Nowadays, the mass media is being developed in Azerbaijan striving to meet the modern international standards. The state has set up all necessary conditions for free development of the mass media outlets, which can be referred as fourth power. The artificial obstacles before the mass media and freedom of expression have already been obviated. Unlimited opportunities for journalist investigations respecting the law and ethic norms, promulgation of facts and ideas were ensured.
The Law on Mass Media adopted in a new edition, the Presidential Decree on “Strengthening State Support to Media” dated 20 July, 2001, and the Presidential Decree on Additional Measures on Strengthening State Support to Media dated 27 December, 2001, ensure the freedom of expression and independence of the media, and exclude the possibility of applying administrative measures restricting the freedom of the media.
In accordance with the President’s Executive Order dated June 20, 2005, 130-year anniversary of Azerbaijani media was solemnly celebrated, a number of newspapers and information agencies were provided with pecuniary aid, and media workers were awarded with honorary titles and Presidential grants.
With a view of strengthening material, technical and financial basis of the media the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan signed the Executive Order on Paying off Newspapers’ Debts to the Publishing House on February 8, 2006. Pursuant to the Order debts of newspapers amounting to 450 thousands US dollars should have been paid from the state budget. It should be stressed out that the leading opposition newspapers were also covered by the Order.
As a result of the abovementioned measures, the Republic of Azerbaijan occupies one of the leading places among the Commonwealth of Independent States and Eastern European countries for the indicators of quantity and quality of mass media outlets. At the moment about 3500 mass media outlets - newspapers, magazines, information agencies, broadcasting companies have been registered in Azerbaijan. Most of them are newspapers and magazines, and about 30 are information agencies, 44 are electronic mass media. Today there are 7 countrywide TV channels, 14 regional TV channels, 12 cable channels and 11 radio-stations in Azerbaijan.
Only 15 percent of newspapers and magazines were founded by the governmental structures. Over 65 percent of the newspapers belong to opposition oriented political and public organizations, private structures and legal entities.
The Azerbaijani Public TV has been functioning since August 30, 2005.
No restrictions on access to official information have been imposed by governmental structures. Press services of various ministries and other state bodies are responsible for delivering official information to the public. Moreover, with a view of further facilitating access to information for journalists, the Law on Access to Information was adopted and it took effect on September 30, 2005. This Law obliges not only state agencies, but also legal entities to create all conditions for free, unimpeded and equal access to information by all.
There is no restriction on free use of mass media by ethnic and religious minorities. The newspapers are published or brought from abroad in the languages of ethnic minorities.
Important legislative steps have been taken in the field of broadcasting. The Law on TV and Radio Broadcasting was adopted in June 2002 and came into force on October 8, 2002. National Council on TV and Radio Broadcasting was established in January, 2003. 6 out of 9 members of the Council have already been appointed by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. In line with the Law, this agency is responsible for the application of state policy in broadcasting, granting licenses to broadcasting channels and monitoring the functioning of the broadcasting companies. It has to be stressed that since its establishment, the Council has been successful in fulfilling its tasks.
Another crucial step for ensuring freedom of expression and information was the establishment of the Press Council in the first congress of Azerbaijani journalists on March 15, 2003. It should be pointed out that this body was created independently, without any interference of the Government, by the journalists themselves. The Press Council’s main function is the pre-trial regulation of tensions between media and individuals, as well as media and private companies. The Council also carries out functions of monitoring of the newspapers and implementation of the provisions of the Code of Ethics for journalists, which was elaborated and adopted by the Press Council itself.
It has to be stressed that none of the newspapers face restrictions in their free circulation. All newspapers are freely distributed throughout the country.
At the moment for removing obstacles in this field partners of Azerbaijan Republic are helping to the faculty of journalism of the Baku State University and giving much attention in providing different activities in this field. For example, The Council of Europe and the European Commission have developed a Joint Program of assistance to Azerbaijan on Freedom of expression and information. With the support of US Embassy in Azerbaijan American-Azerbaijani Journalistic Academy was established, the main purpose of which is to increase professionalism of journalists and to foster devotion to their profession.
Moreover, the OSCE Baku Office has launched an initiative aimed at the establishment of a practical and unified communication strategy and information coordination mechanisms for the Government agencies, which could ensure increased and sustainable information flow from the authorities to media and public in general.
In conclusion, it has to be stressed that the Government of the Republic of Azerbaijan stands ready and committed to continue further cooperation based on mutual understanding and constructive approach with the international organizations in ensuring freedom of expression and information in the Republic of Azerbaijan. The assistance of the international organizations in raising professionalism of journalists, support to the journalistic self-regulation, as well as the assistance to the newly-established media structures and awareness-raising on the application of the European standards in the field of freedom of expression and information could be highly appreciated by the Government of the Republic of Azerbaijan. This assistance could serve as vital incentive and positively contribute to the development of the media in our country.