Free votes against media registry

Baku/06.02.23/Turan:On Monday, representatives of independent media, journalistic organizations and freelancers discussed at the "Qanun" publishing house the problems arising from the process of applying the media registry provided for by the Media Law.

The indignation of independent information voices was caused by the statement of the Media Development Agency (ARM), created by the President of the Republic in January 2021, that media and journalists who have not been registered in the register, but continue their activities, will be prosecuted. Registration began in September and ends in March. By the end of the year, 160 media outlets and 180 journalists out of 200 who applied to the ARM were registered, and 40 media outlets were refused.

If their activities are declared illegal by the courts, they will not be able to collect and disseminate information. “Moreover, it is to be expected that such individuals will face criminal charges for illegal business activities,” said Khadija Ismail, who was prosecuted and imprisoned in 2014 on the same absurd charge.

Even in the process of semi-secret drafting of the law and its hasty two-week discussion in parliament towards the end of 2021, the independent journalistic community opposed the use of the register, as it had a permissive function and contradicted the philosophy of a free journalist and the constitutional and international obligations of the executive branch of Azerbaijan.

The requirement of the law on mandatory registration in the register contradicts the  Article 51 of the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, as well as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, said Khalid Agaliyev, a lawyer in the field of freedom of expression.

According to legal expert in the field of media and freedom of expression Alesker Mammadli, linking journalistic activities with mandatory registration in the register indicates the intention of the authorities to severely restrict freedom of expression in the country. Mammadli, who, during the discussion of the law on Media in the parliament, proposed to the deputies 40 amendments and changes to the bill worked out with his associates, recalled that the Media Development Agency then claimed that registration in the register was not mandatory. "But today, the media community is being forced into the exact opposite of a mandatory requirement."

Mehman Aliyev, director of the Turan news agency, repeated his opinion of a year and a half ago on the need to develop a law that would serve the development, not the restriction of freedom of speech. "I said then that this is not a law "On the mass media", but a law "On the Media", that is, it covers all producers of information, regardless of whether it is a journalist or a self-expressing person. The very name and provisions of the law speak of this. This threatens the development of a free information society in country". Aliyev proposed to take a broader approach to the problem of the media law, the part of which is the registry.

The meeting participants agreed to continue efforts to create a favorable and healthy information environment in Azerbaijan, including the development of a new media law. An initiative was put forward to publish a package of 40 amendments and changes to the media bill, which were submitted to Parliament in December 2021. It was also decided to start collecting signatures for an initiative to revise the law "On media".—0—

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