Table of Contents
The censorship phenomenon has a long history. It appears in various ways in different countries. From the very beginning, the influential part of the society knew how to impose the restrictions on the writers. In some cases, writers were imprisoned, tortured, and even beheaded (Yesil, 2014, p. 72). Nowadays, the opportunity of free expression is the lifeblood of the democratic government. Thus, the protection of journalists is necessary to guard the democracy on the modern world (IBAHRI, 2014, p. 7). However, the censorship remains highly relevant as many countries suffer from this issue. The paper focuses on the censorship in Azerbaijan and explores the peculiarities of its consequences.
The Constitutional Rights of Azerbaijan
The current state of free expression in Azerbaijan is under siege. The government launches an intensive campaign to silence criticism and discord, even though the Article 47 of the Constitution in Azerbaijan ensures the freedom of speech. In spite of it, over the past decade, there have been many reports of violence against the reporters. A non-governmental organization (NGO) has recently noted that Azerbaijan is among the top ten countries in the world for the number of the journalists imprisoned. The International Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also admits this information. Obviously, the constitutional rights are severely restricted. Additionally, the authorities provide a criminal offense for the defamation. The punishment can be from two and up to five years in prison. For example, a journalist who spreads the information that damages the reputation of the president can be sentenced to two years in prison. Furthermore, in 2013, the laws governing denigration were adopted. Now, they refer to the Internet content as well. Thus, it questions whether it is still reasonable to use such words as media, Azerbaijan, and freedom in one sentence.
Censorship of the Television and Radio
Additionally to the Article 47, the Article 50 of the Constitution of Azerbaijan guarantees freedom of mass media, “everyone is free to look for, acquire, transfer, prepare, and distribute information. The freedom of mass media is guaranteed. State censorship in mass media, including press, is prohibited” (“Constitutional Proclamation,” n. d., p. 11). Nowadays, there are twenty-three television channels and twenty-six radio stations in Azerbaijan. The National Television and Radio Council (NTRC) issues the broadcast license. This organization is state-funded, and the president appoints the members. Thus, the NTRC is considered to be an implementing instrument of the president’s office. Some independent TV and radio stations were permitted. However, they are subjected to the interference from the authorities. For instance, in November, the NTRC refused to prolong the license of ANS TV (IBAHRI, 2014, p. 17). It is one of the leading independent channels in Azerbaijan. Subsequently, the government confiscated their equipment and annulled the journalist accreditations. The restrictions towards radio stations were strict as well. In fact, in January 2009, the government of Azerbaijan closed the FM stations, such as BBC, Voice of America, and Azerbaijani Radio Liberty. In 2012, the broadcasting of all foreign TV shows was finally banned. Thus, a great number of international media organizations were forced to close their offices in Baku (IBAHRI, 2014, p. 18).
Press and Internet Censorship
Generally, there are nearly thirty-six daily and almost two hundred weekly and monthly prints in Azerbaijan. The main point is that not even a half of them are independent. To clarify, only 20% of publications in Azerbaijan represent the oppositional views. While up to 80% of newspapers are state-owned (IBAHRI, 2014, p. 18). The leading government newspaper, Azərbaycan, Khalg Gazeti, Yeni Azərbaycan, and Milkiyyet, oppose alternative publications, such as Yeni Musavat and Azadlıq (IBAHRI, 2014, p. 18). The government uses the economic pressure to control the media. The newsrooms with the oppositional editions are disappearing from the streets. Consequently, it becomes really hard to find any non-governmental newspaper outside the capital Baku (IBAHRI, 2014, p. 18). It is not surprising that most of the oppositional publications and their employees were prosecuted by law. As a result, people are forced to work without official employment, contracts, and security. Due to the financial instability caused by this fact, people could not be sure in a safe tomorrow day.
According to the situation with mass media and press, many appositionally-minded Azerbaijanis started to use the Internet. As the openness of the Internet attracted many activists, the government began to form a policy to control it. Thus, the criminal defamation was extended to the expressions on the Internet platforms (Pearce, 2014, p. 41-42). However, the authorities cannot control all private publications or messages on Facebook and Twitter. It helps people freely express their thoughts. The online freedom became the primary reason for the attacks on the oppositional websites in 2012-2013. Furthermore, the government continued the arrests of online activists. Besides, the Internet is influenced by the financial side as well. Hence, the freedom of expression remains narrow as the infrastructure is weak and the Internet remains quite expensive in Azerbaijan (Pearce, 2014, p. 41-42).
The Violence against Journalists and Self-Censorship Phenomenon
The authorities of Azerbaijan have its own unique way of regulating all kinds of opposition. Instead of using the high-level filtering in the Internet and social media, it uses the psychological techniques to create the environment of self-censorship (Pearce, 2014, p. 41-42). When writing about the government and other powerful individuals, almost every journalist feels a degree of self-restraint. The physical attacks against the reporters have increased after the unsolved murder of the prominent journalist Elmar Huseynov in 2005 (“Running Scared. Azerbaijan's silenced voices”, 2012, p. 13). There were many cases when journalists were attacked, beaten, and even injured. Moreover, they knew who did it, but they were scared to make any public disclosure. For example, Seymour Khaziyev, a journalist from the oppositional newspaper Azadlıq, was attacked by six masked men in 2011. He had been tortured for two hours; luckily, he survived. He remembers that one of them told him, “to be as intelligent and quite as others” (“Running Scared. Azerbaijan's silenced voices,” 2012, p. 14). Unfortunately, with regard to horrible harassment and violence, not all the journalist would find the courage to tell or write even a word against the governmental actions.
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Global Media Interaction
According to the head of English Service of Trend Agency, “Azerbaijani media outlets are developing in the line with global processes” (“Baku International Humanitarian Forum,” 2014). The most powerful media organization in Azerbaijan is AzeTAc. Nowadays, this agency plays the role of a bridge that builds a dialogue between the East and West media organizations. It is a member of Asia-Pacific News agencies, International Islamic, and Turkish-Speak News agencies. Such activity helps not only spread the information but also learn about new global media trends. The biggest achievement of the company is an organization of the Baku International Humanitarian Forum. The round table was organized among Austrian, Malaysian, Italian, Vietnamese, Croatian, and Serbian media experts. During the forum, experts discussed the problems of journalism in the 21st century and defined the place and role of media in uncovering the humanitarian problems in the age of globalization (“Baku International Humanitarian Forum,” 2014). The media in Azerbaijan prove an ability to find the way how to share own experience and adopt new trends for the further development.
In general, the Azerbaijan laws provide a range of false guarantees, such as the freedom of expression and the journalists’ rights. The government of Azerbaijan tries to confuse the world. While the Constitution assures the liberty and safety, the authorities increase the pressure on the journalists. The reporters can be attacked, tortured, or even murdered because of their opinion. Mostly, these crimes remain unsolved for many years. Newspapers and TV programs announce the news that is diligently filtered by the politics. Other new and thought are not allowed on FM or TV shows. However, the opposition manages to find the way of sharing the truth with the world. It helps to support the democracy in the country. Until these courage reporters, journalists, and common citizens are not afraid to voice their concerns, the Azerbaijanis can hope for the positive changes.