Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Despite constitutional and legal protection for freedom of speech and of the press, media freedom in Azerbaijan continued to deteriorate in 2008. Continuing the pattern of the last few years, the government exhibited no tolerance for criticism and used libel suits, unfair trials, physical attacks, and financial pressure to clamp down on opposition media. The government wields significant control over the National Television and Radio Council (NTRC), the country’s broadcasting regulator and license issuer, as all nine members of the council are appointed by the president. In June 2008, the government passed new amendments to the election law ahead of the October presidential election. The legislation shortened the campaign period, ensured that the ruling party dominated the election commission, and reduced the value of free airtime for opposition candidates by moving it from the main state channel to the public service broadcaster, which has significantly lower viewership. A second setback occurred in October when the NTRC announced that international broadcasters would no longer be able to use national frequencies beginning in 2009. This decision, which affects services like Voice of America, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was confirmed by the parliament in December.
Journalists continue to face a hostile legal environment. By the end of 2008, five journalists were imprisoned on charges ranging from libel to tax evasion and drug trafficking. In January, a Baku court had upheld the 2007 conviction of Eynulla Fatullayev, the editor of the independent Russian-language weekly Realny Azerbaijan and the daily Gundalik Azarbaycan; he was serving a sentence of eight and a half years in prison for defamation, incitement of ethnic hatred, terrorism, and tax evasion. In March, Ganimat Zahid, editor of the opposition-oriented weekly Azadliq, was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of hooliganism. In June, Novruzali Mammadov, the editor of Talyshi Sado, was convicted of treason and sentenced to 10 years in prison. His trial was conducted behind closed doors. Two editors of the daily Ideal were convicted of defamation in the fall in connection with stories on an alleged prostitution ring. The political and media environment deteriorated in the run-up to the October election, as the government sought to ensure an easy victory for incumbent president Ilham Aliyev. The government ensured that the opposition would have no access to funding or media, so most of the major opposition parties chose to boycott the vote. This made for a calm election period in comparison with the protests and arrests of previous years. Nevertheless, there were several reports of violence against journalists, and the attacks occurred with impunity.Despite the intimidation they face, a number of opposition and independent media outlets continue to function. However, with distribution channels run by progovernment companies and most newspapers having to use government-owned printing presses, opposition print media are not readily available across the country. Most broadcast media, even privately owned outlets, maintained a progovernment bias. They remained vulnerable to licensing pressure from the government. Opposition and independent media suffered financially, as a growing number of companies pulled advertising to avoid conflicts with the government. The opposition newspaper Gun Seher was forced to close in August owing to financial difficulties. The government does not typically restrict internet access, but it has repeatedly blocked some websites featuring opposition views. Approximately 18 percent of the population had access to the internet during 2008.