INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY CONDEMNS NTRC, AZERI GOVERNMENT’S DECISION TO BAN FM BROADCASTS OF RFERL, VOA AND BBC

January 5th, 2009
A number of international organizations issued statements condemning the decision of the Azeri government and the country's National Television and Radio Council (NTRC) to cease the FM broadcasts of RFERL, VOA and BBC.

This move has generally been understood as a ban on the broadcasts of these three radio stations because other means for listening to RFERL, VOA and BBC, such as AM radio, internet and satellite, are limited, expensive and underdeveloped.
In a statement issued by the OSCE, OSCE Special Representative for Media Freedom Miklos Haraszti said, "Opening borders to a free flow of information is one of the oldest Helsinki commitments regarding human rights, pledged by the participating States more than 30 years ago. Closing down FM news radio broadcasts that were among the few remaining sources of varied, public-service quality information is a serious step backwards for an OSCE democracy."

(http://www.osce.org/item/35848.html)

The U.S. State Department said, "We deeply regret Azerbaijan's decision not to renew the broadcasting licenses of Radio Liberty, Voice of America and the BBC. These media organizations play a crucial role in supporting democratic debate and the free exchange of ideas and information. This decision, if carried out, will represent a serious setback to freedom of speech, and retard democratic reform in Azerbaijan."

(http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2008/dec/113522.htm)

Speaking in Prague, RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin told a  RFERL correspondent, "We are known there as a source of independent, credible, accurate news and information. This decision to knock us off the air and, by the way, others — the Voice of America, the BBC — is going to rob the people in this country of important information that they need to react and act on as they're leading their lives and trying to grow and build civil society."

(http://www.rferl.org/content/Azerbaijan_Bans_RFERL_Other_Foreign_Radio/1364986.html)

Committee to Protect Journalists also issued a statement. In the statement Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said, "We are dismayed by the continued state crackdown on independent news and information in Azerbaijan and we call on President Ilham Aliyev's government to reverse this politically motivated decision. International broadcasters are a lifeline for Azerbaijani audiences to receive alternative news and views. Severing that line will be a loss to the public and a sure sign that Azerbaijan is not interested in mending its already tarnished press freedom record of recent years."   (www.cpj.org)
Reporters Without Borders said, ""We are baffled by this. What kind of impression does President Ilham Aliev expect to give by insisting on isolating his people from news and information behind an iron curtain? They will temporarily lose access to quality news outlets but they will know who to blame. In the end they will undoubtedly find ways to get round the constraints that the government has tried to impose, to the detriment of Azerbaijan's image. It is a strategic error."