INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE: BROADCASTING FREEDOM IN AZERBAIJAN – NEED FOR REFORM

February 24th, 2011
Today, on February 24th, an international conference titled “Broadcasting Freedom in Azerbaijan: the need for reform” was held within the frame of the “Free Airwaves” project, financed by European Commission and implemented by IRFS and the Media Rigths Institute.

EU delegation Head to Azerbaijan, Roland Kobia, noted that democracy and freedom of expression issues are fundamental values and underlie the relations between EU and Azerbaijan. “The EU never demands anything from the government other than the implementation of the obligations they have undertaken. We are willing to see that Defamation Law is adopted in Azerbaijan and journalists are free to express their opinions,” Kobia said.
OSCE Baku Office representative Jacqueline Carpenter spoke about the importance of broadcasting freedom. “We support monitoring of the media in Azerbaijan. Even before the 7 November parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan, we had allocated resources for NGOs to monitor the media. As a result of these projects, the negative trends in TV broadcasting were reveled,” Carpenter noted.
IRFS Head Emin Huseynov informed that the project implementation lasted 22 months. According to him, though the main donor was the European Commission, the next phase of the project received financial support OSCE Baku Office, the National Endowment for Democracy, Council of Europe and German Marshall Fund.
The opening speeches were followed with the themes. The first theme was moderated by IREX Azerbaijan Media Chief of Party Angela Nicoara.
IREX Azerbaijan Expert Elesger Memmedli focused on radio broadcasting and licensure problems in Azerbaijan within the past 2 years. “It is illegal to grant one broadcaster  more than 2 TV and 3 radio frequencies. However, in the last 2 years, the National Television and Radio Council granted AzTV the licenses for  Sport Azerbaijan and Culture channels. All of these are results of monopolistic governmental control over TV and radio broadcasting. Moreover, 3 TV and 2 Radio broadcasters in Nakhcivan have not received license from National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council. At the same time, shutting down of  BBC, Voice of America and Azadlig radio frequencies are considered as one of the pressures put on freedom of expression,” said Alasgar Memmedli.

Media Rights Institute Director Rashid Hajili spoke about TV and Radio broadcasting legislation, problems and solution.
IRFS’ monitoring results paved the way for preparation of the political document. In Azerbaijan, TV and  radio broadcasting should be regulated by the National Television and Radio Council and members of the Council are appointed by the President. However, all the council meetings are held closed. I believe that, a law should be adopted about the council’s structure, selection process and its power. As for licensure, the council’s last tender was conducted improperly.”- said Rashid Hajili.
IRFS Chairman Emin Huseynov spoke about what measures can be taken for improvement of TV and Radio broadcasting in Azerbaijan. He put forward his proposals. “The government should demonstrate political will and ensure the rule of law. We suppose that by suspending the operation of AZTV, the broadcaster of 3 state-run TV channels, the government could then create 3 public TV channels. The international donors should support new media agencies, ” Huseynov said.
IRFS Project Coordinator Rasul Jafarov spoke about the results of the monitoring. “We monitored all the prime-time programs of 8 TV channels within 18 months. In TV channels, the President, government and New Azerbajian Party received extensive and positive coverage.  There were no debates in the channels other than ITV and ANS. Even the election period lacked TV debates. The level of political diversity is too low. State-run AZTV and Sports Azerbaijan allocated positive coverage for ruling forces and governmental agencies,” Jafarov said.
International expert Ivan Godarsky spoke about the specifications of TV news programs. He gave information about differences between public service broadcasters and private channels. “Public or state-run TV channels are financed by tax payers and therefore they have a higher responsibility. The private channels are dependent on the market, they form their editorial policy themselves. Right to freedom of expression cannot be limited by any indirect means, such as the abuse of government or private control over the mass media. Provisions for the newscasts and current affairs programs should ensure fairness, balance and impartiality,” he said. Godarsky also gave information about  the results of TV monitoring in Moldova.
“As a continuation of this project, we are monitoring TV channels in Nakhchivan. It is important to continue this project, because the channels can make changes in their operation based on the results of this monitoring. As of March, we’ll voluntarily monitor AzTV and Public TV channels,” IRFS representative Idrak Abbasov said.
Nakhchivan IRFS representative, Elman Abbasov, spoke about the specifications of the monitoring in Nakhchivan, the results and future activities.
Media Rights Institute representative Khalid Agaliyev spoke about the lawsuits filed within the framework of the project and their importance. He said that about 10 lawsuits are currently in execution and they could be taken to the European Court if necessary.
Of the invited TV channels, governmental agencies and parliamentarians, only representatives from Public TV, Communications and Information Technologies Ministry, Culture and Tourism Ministry and MP Gudrat Hasanguliyev attended the conference.
The event, which was also attended by experts, political figures and NGO representatives, discussed general issues as well.