Azerbaijani journalists protest against the adoption of draft law "On media"
Azerbaijani journalists protested against the new media law
In Baku, a large group of independent journalists held a protest in front of the parliament building. The protesters demanded the removal of the draft law “On Media” from the agenda of the Milli Mejlis. This document has already been adopted in the second reading. What kind of bill is this and why are the independent journalists against it?
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In early December, the draft law “On Media” was presented to the Azerbaijani parliament. Despite all the protests of experts, lawyers and independent journalists, the document has already passed two readings in the Milli Mejlis and it now only needs to be adopted in the last, third, reading. According to some journalists, parliament may pass the law on December 30, on the eve of the New Year holidays.
Who can be called a journalist?
According to the definition stated in the new draft law, a journalist is a person who acts according to an employment contract in a media outlet or on the basis of a private copyright and a civil legal contract, whose main function is the constant collection, preparation, editing and production of informational material, as well as expressing his opinion (comment) about this information, and who is being paid for such a work.
This is stated in paragraph 1.1.4 of the draft law “On Media”.
Experts believe that in this way the new law does not allow those who have retired and are doing what they love without any self-interest, helping the younger generation or teaching journalism as a profession to refer to themselves as journalists.
Who can become the owner of media in Azerbaijan?
According to Article 26 of the draft law, only citizens of Azerbaijan who permanently reside in Azerbaijan can become the owners of media outlets in Azerbaijan. If the owner of the media outlet is a legal entity, then at least 75% of its shares must belong to Azerbaijani citizens permanently residing in Azerbaijan
Who cannot become owners of media outlets:
- persons convicted of grave crimes and crimes against public morality (prostitution, distribution of pornography, etc.);
- persons with an outstanding or unexpunged criminal record;
- persons in respect of whom there is a court decision on their incapacity or limited legal capacity;
- political parties (excluding print media);
- religious organizations (excluding print media).
Thus, citizens of Azerbaijan residing abroad will not be able to create a media outlet in Azerbaijan or participate in its management.
The most painful issue is the issuance of journalist IDs
The biggest controversy among independent media in Azerbaijan was caused by Article 70 of the draft law “On Media”.
According to it, journalistic certificates will only be issued by the relevant executive authority, which is currently the state media agency, the head of which is appointed by the president of the country. All journalists who have received certificates of this agency are entered into the Media registry.
In other words, this agency can easily refuse to issue credentials to independent media workers.
According to experts, this article violates all international laws and conventions on freedom of speech and subordinates all media to a single center controlled by the state.
Issuance of journalistic certificates by the editorial offices themselves or other journalistic associations is not provided for by the draft law.
This could pose huge problems for independent journalists in the future as law enforcement agencies and courts can refuse to recognize them as journalists.
As stated in Article 72 of the draft law, only journalists included in the media registry can obtain accreditation in state bodies.
But there are other obstacles to inclusion in this registry. Thus, a journalist who wants to have their name included in the registry must work in the media included in this very registry. Only journalists with higher education can get registered.
“If I am the owner of a media outlet, then I decide who will work in it: a person with a higher education or without it. Nobody can tell me who I can and should work with and no one else can decide how I assemble my editorial board”, expert Alasgar Mammadli comments on this article of the draft law.
Over the past week, two protests with the participation of independent journalists were held in front of the building of the Azerbaijani parliament.
On December 24, during the rally, journalists brought with them a “tombstone” symbolizing the death of the independent press in the country. The “plate” was taken away by police officers who surrounded the protesters. Unlike other, “civilian” actions, there were no detainees or arrested persons.
There were also no journalists detained during the larger protest on 28 December. JAMnews employees were also among the protesters.
Dozens of independent journalists, surrounded by police, shouted slogans against the adoption of the media bill in front of the parliament building.
At the end of the action, its participants read the statement and expressed a desire to present its text to the parliament members, but no one came out to the meet the protesters. It was decided to send a statement to parliament through a mailbox installed in the building of the Milli Mejlis.