- Alasgar bey, martial law has been declared in Azerbaijan for several days. Censorship also came into force in accordance with the Law on Martial Law. In this case, all news in Azerbaijan must be broadcast after official approval. How should the media, especially independent media, work in this situation?

Ələsgər Məmmədli - First of all, it is not true to directly say that military censorship has been applied in Azerbaijan. There are grounds for military censorship. But this is mainly due to the legal regime. Because Article 1 of the Law on Martial Law states that during martial law, the mass media, Internet resources, and social networks may be restricted. But at the same time, Article 10 of the same law specifies what measures can be taken during martial law in general. In this case, Paragraphs 22 and 23 provide for the issue of specific regulation of the mass media, i.e. military censorship, as well as a presentation on the closure of any media outlet that, in a sense, acts contrary to military legislation. The party regulating this must be the structures that enforce martial law. Annex 3 to the recent decision of the Cabinet of Ministers specifies the areas where military activity is allowed, especially during the curfew. Paragraph 7 also mentions the mass media. From this point of view, the mass media can now operate with permission, i.e. registration. We are talking about the curfew period. Outside of that, there are no norms for censorship yet. The mass media must continue to operate within a normal, standard, ethical, and legal framework. Of course, when writing about the military issue, it should not contain information that is not shared by military structures and not confirmed by them. Because this is a requirement of the legislation on martial law, as well as Article 7 of the Law on Mass Media. On May 1, 2018, a special provision was added to the Law on Mass Media. It was noted that during martial law, only the information provided by the military side should be referred to. In this regard, the existing legislation contains these norms. In this regard, in 2018, the second article was also added to the Law on Television and Radio Broadcasting. From this point of view, the media is now more self-regulating and controlling the issue. If someone now has a restriction directly from the military commandant's office, it may already be specifically aimed at his/her own thematic activities. But there is no general regulatory norm yet. The Cabinet of Ministers has not established a rule on the application of censorship during martial law. Therefore, in the present case, such a rule is not in force.

- Due to the situation, the Internet has been restricted in Azerbaijan for several days. This creates problems for journalists and media outlets. It is understandable that the state cares about the situation and tries to prevent the spread of disinformation and some inaccurate information about the situation on the front line. But on the other hand, it prevents the population from having access to accurate information. How should this issue be regulated? Was restricting the internet the right step in this situation?

- Article 71 of the Constitution considers the restriction of fundamental rights and freedoms during martial law and war to be legitimate. That is, we have freedoms. However, when martial law is imposed, temporary and concrete restrictions may be imposed. From this point of view, there is a legitimate reason to restrict the Internet. At present, steps have been taken to restrict certain resources, especially social networks, to prevent the spread of disinformation in the exchange of information. There are still two aspects here. How important is this for a democratic society? In my opinion, the direct closure and restriction of the Internet media, especially the social network, is also to limit the government's ability to spread the truth. In other words, it also precludes to convey the struggle of the country, which is in favor of the government and made by Azerbaijan to restore its territorial integrity, to the international community. A very limited number of people gain resources in some form, trying to log in with additional VPNs and proxies. The vast majority of them are passivists. This does more harm than good to the national security of the country that the government actually desires or wants, rather than conveying the country's truth to the public. In this regard, the issue of blocking the Internet in the country should be reconsidered as soon as possible. And it is needed to move from blocking the Internet to content control. Because when you look at the Law on Martial Law, it's more about content control. Content control refers to the control of statements that are unequivocally detrimental to the national security of the country, as well as contrary to the claims of territorial integrity. In this case, it would be more appropriate to impose certain restrictions on content, rather than restricting the entire Internet. Given that due to the pandemic in the country, there is a question of conducting the education system through the electronic environment. It will also hurt 1.7 million students and teachers. Online classes have already been suspended. Declared martial law in Azerbaijan is not a fixed term. Although the law provides for a fixed term, the President's decree has not specified a fixed term. It is intended to eliminate this process. It is understood that martial law may continue until the liberation of Azerbaijani lands. This is an indefinite time. And by then, there will be a process of truancy. We have been fighting the epidemic for 8 months. We have not achieved any results yet. Given this, it can be said that the restriction of the Internet will do more harm to society.

- Many foreign media representatives and international journalists are dissatisfied with the lack of information from Azerbaijan. Due to the closure of offices of many foreign media outlets in Azerbaijan, information about Azerbaijan is a minority in the international media. Even for this reason, the information published in many international media outlets is one-sided. Because the Armenian side has opened its doors to foreign journalists and the media. The Azerbaijani side did not create conditions for them to come to Karabakh, to the front line. Don’t you think this leaves Azerbaijan behind in the information war?

- Azerbaijan should have been prepared in advance to approach this issue. There is a point where it is right in international law. Its territories are occupied. There are 4 UN resolutions in this regard. Today's confrontation is taking place specifically on the territory of Azerbaijan. In the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, the restrictions placed on the long-term activities of the international media here, especially the fact that there are few or almost no sources of trust in the international media in Azerbaijan, deal a major blow to Azerbaijan's rightful information policy. In recent days, more and more live footage of the incident has been coming from the other side in the international media. They give a partial space or do not give any space to our official information. It begins to portray us as an unfair party in this audience. It is true that some foreign media outlets can cover the scene. But in this regard, more systematic steps must be taken as soon as possible. The international media should be allowed to film the deaths and injuries of our civilians near the frontline, as well as the occupation of our territories, including the damage caused by the other side, to present to the international community our views on what is happening in that area. It is not enough to give a briefing in Baku. One of the most important functions of the media is to convey information from the scene with its own lens or pen. Because official information can always be questionable for the media in terms of reliability. But first-hand information is more reliable. If they saw it with their own eyes, if they shot it with their own cameras, Azerbaijan's current position in international public opinion could become an objective one.

- What should be the activity of the media in such a situation? How was it to be set up? What opportunities had to be created?

- The activity of the media is regulated in two aspects. One is legal, the other is ethical. We noted the legal framework. In the present case, certain restrictions can be imposed by legislation, these are also provided for in international conventions. But within the ethical framework, there are specific instructions from the media on how we should work in extreme conditions today. At the same time, in connection with the work with state secrets, the interests protected by law. In this regard, the media should be more professional and sensitive. The news of the death of a soldier can be reported by the media from the first source. But at the same time, the soldier has a family, there is a possibility that information may not reach them. In this case, the media should think about it and disseminate it without identification. For example, the trajectory of various combat operations and equipment can be considered a secret under the legislation on State Secrets. At the same time, it is necessary to consider the issue of the limits provided by the legislation when disseminating this information, so that this information is not of an intelligence nature for the other party. In short, the media needs to know how to behave ethically in extreme situations. Legal issues should be discussed with lawyers. The current regime is a state of war, and there are serious responsibilities in this regard. These responsibilities are also legitimate in the present case. In this case, we must know the exact limits of the restrictions on our rights and freedoms.

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