International community, experts urge Azerbaijani President to reconsider new controversial law On Media
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signed the law “On Media”, which caused protests both in the country and abroad. The document was signed 40 days after its adoption in Parliament. Azerbaijani media experts and international organizations call on Aliyev to reconsider his decision.
- Freedom House calls on Armenian parliament to repeal ‘Grave Insult’ law
- “We will pursue you until we cut your heads off” – Chechen authorities threaten activist’s family
- “Media law” in Azerbaijan: will it become even more difficult to talk about Karabakh?
At the very end of 2021, despite mass protests by independent journalists, the Azerbaijani Parliament adopted the Law on Media in the third reading. The document was to enter into force only after signing by the President of the country.
Ilham Aliyev signed the law on February 8, i.е. 40 days after its adoption in Parliament.
Why do independent journalists dislike the law?
The law “On Media” provides for the creation of a mass media registry in Azerbaijan. Media entities not included in this registry will not be considered mass media, and their employees will not be considered journalists.
Moreover, the document provides for the issuance of journalistic certificates exclusively by the state MEDIA agency. Journalists who do not possess such certificates will not be able to participate in government events, press conferences, etc. They may also not be allowed to conduct polls on the streets.
The law also contains a clause stipulating the conditions for the operation of online media. Thus, an Internet portal that publishes less than 20 materials per day will not be considered active online media outlet.
The law prohibits the employment of people who have not received higher education for journalistic work.
According to lawyers, the law contradicts the country’s constitution and the International Convention on Human Rights.
All these shortcomings of the law were noted in the appeals of the journalistic community and international organizations to the President of Azerbaijan with a request to return the law for revision. Now the law is being studied by the Venice Commission.
“Authorities are trying to intimidate society”
“Practically all media in the country are controlled by the authorities, funded, managed by the authorities, and act in full accordance with their interests”, said Mehman Aliyev, head of the Turan news agency.
According to him, the policy of establishing state control over the media in Azerbaijan began in an open form in 1998 and about 10 years ago this process was completed.
“In response to this policy, a parallel, alternative media space formed by society – social media – has appeared in the country.
The activity of citizens on social media, to a certain extent, played the role of public control over the government, and this seriously worried the authorities. Therefore, in order to limit the activity of social networks, the law “On Media” was adopted and the Media Development Agency (MEDİA), the Council for Audiovisual Means was created”, the journalist said.
“The authorities seek to intimidate society, force people into self-censorship. The activities of the authorities will continue to develop in this direction”, he said.
Appeal from the US Embassy
The US Embassy in Baku called on the Azerbaijani government to apply the new media law in line with OSCE standards and international obligations.
“We are concerned that the new media law was adopted and signed without taking into account the views of independent journalists, media experts and international organizations, including the OSCE and the Council of Europe.
We continue to study the law signed by President Aliyev and look forward to the analysis of the law from these and other experts.
We urge the government to apply the new law in accordance with its commitments within the OSCE and other international organizations”, the representative of the US Embassy in Baku said in response to a request from journalists.
“Being a journalist in Azerbaijan will become even more difficult”
“Being a journalist or a social media activist in Azerbaijan will become even more difficult after the president approves a new media law”, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee stated:
“The new law will impose many new large-scale restrictions on the already tightly controlled media of the country”.
The law has been the subject of widespread local and international criticism and protests from the country’s journalists, who have called on President Aliyev to reject the document, which further violated human rights and restricted independent journalism.
The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights called on President Aliyev to return the law to Parliament for revision to make it in line with international standards of freedom of speech and media.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee notes that independent and critical media in Azerbaijan are often subject to censorship and forced closure, systematic harassment, and arrests of journalists and social media users.
Many provisions of the law allow the government to severely restrict media activities and will be used to prevent criticism of the government.
Only those who do not have a criminal record will be included in the unified register of journalists. Given the continuing arrests of journalists on false charges for many years, this condition disqualifies many journalists from working and legalizes censorship.
In addition, the authorities will no longer need court approval to shut down a media outlet.
“Azerbaijan’s international partners must state how devastating these new restrictions will be in a country where autocracy is built by suppressing the media and critical voices”, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said in a statement.