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South Caucasus
Alekper Aliyev


The Report was read during the meeting with students of H. Acharyan
University in faculty of journalism

November 30, 2006
The relationships between “the Press and the Political Authority” and “the Press and the Society” in Azerbaijan can be described in the following way: in the former case there exists a total dependence, in the latter one there exists a total ignorance. It is an incontestable fact that the Azerbaijan Society regards the Press as a “consumer”. Today, as in the days of the USSR, the Press in Azerbaijan remains to be an obedient tool in the hands of these or those political and economic groups, mainly, a tool in the hands of the Authority.

Regretfully it should be admitted that today there are no printed or electronic publications in Azerbaijan, which would convey a complete and balanced information about the events of the day and would be nobody’s “horn” and that it would allow the Society to give its own estimation to this or that event. There is not such a body of Mass Media in which various forms of direct and hidden political pressure would be neutralized so much that the said body could assume the functions of “the Public Inspector”.

In the first place, there is an urgent problem of poverty and limitation of self-financing for local Mass Medias. Paradoxical though it may seem, from the financial point of view, the periods of the end of 1980s and the beginning of 1990s were more successful for the Press of Azerbaijan. At that time there was no real advertising market, there were neither rich political parties, nor well-to-do businessmen. But the newspapers could live only on the sale and even gained a small profit. People kept reading the Press, they enjoyed reading such things that were forbidden to write in the past. Everybody experienced the flush of success from the freedom of speech. The issue of the newspapers was getting profitable and beneficial for business. Basically, the same concerns any Republic of the Soviet Union, at the beginning of the 90s.

In Azerbaijan, the situation have begun to change since 1993. At first, the state of emergency, military and political censorship were introduced. Later on, in 1994-95 paper crisis and chronical problems with printing-houses emerged. Prices for the paper increased by 4 or 5 times, there were no alternative printing-houses, and one had to apply to the only state (governmental) printing-house operating in the country, which being a monopolist, established unreasonable prices. The publication of independent newspapers was very arduous which required the overcoming of numerous obstacles. Independent newspapers who were enjoying the taste of freedom and who had just become true professional, went bankrupt. Some publishers in search of way out rushed out into the corridors of the power, others franticly began to look for rich sponsors who needed an advantage-seeking newspaper for their personal purposes. Others changed their profession. A very short period of “free-independent-democratic” press in Azerbaijan came to an end. This period was over for more or less independent electronic Mass Medias; television channels such as BMTI, SARA, ABA sooner or later were closed.

On the threshold of the presidential elections of 1998, the situation outwardly seemed to have been changed. It was in this year when an official censorship was abolished in Azerbaijan. The newspapers had no mention of the so-called “white stains” on account of the demand of material censorships, significant obstacles in the spread and sale of newspapers became less and less. Towards the year 2000 problems related to the process of registration of new newspapers became comparatively easy. But, alas, other more fine methods of influence upon the Press began to be applied. Officials and other persons of authority filed numerous claims with the courts which were directed at the newspapers on charge of slander, and the courts, as a rule, began to demand from the newspapers to pay fines. Printing-houses, which ventured to print independent newspapers under this or that pretext, were forced to be closed. The journalists were persecuted, violence, prevailed everywhere, a whole newspaper circulation was confiscated and arrested, newspaper editors were charged of being engaged in political activity and they were arrested on trumped-up charges. And again, a well-tested method was applied: in the beginning the debts of independent newspaper were frozen, they were not forced to pay huge penalties in accordance with court decrees. A decision about granting privileged credits to Mass Medias of Azerbaijan was adopted. A later president Heidar Aliev in his interview with the journalists even called such measures “Politics of Freeze and warmer relationship with the Press”.

The government up to present days has been exercising various methods of control and supervision over the Mass Medias. Basic TV channels directly and indirectly are controlled by the State. (It is common knowledge that most of Azerbaijan Mass Medias are related to and work for either the Government or different opposition parties and only a few separate editions are considered to be politically unengaged. Electronic versions of Mass Media take the leading positions in an informational market which mostly have a progovernmental bias. Many non-governmental newspapers and magazines functioning under constant pressure of the authorities, are strongly politicized and do not always provide reliable information. However, at the same time they serve as an open area for discussion). Local radio stations do not provide serious information broadcasting. They mainly focus on musical and entertaining programs. The government fully controls the issue of license on radio and TV broadcasting through a licensed body, the full staff of which is appointed by the president.

