World Press Day: Measures taken to strengthen press freedom in Azerbaijan

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Baku, 4 May 2017 –

May 3 was declared by the United Nations General Assembly[i] as World Press Freedom Day in order to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press. This idea is also supported by Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights[ii].

Azerbaijan historically attached a great importance to the press. The whole generation of public figures, talented Azerbaijani publicists and leading thinkers of their time were trained and formed in press.Hasan bey Zardabi was founder of publishing in Azerbaijan. He sought agreement for publication of "Akinchi'' newspaper in native language in the period of Tsar’s colonial system, after a prolonged struggle. Publishing of this newspaper drew a wide response in the Caucasus. At first editorial staff of the newspaper consisted of only one person. Zardabi was simultaneously the publisher, editor, corrector and typesetter of the newspaper. In 1875-1877, 56 issues of the newspaper were published. For the purpose of arousing interest of wide masses he ought to spread it gratuitously. Publishing the newspaper Hasan bey first of all attempted to achieve the main goal – propagation of ideas of the nation’s enlightenment. Publishing articles about country life, agriculture irrigation works he wanted to help peasants to overcome illiteracy in agricultural sphere. Creation of national unity was the main principle.

Nowadays, the mass media is developping in Azerbaijan to achieve the international standards. The state created all necessary conditions for free development of the mass media outlets as fourth power.

The Law on Mass Media adopted in a new edition, the Presidential Decree on "Strengthening State Support to Media''[iii] dated 20 July, 2001, and the Presidential Decree on Additional Measures on Strengthening State Support to Media[iv] dated 27 December, 2001, ensure the freedom of expression and independence of the media, and exclude the possibility of applying administrative measures restricting the freedom of the media.

In accordance with the President’s Executive Order dated June 20, 2005[v], 130-year anniversary of Azerbaijani media was solemnly celebrated, a number of newspapers and information agencies were provided with pecuniary aid[vi], and media workers were awarded with honorary titles and Presidential grants[vii] by President’s Executive Orders dated July 21, 2005.

With a view of strengthening material, technical and financial basis of the media the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan signed the Executive Order on Paying off Newspapers’ Debts to the Publishing House on February 8, 2006[viii].

According to the Order, debts of newspapers amounting to 450 thousands US dollars should have been paid from the state budget. It should be stressed out that the leading opposition newspapers were also covered by the Order.

Moreover, with a view of further facilitating access to information for journalists, the Law on Access to Information[ix] was adopted and it took effect on September 30, 2005. This Law obliges not only state agencies, but also legal entities to create all conditions for free, unimpeded and equal access to information by all. There is no restriction on free use of mass media by ethnic and religious minorities. The newspapers are published or brought from abroad in the languages of ethnic minorities.

Important legislative steps have been taken in the field of broadcasting. The Law on TV and Radio Broadcasting[x] was adopted in June 2002 and came into force on October 8, 2002. National Council on TV and Radio Broadcasting was established in October 5, 2002[xi]. 6 out of 9 members of the Council have already been appointed by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. In line with the Law, this agency is responsible for the application of state policy in broadcasting, granting licenses to broadcasting channels and monitoring the functioning of the broadcasting companies. It has to be stressed that since its establishment, the Council has been successful in fulfilling its tasks.

Another crucial step for ensuring freedom of expression and information was the establishment of the Press Council in the first congress of Azerbaijani journalists on March 15, 2003. It should be pointed out that this body was created independently, without any interference of the Government, by the journalists themselves. The Press Council’s main function is the pre-trial regulation of tensions between media and individuals, as well as media and private companies. The Council also carries out functions of monitoring of the newspapers and implementation of the provisions of the Code of Ethics for journalists, which was elaborated and adopted by the Press Council itself[xii].

At the same time, several measures were taken by the Government of Azerbaijan to help journalists. According to the decree of 22 July 2010 of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan "On measures to strengthen social protection of media members"[xiii], in 2013, a new building was constructed on the expenses of the Government and 156 houses were granted to mass-media members. According to the decree of 22 July 2013 of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan "On additional measures to strengthen social protection of media members"[xiv], public funds allocated for the construction of the next building with 250 houses for journalists.

In accordance with the President’s Executive Order dated June 2, 2015[xv], 140-year anniversary of Azerbaijani media was solemnly celebrated and according to the decree of 21 July 2015 of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan additional public funds allocated for the construction of the building for journalists[xvi]. Actually construction is to be completed soon and granted also to mass-media members.

As a result of the abovementioned measures, the Republic of Azerbaijan occupies one of the leading places among the Commonwealth of Independent States and Eastern European countries for the indicators of quantity and quality of mass media outlets.

Today, Azerbaijan has about 5,000 media outlets affiliated with a wide range of political and public bodies or private organizations and individuals. There are some 40 daily and more than 200 weekly and monthly newspapers. Throughout Azerbaijan, 9 countrywide, 1 satellite, 14 regional and 14 cable TV channels operate freely. In addition, more than 50 information agencies are operational. A genuine freedom of Internet exists in Azerbaijan. The latest statistical data indicate that around 80% of the Azerbaijani population uses Internet.

Despite some foreign NGO and States`s biased and politically-motivated propaganda campaigns against Azerbaijan in this field, the above-mentioned measures show us how Azerbaijan and its President attach a great importance to mass-media and how care about journalists` social protection.

Dr. Turab Gurbanov

















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