Azerbaijan, Baku, July 14 / Trend E.Huseynli /
Trend interviews Presidential Administration Social and Political Department head Ali Hasanov in light of the 135th anniversary of Azerbaijani press to be marked July 22.
Trend: How do you assess the past and current state of the Azerbaijani press?
Hasanov: The Azerbaijani press has achieved certain successes for the period of independence. First and foremost, late President, National Leader Heydar Aliyev eliminated in 1998 all the mechanisms of state control over the press, including censorship.
The government created all the legal and material conditions for the development of independent media. It eliminated mechanisms for obtaining permission from the state in establishing a media outlet, and fully liberalized the Law on Mass Media and harmonized it with the European standards. Media and print media was exempted from state tax. The authorities signed a number of orders caring for the development of the press. The newspaper's debt amounting to about $0.5 million to the State Printing House was initially frozen for three years and then completely eliminated. The government allocated over $5 million for issuing preferential loans to media outlets for a period of five years. The President has issued several decrees and orders to take action to improve the social status of journalists. A one-time assistance was provided to newspapers and other media outlets.
The government tries to gradually improve the material and technical base of the press by liberalizing the conditions, as well as by expanding the advertising market. Of course, some media outlets have used this opportunity for their development, but some have abused this opportunity. Some of them were closed, and some even today continue their way of racketeering. One can observe constantly arising differences between such media outlets and the public.
The Azerbaijani press faces problems, - on the one hand, a low level of advertising revenue and a lack of self-development of the economic situation of newspapers, on the other hand, low level of professionalism of journalists. The state created conditions to ensure that journalists can easily obtain information, feel free to work on new material, distribute it, exchange views on the events taking place in society, write critical articles in any area, criticize any entity, bring public processes to the public discussion and freely express their own opinion on them. Given all these, of course, development of the media can be considered as satisfactory. However, problems still exist and we try to solve them together with the media community, partly with the state line, the rest - with the participation of the journalists themselves in the run up to the 135th anniversary of the national press.
Over the past three years, the state launched an initiative to develop media outlets and adopted the special State program of environment for the development of media. In addition, the Azerbaijani Presidential State Media Support Fund was created. The country endowed the Fund with certain powers, allocated funds to its budget and organizes activities to stimulate the activities of the press and centralize care on the part of the state in this area with the Fund's help.
A range of activities at the state level are expected to be held on the eve of the 135th anniversary of the Azerbaijani National Press.
Q.: Are you satisfied with the process of integration of the Azerbaijani press in regional and European information space?
A.: Of course, we can not say with certainty that the Azerbaijani press is fully consistent with European and the world standards, and plays a role in the global information space, or the formation of world opinion. Of course, some Azerbaijani media outlets, particularly their online versions, are popular abroad. The Russian public circles read the Russian-language Azerbaijani publications and Turkic-language - in Turkey. Several media outlets' articles published in English are of interest in the embassies and through the embassies and in English-speaking countries. Some publishers, including their online editions, took the initiative to publish material in Arabic, and gained the audience of the Arab countries. But nevertheless, the Azerbaijani press to date has not yet in a position to shape public opinion on the European or global information space.
No matter how much we tried to use the capabilities of the local press to promote national and spiritual values of the Azerbaijani people and the state, including the country's problems, we have not yet achieved the desired result. Speaking about Azerbaijan's problems, first, I mean the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, occupation of Azerbaijani territories, refugees and IDPs, and the Armenians' aggressive policy in the Caucasus, from which Azerbaijan suffered. Coverage of these problems in the world press still has not reached the desired level.
But this level is not zero. Over the past five years, the country created serious mechanisms and directed serious material resources to this area. But again, the level is still inadequate. We are not able to form world opinion. In particular, we can not fully implement this feature using the local press. Thus, we have to sometimes deal with the international media to this end. We provide activities to prepare the transmission and publication of various materials to promote the interests of Azerbaijan on advertising and other rights. Over time, the Azerbaijani press should find some mechanism in the surrounding former Soviet Union and in the Eurasian space. The state is interested in this and working in this regard.
Q.: What measures are needed to improve the professionalism of Azerbaijani journalists?
A.: I have repeatedly touched on this subject, and sometimes highly qualified journalists resented me when I say that the main problem of the Azerbaijani press is low level of professionalism. In fact, I do not mean that there are not professional journalists in Azerbaijan. I want to say that the majority of people working in the media are not professionals in this field. If today tens and hundreds of journalists are professionals in Azerbaijan, some five hundred, a thousand, maybe even tens of thousands are not. But nevertheless, they have a certificate of a journalist and work in the media. That is why professional journalists get lost among their amateur fellows. But, just the latter form a negative opinion of society towards the media.
However, what can the state do? Improve the quality of the journalism faculty, increase their number, organize trainings for journalists, and invite foreign experts for the organization of seminars with international journalists' organizations? We have been working in this regard for many years. Not only the state, but also the Press Council and some other media organizations operate in this area. The work should be carried out continuously. On the one hand, we must increase the number of professional journalists, raise their level of professionalism, on the other hand - clean the media space from non-professionals.
Q.: What measures are being taken to address the social problems of journalists in Azerbaijan?
A.: The state continues to implement and plans further expansion of initiated measures to resolve the social problems of journalists and improve their financial opportunities. I do not want to delve into the details, but some areas of this problem are reflected in the Fund's activities, as well as orders and decrees signed by the President in different periods. However, I want to note that the activities in this area will be expanded thanks to the budgetary possibilities on improvement of the material welfare of the state, as well as the broader placement of advertisements in the press by the business and private entities.
Q.: How do You assess the work carried out to protect freedom of expression and information in Azerbaijan?
A.: I believe there are no serious problems in the sphere of freedom of expression and information in Azerbaijan, which would disturb the international organizations and our journalists.
Even if the country has such problems, then these are some individual cases, and they do not create a trend in the information sphere. In general, they do not affect the constitutional rights of Azerbaijani citizens and the media-public's right to receive information, do not obstacle journalists to freely distribute it, table the topics to the public interest, hold open debate on these issues and express their opinions. From this perspective, we have provided the society with the fundamental right of freedom of information, engage in journalism, and the right to freely receive information about ongoing events, right of journalists to gather and disseminate information.
However, ensuring information rights does not mean complete elimination of problems in this area. These problems exist in Azerbaijan like in all post-Soviet space. I want to reiterate that some of these problems associated with insufficient level of professionalism of journalists, the other - with the unsatisfactory level of our free press, as well as the presence of people abusing their powers for certain purposes in this area, and in general alien to journalism. Other problems are associated with low level of logistics press. Periodically, we discuss these matters with the media community, the Press Council, journalists and editors of the leading newspapers and look for ways to address them. The state policy in this regard will continue in the future.
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