Azerbaijan's Media Development Agency and NTRC talk importance of bill on media

Society Materials 17 December 2021 11:17 (UTC +04:00)
Azerbaijan's Media Development Agency and NTRC talk importance of bill on media

BAKU, Azerbaijan, Dec. 17


The Media Development Agency (MEDIA) and the National Television and Radio Council of Azerbaijan (NTRC) commented on the opinions regarding the bill “On media”, Trend reports on Dec. 17.

According to the joint statement issued by the structures, before the bill was submitted to Azerbaijani Parliament, broad public discussions of the document were organized with the participation of representatives of many media outlets, the opinions and proposals of journalists, who stressed that the document is important from the point of view of improving the domestic media outlets, were taken into account.

The statement noted that the agency and the national council welcome the active participation of representatives of various spheres of society in the discussion of the bill and regard this as an indicator of great interest in this document.

"The bill was prepared to take into account international norms, principles, and advanced world experience. When developing individual norms of the document, similar laws of different countries were studied, norms meeting advanced standards were formed in accordance with the public order of society, the experience of foreign countries, and the precedents of the European Council for Human Rights (ECHR)," the statement said. "The bill doesn’t contradict either Article 10 of the European Convention "On Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms" or Article 50 of the Constitution of Azerbaijan, but meets the requirements of the relevant provisions and defines the mechanism for their protection."

"One of the most discussed issues within the framework of the bill is related to the issuance of press cards. An application for obtaining a journalistic certificate is submitted on a voluntary basis. A journalist can freely carry out his activities without obtaining this certificate, using all the mechanisms of legal protection," the statement further noted. "A journalist who has applied for inclusion in the Media Register, after providing the information provided for by law, receives the same opportunity, as well as the opportunity to obtain a certificate. The press card confirms the inclusion of the journalist in the Media Register. A journalist doesn’t have to pass any test to obtain it."

"The inclusion of media in the register is aimed at improving and optimizing the mechanism for protecting their rights, identifying media entities and a group of journalists who can be provided with benefits, forming an economic and legal basis for projects to support their development," the joint statement said.

According to the statement, in order to obtain the press card, it’s not necessary to be a citizen of Azerbaijan, permanently residing in its territory.

"The bill doesn’t regulate the work of media representatives engaged in illegal activities, since this activity isn’t the subject of this document. The bill is aimed specifically at the development of professional journalism and the elimination of negative perceptions of journalism and journalists in society and doesn’t restrict the freedom of a journalist to fulfill his mission, including the right to live abroad, and such an approach cannot be a subject of discussion," the joint statement noted.

"When determining the requirements for information published and (or) spread in the media, as well as cases in which the use or spread of confidential audio and video recordings is allowed, references are made to specific provisions of the European Convention "On the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms" and article 32 of the Constitution of Azerbaijan," the statement said. "This norm focuses not on audio or video recording, photographing a person without his knowledge, but on the way this activity is carried out, that is, on the secret use of technical means to obtain information. This provision is also enshrined in the current law of Azerbaijan "On mass media". This rule, which has been applied over the years, has proven itself in practice and has never become a subject of discussions and disputes."

"The bill makes reference to the laws of Azerbaijan "On martial law", "On state of emergency", "On fight against religious extremism", "On fight against terrorism", regulates the activities of media workers during martial law and emergency, in the zone of special operations against religious extremism, as well as in the zone of the anti-terrorist operation," the statement authors noted. "So, the definition of the framework for the activities of media representatives during martial law and a state of emergency, in the zones of special operations to fight religious extremism and terrorism follows from a public necessity, which is mandatory and aimed at protecting public interests and the rights of others."

"Thus, despite that the bill has become the subject of numerous discussions, its norms fully meet the requirements of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and correspond to its essence," the authors also said.

“Discussions around the bill without a full understanding of its text and essence in many cases lead to erroneous conclusions, one of which is related namely to the activities of social networks and "bloggers". Contrary to what is being discussed, none of the bill provisions apply to the activities of social networks and "bloggers". On the contrary, none of the bill points affects the activities of social networks and "bloggers”, and the concept of "platform broadcaster" is the result of a completely wrong approach,” the statement emphasized. “This concept is broader than the concept of "Internet television". The concept of "platform broadcaster" refers to broadcaster from platforms other than open terrestrial broadcasting method (pay terrestrial platform, cable TV, IPTV, OTT, Internet, etc.).”

“However, Internet TV channels that want to become "platform broadcasters" must comply with certain requirements (broadcast from their website, availability of a program schedule, at least six hours of broadcasting, and others) in order to apply for a license. After receiving this license, they enter into an agreement with the operators and acquire the opportunity to be represented on the above platforms. The license for "platform broadcaster providing satellite broadcasting" will also enable them to be presented introduced in satellite broadcasting,” the authors explained. “Thus, the platform doesn’t envision any restrictions on the activities of Internet TV that doesn’t meet or refutes to meet the requirements of the broadcaster's license. Despite repeated statements in this regard by the relevant authority, subjective opinions are still expressed. In order to further clarify this issue in legal terms, it’s planned to make a proposal to add a clarifying provision to the bill.”

“Another issue mentioned in the appeal [to the Media Development Agency and NTRC] is related to the Audiovisual Council, which will act as a regulatory body for audiovisual media. The current regulatory body for television and radio broadcasting is the National for Television and Radio Council. The bill contains provisions concerning the Audiovisual Council, which are adapted to the parts concerning the NTRC in the current legislation (formation of the Council, its funding, main tasks, and others),” the statement authors said. “A number of provisions even limit the powers of the Audiovisual Council. So, the number of members of the Council was reduced from nine to seven, the possibility of appointing the same member of the Council more than twice was excluded, the term of office was reduced from six to five years.”

“As for the claims that funding the Council from the state budget will undermine the independence of its activities, it should be noted that in many European countries there is a practice of funding regulatory bodies from the state budget. In Azerbaijan, where freedom of expression is ensured at a high level, the state does not intend to carry out any administrative interference in the media sphere,” the authors pointed out. “On the contrary, in order to continue institutional creative work in the field of media, the Media Development Agency of Azerbaijan was created with the status of a public legal entity. After reviewing the Agency's Charter, it’s easy to determine that it has competence aimed exclusively at developing the media.”

“Even before the bill was presented to the parliament, dozens of media entities held its presentation and discussed it with the participation of hundreds of journalists. It’s regrettable that, despite the effective communication established by the Media Development Agency and the National Television and Radio Council, opinions that don’t reflect the truth are still voiced over the bill. To prevent such situations, media representatives, experts and public activists, when presenting their views, are advised not to go beyond the context of the bill and carefully read its content," concluded the joint statement authors.