As for the activity of the recently-created public Press Board, it also remains ineffective due to the fact that, as already has been said above, numerous newspapers and magazines of various profiles published in the country are fully dependant on the political power. As for bodies of opposing parties, then they are engaged by respective political forces. Any balanced information is almost hard to be provided by them either.

Although, it was expected that the establishment of the Press Board in Azerbaijan would give rise to significant positive changes within the Mass Medias. This event was estimated by the representatives of Mass Media as a new stage, since the Press ought to have an opportunity to solve the existing problems on its own, without anyone’s assistance and to seek their solutions in other structures or spheres. However, time showed that it was not as easy as that. Today, the growing majority of “writing brotherhoods” consider that the Press Board of Azerbaijan is an independent press for European Council.

Another serious problem existing in the local press is undoubtedly nonprofesisonalism, insularity and restraint inside of oneself. Whatever external circumstances were, issues of professionalism in all cases are immanents, and this has always been the matter of inner aspirations. This mostly concerns Azerbaijan journalisms, though they can bring various reasons for justification in their nonproffessionalism. What is the indication of nonprofessionalism of journalistic corps? Perhaps, the sources of information are not precise in most of informational programs. As for anonymous sources of information, then for Azerbaijan journalism there is not exist any juridical and moral aspects as to when and within what limits such sources can be utilized. Requirements of balanced journalism are not fulfilled either. But in most cases the so-called “balance” is being established due to formal justifications of such types as “it was a failure to receive the opinion of the other side.”

In addition, very often there is a feeling that Azerbaijanian journalism was never able to overcome the aims and directions of a Soviet totalitarian system. This is particularly interesting since Azerbaijan journalism is mostly young. But some of these “young” (particularly journalists of electronic versions of Mass Medias) seem to be the direct successors of Vishinski, a famous Soviet public prosecutor. They are easily operated on such concepts as “spy”, “enemy”, as though trying on a cloak of “State Prosecutor”. At the same time, the right of the opposing party to express their own opinion is ignored. Tens of journalists and NGO members visiting the neighboring Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, which was recognized as an integral part of Azerbaijan by a World Community, have been declared traitors.

Most of leading Mass Media do not have any desire and are unable to understand that journalists ought to or rather are obliged to freely highlight regional conflicts, since the attraction of the public opinion to the present issues and problems plays a significant role in the exercise of control over the violation of standards of humanitarian law and human rights in conflict situations, in the case in question, the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflicts. In addition, it should also be pointed out that state bodies of Azerbaijan least of all interfere in the activity of journalists and NGO members visiting Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. As a matter of principle, they do not intervene in their activities at all.

However, let us revert to our urgent problems, to be more exact, financial matters. It is clear as noonday that for complete independence of the press a firm economic support is required. The world practice shows that 70 percent of Mass Media budget includes means acquired due to advertising and other forms of support and the advertisers are those who work in the country of the firms and enterprises. And to a great pity, it is very difficult to say anything regarding it. Due to the advertising, free advertising newspapers still exist. A serious newspaper is unable to gather the advertisement which would provide a comfortable existence.

The second constituent budget of the Press is the buying capacity of the population. It should be pointed out that there is less positiveness in this sphere in Azerbaijan. Therefore, the Press which cannot solve its own financial problems through accepted ways and methods, is compelled to approach apply to different politicians, parties, financial groups and state officials which it its turn creates serious problems for the development of the Azerbaijan Press. After all, the so-called “approaches” to people in power put Mass Media into dependence from sponsors and deprive them of possibility to speak and express themselves freely. Perhaps, as the Azerbaijanian society develops, the Press also succeeds in gradually solving its own problems. No doubt that the State contributes to the development of Mass Medias by rendering certain aid and assistance to the latter, including the granting of credits to a few newspapers for several times. But this, of course, is not enough.

Another serious problem for local Mass Medias is the relations and attitude between journalists and officials who, to put it mildly, are not brought to a proper level. A journalist writes, but at the same time he or she encounters many difficulties in obstacles when attempting to receive any information from the first sources. This is caused by a huge number of problems: either the official person is not in, or he is unable to plan the working day of his press-cutting service. What is the result in the end? Not obtaining the information from the first source, the journalist writes articles based on rumors and the next day this official person about whom the article was written, brings an action against the journalist or exerts influence upon the latter in this or that form. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan Courts depending on the rank of the official, pronounce biased and unfair judgments in respect of the representative of Mass Media. In a few cases, a punishment measure is chosen, thus exceeding the level of guilt.

