these recommendations to the government and international organizations. Our partner Media Rights Institute is fulfilling this part. Also, we are implementing this project with the Holland School of Journalism and MEMO 98 (Slovak NGO).”
Then Media Rights Institute Director Rashid Hajili said that there are problems related to the legislation on television and radio in Azerbaijan. “Gaps in the legislation show themselves in several areas seriously,” said Hajili. “Frequency resources in Azerbaijan are not used properly. Since there no local radio stations on FM frequencies in the regions, the frequencies remain unused. As a result of this, national frequencies have been invaded by Iran in the South of Azerbaijan, by Russia in the north and by Georgia and Armenia in the west.”
Hajili added that there are also a lot of shortcomings in the area of television. “AzTV is not regulated by any law, or Public TV or commercial televisions violate law. Although the National TV and Radio Council has to oversee issues connected to the balance and social interests, these areas are not being supervised,” said Hajili emphasizing that there are problems related to the transfer to digital broadcasting, cable TV and so on.
During the roundtable, the website www.tv-radio.az, which was created within the framework of this project, was introduced. The monitoring of the TV channels, reports about legislation, monitoring methodology and general information about this project can be found on this website.
Media Rights Institute representative Khalid Agaliyev stated that within the framework of the project it was defined that the NTRC is still concealing the list of frequencies to the public. Media Rights Institute is preparing to appeal to court.
The co-founder of TV and Alternative Media Center Ahmad Heybatov expressed concern about NTRC’s failure to conduct tenders and to reveal the list of frequencies and added that he will appeal to court if these problems are not solved.
Democratic Journalist School Head Rovshan Hajibayli talked about Public TV mostly. He said that Public TV does not serve public interests as it should.
Monitoring Group member Rasul Jafarov talked about the results of the monitoring and said that according to the results of the monitoring in May, all of the TV channels allocate excessively more coverage administration.
“The state-funded AzTV dedicated the bulk of its political coverage to President Ilham Aliev both from time and evaluation points,” said Jafarov. “This gives grounds to believe that AzTV is used to create a cult of personality. With the exclusion of ITV (Public TV) and ANS, none of the TV channels allocate time to opposition representatives. However, programs shown where opposition representatives or independent politicians do participate, there is an significant time dedicated to international issues or other issues in the region, and the number of these programs change between 3 or 4 during a month. The number of talk-shows, news programs, debates and discussions is extremely low on the TV channels, especially on private TV channels. The TV channels prefer to prepare and broadcast show programs.
Then R.Jafarov answered questions from the journalists and said that in May AzTV devoted 98 per cent of its political news coverage to the activities of the President (42 percent), the government (13 percent), the presidential administration (1 percent), the local government (2 percent), the former president Heydar Aliev (17 percent), the Heydar Aliev’s Foundation (16 percent) and the ruling YAP (7 percent). This coverage was overwhelmingly positive or neutral in tone. By contrast, all other political entities, including non-affiliated MPs, received a combined total of some 2 per cent of the coverage which was mainly neutral in tone. As in the case of AzTV, ITV (Public TV) devoted most of its prime time news coverage (89 per cent) to the incumbent President (33 percent), the presidential administration (12 percent), the government (18 percent), the local government (2 percent), the former President Heydar Aliev (10 percent), the Heydar Aliev’s Foundation (2 percent) and the ruling YAP (12 percent). This coverage was almost exclusively positive or neutral in tone. Unlike other TV channels, ITV was the only monitored TV channel to allocate some more time to non-affiliated MPs and also to the opposition – some 11 per cent of the coverage. However, it was still disproportionately less than the time devoted to the ruling forces. In addition, contrary to its public mandate, ITV’s (and also AzTV’s) news and information programs do not offer critical and investigative analytical reporting, which would help the citizens in getting informed, analyzed and assessed views of persons managing public funds. This runs contrary to the Law on “TV and Radio Broadcasting”.
ANS was the only monitored outlet to allocate more time to the activities of the cabinet than to those of the incumbent President. Similarly as other TV channels, ANS also devoted considerable prime time news coverage to H.Aliev – almost 30 minutes. In addition, the ex-president was also featured in the framework of programs other than information programs. R.Jafarov emphasized that the coverage percentages of the subjects in the monthly reports were defined on news programs only. The percentages will be indicated on all programs in quarterly reports.
At the end of the event, IRFS Chairman Emin Huseynov emphasized that although all the leaders of the eight nationwide TV channels and NTRC Chairman were invited to the roundtable, none of them showed up. He added that the second roundtable will be held in October.
Regulation of TV and Radio Broadcasting in Azerbaijan (THREE MONTH REPORT)
Free Airwaves: Azerbaijan TV and radio broadcasting monitoring and democratic reform initiative (Report n.1)
Recommendations on TV and Radio Broadcasting