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Azerbaijan decides to end foreign broadcasts on local radio

National Television and Radio Council chairman, Nushiravan Meherremli.

Authorities in Azerbaijan have decided to halt local broadcasts by foreign stations by the end of the year. The chairman of Azerbaijan's National Television and Radio Council, Nushiravan Meherremli, told independent news agency Turan that his country is not interested in granting local frequencies to foreign broadcasters. The policy change will affect the the British Broadcasting Corporation, and US-financed Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani 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, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). In May, an Azerbaijani press freedom group named Radio Azadliq the "most successful media organisation 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, according to CPJ, 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.

The international 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 programme coordinator. "The government should not withdraw the national frequencies of RFE/RL, VOA, and 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."

Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) pointed out that the three media involved “provide comprehensive, high quality and objective news”. and “contribute fundamentally to the continued pluralism that is virtually non-existent elsewhere in the Azerbaijan media. It stressed that “their popularity - particularly that of RFE/RL - demonstrates this”. RSF also condemned what it called a “very serious strategic mistake” that “it would strongly condemn should it happen”. It asked, “How could it not be seen as a desire to step up control of the country’s media landscape and a mark of political failure?”

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 licence 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."

Date posted: November 4, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 275