Azerbaijan: Coalition pledges for international radio stations

A coalition of 24 members of the Human Rights House Network, including three Human Rights Houses, have signed a letter to president Aliev in which they ask to review the decision to ban local language FM-broadcasts of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, BBC and Voice of America by the end of 2008. Banning the three stations from FM would severely deteriorate the Azerbaijani media landscape, they say.

The decision by the Azerbaijan National Television and Radio Council to discontinue local radio broadcasts of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RF), the Voice of America (VOA) and the BBC as of 1 January 2009 had led to many other international reactions, both on the non-governmental level and on the governmental (United States and Norway) and inter-governmental level (EU and Council of Europe). All agree that the international broadcasters fill an important role in Azerbaijan, where the state either owns or controls domestic radio outlets that are aired nationally. The international broadcasters are seen as an important alternative to news programming that is largely dominated by government-approved viewpoints.

The authority’s argumentation that the stations in question can substitute their FM-transmission with broadcasting by satellite, cable network and the Internet, will not give the same access to information for the population of Azerbaijan, since the majority of them only have access to radio and television via ordinary antenna based transmission.  

In addition, being a member of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan is legally bound to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, of which Article 10 guarantees the freedom of expression. Judgements of the European Court of Human Rights show that states are only permitted to deny or withdraw the license of a broadcaster for technical reasons. A denial or withdrawal may not have a discriminatory nature. An investigation of the Institute of Reporters´ Freedom and Safety, however, has shown that Azerbaijan has plenty of empty FM-frequencies, making NRTC’s argument that the FM-frequencies are needed for local programming incorrect.

Human Rights House Warsaw   
(on behalf of the following NGO’s)
Helsinki Committee in Poland       
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights 
Young Journalists POLIS    
Viridarium Group     
The Association Initiative 33 

Human Rights House Moscow
(on behalf of the following NGO’s)
Human Rights Network Group
Independent Psychiatric Association of the Russian Federation
Moscow Center for Prison Reform
Moscow Helsinki Group
Mother’s Rights Foundation
Organization “Right to Life and Human Dignity”
Regional Organization “Non-violence International”
Regional Organization “Right of Child”
Social Partnership Foundation
Union of the Soldiers’

Human Rights House Vilnius   
Index on Censorship
Armenian Helsinki Association
Georgian Human Rights Centre
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee  
Norwegian PEN
Human Rights House Foundation

To stay updated about this case, please visit Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety’s website.

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