On World Television Day, IRFS calls for broadcasting reforms in Azerbaijan
On the World Television Day, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) calls on the Azerbaijani government to embark on reforms to ensure broadcasting pluralism and diversity in Azerbaijan.
The United Nations’ (UN) World Television Day is annually observed in many places around the world on November 21. The day recognizes that television plays a major role in presenting different issues that affect people.
In Azerbaijan, the nine national channels serve the government’s political goals, shaping public opinion by boosting, playing down, or ignoring certain issues, figures, or groups and instilling sentiments that benefit the ruling regime’s political interests.
Three (AzTV, Idman Azerbaijan and Medeniyyet Azerbaijan) out of the nine national television channels are state-owned, and in contrast to the international trend of privatizing state media, the Azerbaijani government continues to open a new state television station approximately every other year.
Because the government exercises full control over the broadcast licenses via the National Television and Radio Council (NTRC), the licensing of broadcast media outlets remains highly political, biased, and non-transparent. The NTRC consists of seven acting members appointed directly by the president and is fully funded from the state budget. There is no legal guarantee of its independence.
For instance, NTRC failed to take any measures against private broadcaster Lider TV, which repeatedly broadcasted intimate videos of opposition activists, in direct violation of the Law on TV and Radio Broadcasting.
The NTRC does not take any measure against the state broadcaster AzTV which has violated the article 5 of the Law on TV and Radio Broadcasting by operating more than two television channels.
Furthermore, IRFS reminds that in the article 4 of the Law on Antimonopoly Activity, “dominating position” is defined as an “exceptional position of economic subject which allows, using its economic potential, to influence competition and so to restrict access of other market participants to the market”. Position of the economic subject with the share in the market exceeding 35 percent or other ultimate figure specified by legislation is regarded as dominating. By possessing 3 out of 9 national broadcasters, the AZTV has violated this law.
IRFS states that Azerbaijani public broadcaster, Ictimai does not serve the public interest or ensure pluralism, failing to provide balanced and varied programming for all sectors of the population as required through its membership in the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Ictimai gives only brief – and often one-sided – information about significant events in the country, such as the activities of political parties or public associations. At present Ictimai TV is financed directly from the state budget (except for minor advertising incomes) which raises questions about its independence.
The Ictimai TV’s claims to the EBU of ignoring the Azerbaijani votes for the Russian representative at this year Eurovision Song Contest, as well as the procedural violations that occurred during the election of the Ictimai TV CEO once again prove the lack of independence of this channel.
The World Television Day is a day to renew governments’, organizations’ and individuals’ commitments to support the development of television media in providing unbiased information about important issues and events that affect society. To this end, IRFS calls on the government of Azerbaijan to:
· Ensure transparency in media ownership structures.
· Set up an independent broadcasting regulatory body to ensure the fair and transparent distribution of television and radio frequencies through a simplified licensing procedure, in line with the Council of Europe’s recommendations.
· Ensure that the public service broadcaster, Ictimai, complies with international standards for public service broadcasting and provides balanced and varied programming for all sectors of the population.
· Reverse the ban prohibiting foreign broadcasters from accessing national frequencies.
· Encourage and support the introduction and increased penetration of new information and communication technologies, such as the Internet and digital broadcasting, by adopting supportive legislation and setting up and financing educational projects that would convince businesses to invest in these technologies, and help citizens to understand and use these technologies.
· Distribute the digital broadcasting licenses to different operators after switching to digital broadcasting. It should prevent monopolization of the market by allocating licenses only to those broadcasters that currently hold a dominant position in the market.
· Adopt and unveil its national policy regarding digitalization and its activity plan to switch to digital broadcasting.
· Prevent creation of monopoly in digital television market by putting forth a legal initiative that will prohibit the concentration of few big groups (digital multiplex operators, TV stations, program packets and program providers) which would dominate the digital broadcasting. Taking into consideration the effect of the switch-over to the digital media, the government should encourage the enlightenment campaign and debates in connection with the access to digital broadcasting.
The UN acknowledges that television can be used to educate many people about the world, its issues and real stories that happen on the planet. Television is one of the most influential forms of media for communication and information dissemination. It is used to broadcast freedom of expressions and to increase cultural diversity. The UN realized that television played a major role in presenting global issues affecting people and this needed to be addressed.
On December 17, 1996, UN General Assembly proclaimed November 21 as World Television Day to commemorate the date on which the first World Television Forum was held earlier that year. The UN invited all member states to observe the day by encouraging global exchanges of television programs focusing, among other things, on issues such as peace, security, economic and social development and cultural change enhancements.