Why journalists are actually being given apartments in Azerbaijan
July 22 marks 145 years since the creation of the Azerbaijani national press. President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree celebrating this anniversary.
Among other things, this document also states that: “Based on the proposals of journalistic organizations and editorial offices, recommendations on awarding journalists who have special merits in the development of the national press should be submitted to the president of the country within a month.”
Each year, several journalists receive the title of Honored Journalist, and several more are awarded the Teraqqii Medal [Az. Progress].
This year 255 journalists will also receive apartments as a gift. The first time this happened in 2013, when 156 journalists were gifted apartments, and the second time in 2017, when 255 journalists got apartments.
This ‘housing issue’ divided the representatives of the Azerbaijani media into two camps. Some found it unacceptable that the government presented apartments to journalists, while others considered it normal and openly expressed their claims for free housing.
We discussed the issue with the chairman of the Union of Journalists of Azerbaijan, chief editor of the site Aina-Zerkalo, Elchin Shikhli.
Distributing free apartments to journalists is a unique phenomenon in the South Caucasus, and this year will be the third time it has happened. What has changed in the Azerbaijani media since the first two times?
In terms of quality, nothing has changed, it has not improved, everything remains as it was. I was initially opposed to giving apartments to journalists. The presidential decree does not say a word about donating apartments. The people who were doing this at that time regarded it as constructing an entirely new building. (This refers to Assistant to the President for Social and Political Affairs Ali Hasanov, who was relieved of his post in 2019, and his department was liquidated, and the head of the Media Support Fund, Vugar Safarli, who was relieved of his post in 2020 – JamNews ). And now, the third apartment complex has been built. They are finishing it up and then will distribute the apartments.
The decision to hand out apartments in the first two houses caused a rather negative reaction. Why did they decide to do it a third time?
Shikhli believes that for Ali Hasanov and Vugar Safarli, the construction of this house was a way to embezzle state money.
Is the goal of this venture really to improve the living conditions of journalists?
The goal is to gain control over journalists. So that later, they have them wrapped around their finger. It is known that most of our journalists have some kind of issue with housing. But this problem can be solved differently. I have suggested many times that it would be better if conditions were created for journalists under which they can buy an apartment for themselves. For example, reduce mortgage interest.
The Chairman of the Union of Journalists recalls that 10-15 years ago a group of journalists tried to form a co-op and asked the Baku Executive Power for a plot of land for construction. But nothing came of it.
How do you predict the activities of the Media Support Fund will change after leadership has changed hands?
– The new leader and his team could hold a meeting with the editors-in-chief and journalists, listen to our proposals, or voice their own. In my opinion, it should have been like that.
Can the editor-in-chiefs themselves make a proposal package?
I don’t plan to do so. At one time, Mehman Aliyev (head of the Turan news agency) and I submitted the idea of creating this Fund, and here is the result. I regret it.
Elchin Shikhly says that if he accepts an apartment as a present, then his integrity will be spoiled.
“Each time, before writing something [critical], I would remind myself: this isn’t right, they were so kind to me.”
Do you see a fourth housing complex in the future?
– No. There will be no fourth apartment building. I am firmly convinced that this is their “last hurrah.” And people involved in the distribution of apartments are now in a very difficult situation.
The chairman of the Union of Journalists believes that the new team has no interest in this matter, because the apartment idea belonged to the previous management.
“Whoever had had the interest initially, has already gotten everything they wanted from it, they’ve already stolen what they wanted to steal.”