IRFS STATEMENT ABOUT PROPOSED CHANGES TO LAW ON MASS MEDIA

June 12th, 2009
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety is concerned about the proposed changes to the Azerbaijan Republic Law on Mass Media to be discussed in an extraordinary session of Mill Mejlis (parliament) on 19 June 2009. IRFS considers that several of the changes are intended to strengthen government control over the print media and limit freedom of expression.

According to the proposed changes, a clause will be added to Article 14 that will make it possible to ban founders of mass media that is closed through a court decision for law violations from founding new print media for a period of five (5) years. This seems disproportional to violation, and neglects to take into account that Azerbaijan’s courts issue political motivated and unsubstantiated decisions against the mass media and violations committed by mass media may have nothing to do with the founder(s).
There is also a proposal to alter a clause about the liquidation of media that is convicted of writing “biased articles” three times within two years. While this version will replace a version with language about three violations within one year, that clause was just added several months ago to the mass media law and needs to be removed entirely. In addition, it remains unclear what “biased articles” means.
Another area of concern is the proposal to remove a clause in Article 14 which reads “State organs, municipalities, political parties (only for print media), public unions, departments, enterprises, and organizations, in collaboration with citizens residing permanently in the territory of Azerbaijan and others have the right to found mass media.” While it appears this activity is not currently banned elsewhere, meaning it would remain legal even without this clause, it does call into question if the ability to create mass media will eventually become a very restricted. Currently, opening broadcast media in Azerbaijan is basically impossible, but the print media has always been a liberal area where all people and groups have typically been able to contribute.
In parallel with the proposed changes to the Azerbaijan Republic Law on Mass Media, a change has also been proposed to the Azerbaijan Republic Law on State Fees to add a 1000 AZN fee for creating print mass media. This is a steep price that will prevent some people from opening print media.
IRFS calls on Azerbaijan’s Milli Mejlis and the government of Azerbaijan not to accept the proposed changes referred to above, and to instead work towards further liberalizing the media sphere in Azerbaijan, particularly in the area of the broadcast media, and decriminalizing defamation.
 
IRFS calls on the international community to continue pressuring Azerbaijan’s government to ensure freedom of expression in Azerbaijan, to decriminalize defamation and to fulfill Azerbaijan obligations to the international community in the area of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.  
 

PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE LAW ON MASS MEDIA

 

Article 14. Establishing of mass media

To establish print media there is no need to get permission from state organs.

The legal or physical person wishing to establish print publication is obliged to apply officially to the relevant organ of executive authority 7 days before printing the publication to receive registration.

The application shall consist of a receipt from paying the state fee, if the founder is a legal entity – the charter for the legal entity as it is registered, and the following:

    * the title of print publication, aim, circulation, legal address;
    * the name and surname of the founder, editor or editor-in-chief (if any) of print publication;
    * if the founder or editorial collective of print publication is legal person, the registered charter of that entity.

If the print publication is distributed without notification to the relevant organ of executive power or it is identified that the information provided in the application are not true, the relevant organ of executive power shall apply to the relevant court to stop the activities of that publication.

 
State organs, municipalities, political parties (only for print media), public unions, departments, enterprises, and organizations, in collaboration with citizens residing permanently in the territory of Azerbaijan and others have the right to found mass media.

The creation of mass media bearing the name of state organizations, international structures, departments and enterprises, and local self-regulation organ is done on the basis of an agreement with that structure. It is not permitted to create mass media bearing the name of Azerbaijan’s distinguished people (without permission from that person’s close relatives or inheritor), names of already existing mass media, or names the could confuse the population, or mass media that insults morality, national or religious feelings.   

Legal and physical entities of foreign countries shall have the right to establish mass media in the territory of the Azerbaijan Republic pursuant to interstate agreements signed by the Azerbaijan Republic (under term of legal entity of foreign country it is understood that if more than 30% of shares of legal entity belong to legal entities or citizens of foreign countries, or more than 1/3 of founders are legal entities or citizens of foreign countries).

 
State organs and legal and physical entities of foreign countries are not allowed to finance mass media except in the cases stipulated in part five of this article and Article 21 of this law, and in other cases foreseen by the legislation of Azerbaijan Republic.

Also:

    * the persons who are imprisoned by the court decisions and the persons whose disability is approved by the court;
    * public associations and political parties which don't have state registration or whose activities are forbidden by the law can't establish mass media organs.
    * the founders of mass media that are liquidated due to committed law violations can be banned from creating other mass media for up to five years through a court decision.
    * the manner for founding a broadcaster is determined in relevant legislation

Article 19. Suspension of production and distribution of mass media or their termination

Production and propagation of mass media can be temporarily suspended or liquidated only through a decision of the founder(s) or court.

Relevant executive authority can file a complaint in court against print media for temporary suspension of print media’s activities for up to two months:

   1. if a foreigner or a person without a university education is appointed editor (chief editor)
   2. if print media is brought to administrative responsibility for abusing information freedom and journalistic rights and then within the same year commits that same violation

Relevant executive authority can file a complaint in court for liquidation of mass media:

   1. if print media does not fulfill the demands in the fifth paragraph of Article 3 of this law;
   2. if information or calls are published (or aired) that damage the country’s territorial integrity, security or public order, including pornographic material
   3. if it is determined that a mass media is funded in contradiction with this law by a government structure of a foreign country or a physical and legal entity;
   4. if within one two years a mass media institution print media is brought to responsibility for writing a biased article three times.

 


PROPOSED CHANGES TO LAW ON STATE FEES

 

Article 2. Cases in which state fees are taken

2.0. State fees are taken in the following cases:

2.0.20 for registration of print media

 

Article 33-1. Degree of state fee for registration of print media

Action that State Fee is taken for

State Fee amount

Registration of print media

1000 AZN