Press Day in Azerbaijan - someone is in prison, someone makes a racist attack
141 years ago, on July 22, the first issue of the Azerbaijani ‘Ekinchi’ (‘The Sower’) newspaper was released. Now, 141 years later, Azerbaijan is ranked 11th from the bottom in terms of the freedom of press.
Briefly about the press
Everybody talks about the freedom of press in Azerbaijan, be it international organizations, human rights activists or journalists themselves. It’s hard to add something new to the discussion. In general, it suffices to know that:
• Khadija Ismail (RFE/RL) spent two years in prison (tax evasion and other charges);
• Rauf Mirkadyrov (The ‘Zerkalo’ newspaper) spent two years in prison (high treason);
• According to Freedom House, Azerbaijan is now ranked 188th in terms of media freedom worldwide, being somewhere in between Vietnam and Bahrain, or 11th from the bottom;
• The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked the country 163rd out of 180 countries.
It’s no secret that it’s mostly the governmental bodies that lavish a feeling of disquiet towards the independent press in Azerbaijan, safeguarding freedom of speech day in and day out. But what is the situation in other types of media?
A case that occurred a few days ago and the response to it perfectly illustrate this.
You ordered racism with a side of patriotism?
A dark-skinned female forecast anchor has been fired from the channel, Azerbaijani Space TV.
The ‘Azerbaijani’ newspaper published an article about this. The author didn’t remember the anchor’s name (Tendai Shereni), which he stated proudly. The article emphasized that television is a mouthpiece for culture, a person’s upbringing and education. As it is highlighted in the article, anchors with a beautiful appearance and ‘features characteristic of the nation’ should appear on TV, since that’s the place where not only national values are promoted, but also the beauty of the Azerbaijani women, which helps one understand an ‘Azerbaijani man’s character’.
“For this purpose, Space TV (even its name is ‘foreign’!) has gone in for an interesting ‘novelty’. This TV channel has entrusted a dark-skinned African woman (we have nothing against her skin color, we think along democratic lines) to report on the weather in Azerbaijan! reads an article. At the end, the author jeers at the fact that the channel decided to ‘stand out’ through such a ‘shtick’ and notes with indignation that the channel has actually stamped on sacred national values: ‘It’s a hard task to surprise an audience nowadays…if the Space TV crew banked on surprising the audience in this fashion, let them catch their breath. They did it! They really have surprised us:
* with dowdiness;
* with an indifference to an Azerbaijani women’s beauty and holding their heads in disgust;
* and finally, a disrespect for the Azerbaijani language!
After all, this ‘African beauty’ could hardly speak it!
According to the official version of events, the National TV and Radio Council (NTRC) claimed that the anchor was violating the norms of the Azerbaijani language. As the Head of the NTRC Department, Tevekkül Dadaşov, stated in an interview: “There are certain rules about the use of the state language on in the TV and radio broadcasting sphere in Azerbaijan. Under these rules, any change in pronunciation of a word is unacceptable. In addition, a broadcaster’s supervisors assumes a certain responsibility when selecting an anchor, who should have a clear and literate way of speaking. Dadashov added that if the anchor improved her Azerbaijani language skills and pronunciation, nothing would prevent her from working in the future for the TV channel.
The case itself may be subject for discussion in terms of labor legislation and human rights. Though the ‘Azerbaijan’ newspaper’s reaction on the eve of the national press day was an excellent icing on the cake on the celebration of today’s holiday.
141 years ago, a famous Azerbaijani educator, Hasan Bey Zardabi, had to wear himself out in publishing the “Ekinchi” newspaper. He was both its proofreader and editor, as well as a reporter. It is said that Hasan Bey wanted to introduce ordinary people to culture and science. The newspaper criticized superstition and backwardness and advocated a women’s right to an education. A total of 56 issues were released. Then the local authorities (Azerbaijan was then part of the Russian Empire) closed the newspaper. According to one of the versions of the events, one of the that played a critical role in this was its continued slandering and denouncements of fanatic Muslims, who were criticized by the newspaper on a number of occasions.