Reporters without Borders unveiled the next World Press Freedom Index, which deals with press freedom in 180 countries. Compared to last year’s indicator, Azerbaijan dropped four steps lower, and ranks the 166th. As always, the document in Azerbaijan was adopted ambiguously. Therefore, representatives of the authorities, deputies said they did not consider the index fair. A deputy of the Milli Majlis asked, “What are these countries that are 165 degrees higher than us?” As can be seen, the question “Why did Azerbaijan rank the 166th place among 180 countries?” should be considered in the context of several criteria?
Governments should provide favorable conditions for the free activities of the press and journalists. The latter should not be persecuted for their activities and at risk. This follows both from domestic legislation and from the obligations undertaken by our country.
What is the situation today? For almost the last 15 years in Azerbaijan there has not been a single month and year for a journalist to be arrested. In some cases, our republic was even ahead of all countries in the OSCE area in the number of journalists in the dungeons.
The situation of the 2008-2010s has not undergone major changes. Before the Novruz Bayram, over 10 journalists were in prison in Azerbaijan. The worst thing is that they were convicted on charges not directly connected with slander, insult or professional activities. The latter does not at all deny the connection between the problem and the freedom of the press, the expression of opinions and the freedom of journalists. Because there are judgments of the European Court, regarding cases similar to those in Azerbaijan. In all these decisions, it was confirmed that the accusations against journalists were contrived and aimed at disabling them. Therefore, regardless of the nature of the charges, an opinion has formed that a journalist is being punished in Azerbaijan for his professional activities.
Free activities climate, pressure on journalists
Journalist need a safe environment for free job and collecting information. A journalist who collects information about a public meeting should be protected by the government.
What is the situation?
During the period from September 2018 to this day, it will be obvious that almost in 10 public rallies (actions, processions, etc.) which took place in Baku pressure was put on journalists. They claim that, despite their protective clothing, they were not allowed to go to the scene of the event, and they were treated rudely.
Thus, during performing the journalists performing their professional activities were taken to the police station more than 10 times. Independent journalists and bloggers Ramin Deco, Sevinj Vagifgizi, Aysel Ahmedova, and Nurlan Gahramanli have repeatedly encountered such treatment. They were kept in police custody for hours. There were also journalists who were subjected to physical violence in the performance of their professional activities.
When commenting on data on the Press Freedom Index, one of the parliamentarians asked with irony “What are the 165 countries that are ahead of us?” One of these countries is Finland, whose government provided two journalists investigating organized crime with a permanent police guard. What is the situation of investigative journalists in Azerbaijan? One of the most famous of them, Khadija Ismail, had to spend part of her life in the dungeons. Some investigative journalists are banned from leaving the country, and there are imprisoned people.
The legislation of Azerbaijan creates great opportunities for journalists to access information, imposes a duty on the owners of public information to post it on their websites and clearly defines what information should be open.
What is the real situation?
However, the content of social networking sites is extremely poor. The most transparent of them from this category does not disclose 60% of the data at its disposal. State structures with 50-60% transparency in this category can be counted on fingers. The transparency of other institutions is in the range of 25-30%. The most important information for journalists, financial, is not fully disclosed by any structure.
In the context of the aforementioned irony of one of our parliamentarians, we give two examples of informational openness. According to the press freedom index, Turkey is ranked 157th; however, on the website of any municipality in this country, you can see all the inquiries and answers given to them. Russia in its index is in 149th place. For Azerbaijani journalists it is a serious problem to receive information and conduct filming about the judicial system.
However, in many regions of Russia open court proceedings are broadcast live on the Internet …
Against the background of this state of affairs and comparisons, it is difficult to talk about the freedom of our press and journalists.
Media laws, their functioning …
Everywhere laws change, update, adapt to modern challenges, but not in Azerbaijan. Here, although the laws are amended, they are all restrictive. When looking at the lawmaking process over the past 10-15 years, the absence of any amendments to the law, encouraging journalists to enjoy their rights more conspicuous.
For all these amendments are restrictive. Thus, the data on the register of legal entities has been declared closed, obstacles have been created for journalists collecting information on operational search organizations. A tight blocking order was adopted. The legislation also introduced rules for applying censorship to the collection of information in military structures. There are dozens of such changes.
However, there are also laws protecting journalists. But how do they work at all? The law “On receiving information” is one of the most important tools for journalists. This law allows a journalist who cannot obtain information to “extract” it using the means of the ombudsman and the court.
In the official information base of the Ombudsman”s Office, as a rule, there are generally no statistics on information disputes. In terms of obtaining information, this organization is almost completely ineffective. This institution has never sued those who did not provide information.
The last positive decision of the courts in disputes on access to information was made about ten years ago, but such decisions were also not executed. Over the past two years, the local courts have not satisfied any of the complaints of the Turan news agency regarding the secrecy of information.
The criminal legislation of Azerbaijan defines violence against journalists as a crime, but so far this Aarticle of the Criminal Code has never been applied. The Code of Administrative Offenses of Azerbaijan provides for the punishment of entities who refuse to provide information to journalists. However, this mechanism has never been activated …
All of the above mentioned does not exhaust all the criteria that we can use to measure the degree of freedom of the press in Azerbaijan. For example, there is a criterion of financial resources of the press, ownership, ownership, self-censorship and other issues. Unfortunately, the conclusions made by the listed criteria do not call into question our place in the Press Freedom Index. We need to deal with problems, conduct public discussions, ponder recommendations, ask and heal wounds.