New York, November 3, 2008--CPJ is deeply troubled by a top regulator's
announcement on Friday that the Azerbaijani government plans next year to
discontinue local radio transmissions of three international broadcasters--the
BBC, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Voice of America (VOA).
chairman of the National Television and Radio Council (NSTR), disclosed the plan
in an interview Friday with the independent news agency Turan. The Broadcasting
Board of Governors, the U.S.
agency that oversees VOA and RFE/RL, said in a statement that it had not
received advance notice of the NSTR plans. The other broadcasters also said
they had received no warning.
service--which is known as Radio Azadliq and airs 10 hours of Azeri-language
programming daily--is one of the very few radio stations in the country that provides
live airtime to opposition voices, CPJ research shows. In May, an Azerbaijani
press freedom group named Radio Azadliq the "most successful media organization
of the year," in recognition of its popular call-in shows, political and social
coverage, and programs fostering public debate on corruption, health care and
unemployment, the Broadcasting Board of Governors said in a statement Friday.
In the Turan
interview, Meherremli said Azerbaijan
would be following the practices of European countries in reserving national frequencies
for local broadcasters. "Only national television and radio stations should
broadcast on national frequencies. This is our policy. ... In Europe
there are no foreign channels that broadcast on local frequencies." Meherremli
did not explain the timing of the decision; all three of the international broadcasters
have aired programming in Azerbaijan
for at least 15 years.
broadcasters fill an important role in Azerbaijan, where the state either
owns or controls domestic radio outlets aired nationally, CPJ research shows.
The international broadcasters are seen as an important alternative to news
programming that is largely dominated by government-approved viewpoints.
The disappearance of
these foreign broadcasters from local airwaves robs Azerbaijanis of an
important forum for independent news, views and debate," said Nina Ognianova, CPJ's Europe and Central
Asia program coordinator. "The government should not withdraw the
national frequencies of RFE/RL, VOA, and the BBC. Its argument that the frequencies
are needed for Azerbaijani broadcasters would be credible only if it allowed diverse
programming and reporting on the air. But the state has shown repeatedly it
will not tolerate independent voices."
An RFE/RL official told
CPJ that it had filed documents to renew its license with the NSTR in
September, and that Meherremli had personally assured the broadcaster that its
license would be renewed after the October 15 presidential vote. Radio Azadliq
broadcasts on FM in the capital, Baku,
and nationwide on AM.
VOA broadcasts daily from
Baku on FM. The
BBC, which broadcasts on FM and AM frequencies, said in a statement on Friday
that it had recently negotiated the construction of three radio stations in Azerbaijan
that would strengthen its transmissions.
Meherremli said on
Friday that RFE/RL, BBC, and VOA
could maintain their presence in Azerbaijan through satellite,
cable, and Internet connection, the independent Baku-based Russian-language newspaper
Zerkalo (Mirror) reported today. Radio Azadliq Director Kenan Aliyev told CPJ
that most listeners do not have access to such transmissions. "The
accessibility of national frequencies--which we would be losing--could not in any
way compare to the much smaller audiences with satellite and Internet access."