From www.kimandrewelliott.com

Azerbaijan gets an earful about its decision to ban foreign radio (updated again).

Posted: 02 Jan 2009

"The European Commission warned Azerbaijan Wednesday that its planned ban of local-language broadcasts by the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Liberty could hit plans for deeper ties." AFP, 31 December 2008. "The European Union is criticizing Azerbaijan's ban on international radio broadcasts. ... EU official Benita Ferrero-Waldner says it will deprive listeners of 'valuable and independent sources of information.' She says the EU's commitment to increase economic and other ties with Azerbaijan hinges on respect for democracy and human rights." AP, 31 December 2008. "In early December the EU proposed a new "Eastern Partnership" aimed at boosting ties with its neighbours in the former-Soviet sphere, including Azerbaijan. However, 'respect for freedom of expression and of the media are essential elements' of the package." DPA, 31 December 2008.
     "'These media organizations play a crucial role in supporting democratic debate and the free exchange of ideas and information,' said State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid. 'This decision, if carried out, will represent a serious setback to freedom of speech, and retard democratic reform in Azerbaijan.'" AP, 30 December 2008. "We remain committed to working with the government of Azerbaijan to find the proper legal framework within which these radio and TV broadcasts can continue." State Department press statement, 30 December 2008.
     "'The people of Azerbaijan are the real losers,' said D. Jeffrey Hirschberg, a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors that oversees VOA and RFE/RL. 'The decision appears to be part of a concerted official effort to limit access to unbiased information. We urge the Azerbaijani authorities to reverse this decision and to continue to work to resolve this situation, as they had indicated they would. Meanwhile, we will pursue all available alternatives for broadcasting the popular programs of RFE/RL and VOA to Azerbaijan.'" Broadcasting Board of Governors press release, 30 December 2008.
     "Free media are essential to any society that values liberty. Radio Liberty, the Voice of America and the BBC should remain on the air to serve listeners in Azerbaijan with unfettered access to information and a variety of viewpoints. Depriving listeners of these services is a violation of the right to free expression that will constrain debate in Azerbaijan, undermining its commitment to democracy in the eyes of the world. The government of Azerbaijan should rescind its decision to block these broadcasts." Rep. Howard L. Berman, chairman, House Foreign Affairs Committee, 30 December 2008.
     “We are baffled by this. What kind of impression does President Ilham Aliev expect to give by insisting on isolating his people from news and information behind an iron curtain? They will temporarily lose access to quality news outlets but they will know who to blame. In the end they will undoubtedly find ways to get round the constraints that the government has tried to impose, to the detriment of Azerbaijan’s image. It is a strategic error.” Reporters sans frontières, 30 December 2008.
     "'We are not closing down foreign radio stations but we want their activities to be regulated according to international practice,' Ali Hasanov, head of the political department of presidential administration, told reporters." Reuters, 30 December 2008. See also UPI, 30 December 2008. And VOA News, 30 December 2008.
     OSCE representative on media freedom Miklos Haraszti: "Opening borders to a free flow of information is one of the oldest Helsinki commitments regarding human rights, pledged by the participating States more than 30 years ago. Closing down FM news radio broadcasts that were among the few remaining sources of varied, public-service quality information is a serious step backwards for an OSCE democracy. ... Internet usage in Azerbaijan is low, the expansion of satellite radio is unrealistic and shortwave radio is unable to provide modern-day reception quality." ISRIA, 31 December 2008.
     "Javier Solana, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), very much regrets the decision by the Azerbaijani National TV and Radio Council not to renew the broadcasting licence of foreign radio stations." Girodivite, 31 December 2008. See also VOA News, 31 December 2008.
     "Nushirvan Magerramli, chairman of the country's State Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting insisted Tuesday the decision had nothing to do with politics. 'Nobody raised concerns when we stopped Russian, Turkish and French television and radio broadcasts in Azerbaijan.'" AFP, 31 December 2008. See previous post about same subject.
     Azerbaijain is singled out for criticism in this instance, but it actually is joining a large club of nations that do not allow the rebroadcasting of foreign stations on their FM bands. The EU criticism is interesting, given that many European nations have not welcomed foreign (or at least non-EU) stations on their FM dials. In the 1980s, VOA Europe's business plan depended on such access, which largely was denied. VOA Europe was therefore not able to gather much of an audience, and went off the air in the 1990s.
     Update: "Azerbaijan has also tightened requirements for domestic TV and radio channels. All broadcasts must be in Azerbaijani, except for news broadcasts, which can be in Russian and English, but with Azerbaijani subtitles, according to Council chairman Nushirevan Magerramli. Magerramli said educational programs were also allowed to be broadcast in foreign languages, but with subtitles, and they must not be longer than 30 minutes." RIA Novosti, 1 January 2008.

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