It is clear that in the presence of so many problems and violations, international organizations in their reports rather often declare that they have a negative estimation regarding the freedom of Mass Medias in Azerbaijan. Similar conclusions have assumed a traditional character especially over the last two years, during which the pressure upon the Press have become more frequent. Once it came down to a physical removal of “unwanted, undesirable” journalist. The assassination of Elmar Guseinov, the editor-in-chief of “Monitor” journal is still the subject of hot debates both in the country and in the international institutes.

It should no go unmentioned that before the assassination of Elmar Guseinov, more than once criminal cases were instituted against him, and also many threats were addressed to him, trial sanctions were applied and he was also sent to prison. Officers of the court over and over again were attempting to write and confiscate properties of the editor’s office and Elmar Guseinov, including his colleagues by claiming them to pay legal fines. Consequently, the mentioned journalist within 8 years was under constant pressure. He could freely emigrate from the country. All the more he received proposals from foreign states to provide him with a political asylum. But Elmar Guseinov, who distinguished himself from many of his colleagues in his fundamental position, stayed in his homeland. He stayed because his goal was to fight for freedom of speech, democracy, pluralism and … become a target.

The assassination of Elmar stirred the whole community of the country. International organizations and representatives of foreign diplomatic corps accredited in Azerbaijan were not indifferent to this monstrous crime either. They criticized this crime and applied to the authorities of Azerbaijan with an earnest request to do their utmost to find the criminals and bring them to trial. The president Ilham Aliev was the first who expressed his view on the assassination of Elmar Guseinov. Ilham Alive declared that the assassination of the journalist in Azerbaijan at the background of the so-called “firmly established social and political stability” is the provocation directed against the authorities and infringement on democratic development of Azerbaijan. “Those committing this crime attempted to cause damage to the international image of Azerbaijan, discredit it in the year of parliamentary elections, introduce the country as an unstable and undemocratic state where terrorist acts exist and where freedom of speech is persecuted”.

However, after the assassination of Elmar, the persecution of the representatives of Mass Medias continued.

Recently, an opposition journalist Sakit Zakhidov was sentenced to three years of imprisonment on charge of storing drugs. Many characterized this matter as a political motivation. Further, in the same year the editor-in-chief of “Bizim Yol” (“Our Path”) Bekheddin Khaziev was kidnapped, violently raped and beaten unmercifully, who was in the state of coma for several days.

The founder and the editor-in-chief of the two most popular printing editions of Azerbaijan Einull Fatullaev resolved to close his newspapers: a weekly “Real Azerbaijan” and daily “Gundelik Azerbaijan” and in the end give up journalism. He made the announcement of his leaving after the Baku Court sentenced him to two years of a conditional imprisonment and fined him to the sum of 15 thousand manats (17,5 thousand dollars). This sentence gave rise to the emergence of a campaign which successively went against Fatullaev over the last year (fines were imposed on his newspapers for several times, he was exposed to criticism in proauthoritative mass media information, once he was detained in Baku airport and there was even one case when a stranger beat him unmercifully in the center of Baku). It should also be mentioned that the circulation of the newspaper “Realniy Azerbaijan” amounted to 30 thousand copies, while the circulation of the daily “Gundelik Azerbaijan” ran up to 11 thousand copies.

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Today, the problems of Mass Medias in Azerbaijan are still unsettled. These problems are the central point of struggle in various circles. Some forces aspire to hold Mass Medias under their control, others are attempting to make Mass Medias serve public interests. The near future will show results of this public confrontation. Undoubtedly, the fate of democracy in Azerbaijan completely depends on it.

Violation of the law and pressure upon the Mass Media representatives is the tragedy for the country, society on the whole and for the authorities themselves. A modern solution to the existing problems is the only guarantee of prosperity and democratic reorganization in the republic. No matter what a pessimistic estimation we gave to today’s situation of Mass Media in Azerbaijan, there is still hope for the better. It is the Mass Media of Azerbaijan that struggles for honest, fair and free elections. It is the Mass Media that focuses on the duties of the country before the European Union. It is the Mass Media that keeps believing in the capability of democracy in the country. In spite of all the obstacles and hardships, Mass Media still hopes and believes.

Alekper Aliyev