Over the past year, journalists have been brought to court more than 25 times, there have been cases of imprisonment

Before the National Press Day, ASTNA spoke with  Khalid Agaliyev,  an expert on media issues, head of the media rights group about the state of the media and journalists over the past year.

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Question: What has happened in the media over the past year? What did you remember this year in the media?

Answer: Looking at the general situation, it is impossible to talk about any particularly serious changes, from the point of view of the conditions for the activities of the media, everything remains the same. Freedom of the media in Azerbaijan is problematic. We see this both on various indices and in the steps taken by the government in recent years. The legislation on mass media has been changed, institutional changes have been made to the regulatory bodies controlled by the government. All this was explained by the intention to improve the situation. Despite these changes, we cannot say that there are any positive changes. Both the legislation and the form of the bodies applying it have changed. Over the past year, as well as currently, Azerbaijani media, journalists are undergoing the process of adapting to the new order.

Question: Have there been arrests and threats against journalists and bloggers this year? What about the motives behind these arrests and the investigation of the threats? In general, what events have taken place this year in connection with violations of freedom of expression, repressions against journalists, attempts to silence the media, lawsuits against journalists?

Answer: There are still criminal penalties for slander and insults. In exchange for waiting for such punishments to change, various types of administrative punishments related to freedom of expression were included in the legislative system. Although such laws are not applied as often and widely, they work and are used from time to time. Over the past year, journalists have been brought to court more than 25 times. There were also cases of imprisonment for slander and insults. Unfortunately, the practice of arresting and imprisoning journalists for their professional activities on dubious and sometimes false charges has not been eradicated, and this problem continues to threaten and frighten those who enjoy freedom of speech. One of the main problems of mass media and journalists is that they are subjected to various types of pressure while collecting information about public events. Looking back at the last year, we see that journalists have been subjected to such pressure more than 15 times.

They were subjected to violent acts, detentions, and deliveries to the police while conducting their professional activities. With regard to journalists, the functioning of laws that could protect them is also problematic. Judicial practice in connection with libel and insult is not progressive. In none of these cases did our courts refer to their profession, to the important role they play. It cannot be said that there are positive nuances in the investigation of cases of pressure faced by journalists. In more than 10 cases, journalists complained to the relevant authorities in order to punish those who put pressure on them, but their complaints were rejected in all cases. It is also problematic to investigate previous threats and attacks on journalists. For example, the case of journalist Aytan Mammadova, who was attacked and threatened last year, remains unsolved.

Question: But has there been any positive progress this year regarding the state of media in Azerbaijan?

Answer: Specific systemic positive changes are out of the question. We can state fragile progress, or rather, examples of the fact that free media can continue their activities despite difficulties and problems. I can note that the online media resources created over the past 4-5 years by free journalists, as well as previously operating ones, are functioning. At the same time, in recent months, although intermittently, the blocking of such Internet resources as Radio “Azadlig,” “Meydan TV,” which are an honest source of information for society, has been lifted. The new media legislation is a law that contains rather reactionary content. The fact that this law is not applied in full force can also be attributed to the positive.

Question: Last year, after the entry into force of the new law on media, the media registry began to operate in Azerbaijan. Have any steps been taken in relation to the media, journalists who have not been registered, could not pass?

Answer: As I have already mentioned, the new law has not entered into full force. The most notable work in this context is the creation of a registry. Before the new law comes into force, the creating a register for existing media has been completed. A six-month deadline was set during which the media, journalists had to apply for inclusion in the register. It is reported that this deadline expired on April 15. Until this date, it is unclear how many media outlets, journalists applied for inclusion in the register, how many of them were refused. We know information only about those media outlets, journalists who have publicly announced their inclusion in the register, and those who have publicly stated that they received a refusal. In addition, at the beginning of 2023, a statement was published by the Media Development Agency, which led the formation of the register.

In light of this knowledge, it is known that about 200 media outlets have applied for inclusion in the register, more than 40 of them have been refused. This is also not confirmed data. Although such general information about the registry should be publicly available, the agency has not provided transparency in this area. There are many media outlets that applied in April, and their applications remain without consideration for several months. There are dozens of media outlets that have not applied to the registry at all. A rather uncertain situation has arisen. It is unclear how the fate of those who are not in the register will turn out. It is clear that these media outlets are deprived of the possibility of accreditation, as well as the privileges and rights granted to journalists by other laws. The new legislation on mass media has revealed rather complicated mechanisms, so it is quite possible that the legality of the activities of those who are not on the register will be challenged in court, which can happen at any time. All this creates serious threats to free media, journalists who are deprived of accreditation and other rights and privileges.

Question: What steps should Azerbaijan take to protect freedom of expression, freedom of the media? How to make sure that no journalist is subjected to pressure, attacks?

Answer: The media should be strong, not dependent. Only if there are such characteristics, the problems of the media and journalists will be curbed. If there is dependence and lack of necessary resources, these problems will be, there will be pressure on journalists, journalists will be neutralized by custom-made court decisions. Now, if we look at it from the technical side, then journalists are surrounded by protection - they are protected by laws, there is also a self-regulatory body, etc. However, these mechanisms do not work. The so-called self-regulatory bodies are also under the control of the government. Laws protecting journalists do not apply. To change the situation, it is necessary to adopt progressive media laws and ensure their functioning. The government should leave the media alone, allow them to operate freely and independently so that they can attract advertising revenue that matches the quality of their content.


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