Azeri Journalists Protest Over Media Registry
Baku, Azerbaijan —
Independent journalists in Azerbaijan are protesting a media law that they say obstructs their ability to work and gives the government too much control over the media.
Journalists involved in the “We Don’t Want Sanctioned Media” campaign have called for a repeal of the law that President Ilham Aliyev enacted in 2022, saying it goes against the constitution.
The biggest complaint is over the creation of a registry for journalists and news outlets that provides a press card and access to government briefings and officials.
To be eligible, journalists must have at least three years’ experience and a work contract — a provision that critics say blocks freelance reporters from applying. News outlets must also agree to produce a minimum number of stories each day.
Lawmakers have said the law is to help improve relations between media and state, and noted that they discussed the bill with journalists when it was being drafted.
New Media Law Casts Shadow Over Azeri Media
But last month the Media Development Agency said it will take action against media agencies and journalists who fail to register but still work.
Journalists say the registry contravenes rights and is obstructing their ability to report.
“The requirement of the law on compulsory registration is against Article 51 of the Constitution of Azerbaijan, as well as the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,” Khalid Agaliyev, a lawyer, told VOA.
Independent journalist Aynur Elgunash said the law is preventing media from acting in their role of state watchdog.
“According to the information we have, even accredited journalists are no longer allowed to enter the parliament, because their names are not in the registry. The same will happen in the courts,” she told VOA.
Independent media are “deprived of these opportunities,” Elgunash said, adding that journalists could be blocked from protests, street polls and interviews with government agencies.
Elgunash believes the registration component gives the government too much control.
“If the registry interferes with creativity, demands 20 news [stories] per day, and dictates the topic of the materials, it means that the media is completely under the control of the state. It turns out that the state strengthens not only public but also legal control over you. This is a tragedy for the media,” Elgunash said.
VOA emailed the Media Development Agency late Wednesday for comment but as of publication had not received a response.
Shamshad Aga, editor of Argument.az — a news website covering democracy, corruption and human rights — also believes that the state interferes with journalists’ work.
“Unfortunately, in our country, they see the media as a mouthpiece of the government, a propaganda tool. The executive body controls the media, and in a country like this there is no transparency, no pluralism, no justice, and no democracy,” he told VOA.
The implementation of this law, which applies to media outlets in the country as well as those who broadcast or publish to an Azerbaijani audience, may lead to some media being completely shut down, he said.
“We demand transparency in our country, we are fighting for freedom of expression in our country, we are fighting for freedom of speech and press. We will not accept this and we think that it is necessary to protest,” he added.
Aga, a Baku-based journalist, said the law affects a wider group than just journalists.
“This is not a problem of media representatives only. It is a problem affecting the whole society, and the whole society should protest it,” he said.
A six-month registration period for media is due to end in March.
In a statement, Ahmad Ismayilov, executive director of the Media Development Agency, said that after that period, the authorities “will start legal action” against those operating without being registered.
“The court will decide whether they can continue their work,” he said.
So far 160 news outlets and 180 journalists were added to the registry, Ismayilov said.
This article originated in VOA’s Azeri Service.
Published on 2023-02-08