In February this year, the president apptoved the law “On media”, and  the  Media Registry, which was launched in September of this year, has  become another burden for media authorities. What events in this area do you remember this year, when the new law “On Media” and the Media Registry came into force?

Khalid Agaliyev, Head of the Media Rights Group, answered ASTNA's questions on this topic.

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Question: What important events in the field of media marked this year?

Answer: The new law provides for a new regulation. As a particular change in this context, the creation of the Register of Media and Journalists can be noted, and this process is still ongoing. It's not easy to say exactly what place a roster based on fairly rigid rules will take at the moment. However, the overall process leaves no room for positive thoughts in terms of media freedom. The formation of the registry is ongoing, the overall picture will be clearer by the steps that will be taken after the process is completed.

The scope of restrictions that will be placed on the activities of those who are not included in the Register will determine how the state will treat them. So far, it is only known that those who are not included in the Register will be deprived of the opportunity to receive accreditation. In addition, the regulatory body, that is, the Azerbaijan Media Development Agency (MEDİA), will apply to the courts to assess the legality of the activities of persons not included in the Register. This step can be taken as the new law creates ample scope for intervention in the rather confusing issue of media freedom. If such a step is taken, and they go to restrict the activities of those who are not in the Register, then this will be the biggest blow to media freedom since the beginning of independence.

Question: What media or journalists have suffered because of the Media Law this year?

Answer: If all the reactionary provisions of this law, which do not meet the criteria of the Council of Europe, were applied simultaneously, then it would be impossible to bear all their weight. Therefore, the law is applied gradually. In general, the independent media are in anxious anticipation. They are waiting for what will happen, how they will function.

There are those who are thinking of leaving the country and operating from abroad. Full clarity on these issues will be made after the registry is fully formed and the subsequent steps. Currently, there are journalists and media that are not included in the register. Media and journalists, whose activity is to collect, disseminate information, are knocking on the thresholds of the courts. The law affects the media environment as a whole, and this will gradually affect all journalists and media.

Question: This year, the Media Registry also started its activities. What are the results of its activities?

Answer: The main problems of the media environment in Azerbaijan are the discrepancy between laws relating to media and journalism to advanced standards, the existence of regulations that force journalists to censor, the fact that laws in favor of the media are not developed at all, the lack of an advertising market that guarantees the financial independence of the media. Registry In the context of the new law, the Media Registry has not eliminated any of these problems. Defamation continues to be criminalized and these laws are more heavily enforced. From a financial point of view, the media have completely come under the control of the government. The advertising market does not exist for independent media, journalists, these funds are directed to state-controlled media. In general, it is difficult to talk about any positive results.

Question: How do the rules introduced by the Media Registry affect media bodies? Do registered media have problems? Or were they given the green light?

Answer: MEDİA does not publish information about the media included in the Register, as well as those who are denied this, about journalists. The public must see and know which media are included in the Register and which ones are denied. However, this public demand is not satisfied. The media included in the Register are financially dependent on the government, so they are not very inclined to talk about it openly. But there is dissatisfaction, sometimes they openly express it in conversations with us. MEDİA provides financial assistance to online media. The amount of monthly assistance is approximately 3,000 manats. The new legislation imposes an obligation on every media outlet to publish at least 400 news and articles every month. This is a very heavy and senseless burden. The media, which receive a monthly aid of 3,000 manats, are extremely unhappy with this. They quite reasonably say that publishing 400 articles every month is a huge amount of work. In order to cope with this work, a journalistic team of at least 5-6 people should work. It is impossible to assemble such a team for 3,000 manats, it is impossible to take on this burden. Several acquaintances of the editors have expressed a desire to leave the media altogether. Such problems are already emerging. It should also be borne in mind that the media that shows dissatisfaction are those that are constantly under the tutelage of the government.

Question: The opinion of the Venice Commission on the Law was negative. Despite this, the Law has not lost its force, but has begun to operate. What, then, should be the requirements to change the Law?

Answer: The negative opinion of the Venice Commission on the new Law, I think, is always the concern of the government. The approach, when a conclusion is given, its recommendations are not implemented and everything ends there, is wrong. If an opinion is given, each member state of the Council of Europe is obliged to take it into account, and if you are a member, your basic laws must comply with CE standards. If you don't bring it up to standards, it could lead to the issue of Council membership eventually. Also a few days ago, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe announced its next resolution on the Media Law. This document clearly states that Azerbaijan must change the Law on Media, bring it into line with the standards of the Council. At present, the global political environment and conditions are sufficiently delaying the execution of such documents.

Question: What awaits the media, authorities and society if the law is not changed?

Answer: I don't even want to imagine such a possibility, sooner or later this law will be changed. There are no 100 ways to regulate the media, journalism. Either we will have to follow the path of advanced, prosperous countries, the Council of Europe, which we are also a member of, or the path of China, Russia, Iran. After such a comparison, everything becomes obvious.

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