Key Media Officials in Azerbaijan

Minister of Press and Information: Siruz Khudat ogli Tabrizli, born 1942 in Tabriz, Iran. A writer, poet, former journalist. Holds democratic views but is a strong supporter of President Heidar Aliyev. Member of parliament and a leader of Aliyev’s New Azerbaijan party. Serves as minister under the “List of 18” exception which allows 15 percent of deputies to hold executive posts concurrently with parliamentary duties. Address: Ministry of Press and Information, No. 12 A. Karayev St., Baku. Tel: (994 12) 92-67-47, 92-93-33.

Chief censor: Jahangir Ildrimzadeh, long-time Communist Party worker; served in the Main Administration for the Protection of State Secrets (Glavlit) under President Ayaz Mutalibov. Gave interview to Sharg news agency on June 9, 1995, then refused permission for publication. Address: Ministry of Press and Information, 4 Gusei Gadzhieva St., Baku. Tel: (994-12) 92-50-07. Censor’s office at State Radio and Television, telephone: (994 12) 39-85-85.

Chief of State Radio and Television: Nizami Khudiyev, 49, graduate of the Azerbaijan Teachers Institute, 1970; doctor of philology; former rector of Azerbaijan Pedagogical University. Author of 25 books; member of the governing board of Aliyev’s New Azerbaijan party. Parliamentary deputy; holds executive post under the exception of “List of 18.” Tel: (994-12) 92-38-07; 98-47-20.

Presidential Chief of Staff: Ramiz Enver ogli Mekhtiev, born 1938 in Baku. Worked as a machinist on the Caspian steamship lines. History graduate of Azerbaijan State University. Secretary for ideology of the former Central Committee of the Azerbaijan Communist Party. Parliamentary deputy; holds an executive post under the exception of the “List of 18.” Tel: (994 12) 92-31-54.

Presidential Advisor: Eldar Sagif ogli Namazov, born 1956 in the Akstafinskii region; founder of the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Baku, which created the newspaper Panorama and the news agency Eksklusiv. Parliamentary deputy; holds executive post under the exception of the “List of 18.” Tel: (994-12) 92-09-16; 92-89-50; 98-09-60.

Chief of the Social/Political Department in the presidential office: Ali Gasanov, born 1960; history degree from Moscow State University. A former functionary of the Communist Youth League (Komsomol), he worked from 1993 to 1996 in the ideological department of Aliyev’s New Azerbaijan party. A supporter of censorship, he oversees media, especially television.

Chief of presidential press service: Salakhaddin Guliev, born 1958 at Sefikurd. As a young man, Guliev worked on the Zhdanov collective farm before serving in the Soviet army. He studied Russian language and literature at Azerbaijan Pedagogical Institute, 1980-1985, then worked for the evening newspaper Baku, from 1985-90. From 1991-1992 he was an editor at the Azerbaijan State Committee on the Press, and became chief of the presidential press service in 1994. His work at the press service has been largely confined to organizing press meetings and dealing with protocol issues. He is known to favor control of the media through censorship.
Tel: (994 12) 92-43-66; 92-51-48.

Members of Milli Medjlis (Parliament):

Nazim Muzaffar ogli Imanov, born in 1955 in Baku. Graduated from Institute of National Economy and worked until 1979 in the Institute of Economics of Gosplan. Considered and up-and-coming politician. Supportive of the press.
Tel: (994-12) 61-52-56; 61-52-10.

Sabir Khudu ogli Rustamxanli, 51, poet and journalist; minister of press under Presidents Mutalibov, Elchibey, Aliyev. A supporter of press freedoms and an active supporter of the Popular Front movement. A member of the Supreme Soviet and later the Milli Medjlis. Between 1989-1991, chief editor of the newspaper of the Committee to Help Karabakh. Resigned from parliament in protest over the flawed 1995 parliamentary elections.
Tel: (994 12) 92-83-50.

Jallal Alirza ogli Aliyev (president’s brother), born 1928 in Armenia; degree in biology from Azerbaijan State University. An agricultural expert; held managerial posts.

Azerbaijan’s Press: Long on Pluck and Short on Resources

Despite censorship, the world of Azerbaijani journalism shows signs of vitality. Until 1995, the country had only one daily newspaper, Azerbaijan, but today it has more than a dozen dailies. These newspapers, and other sheets which appear once or more times a week, supply a wide variety of domestic news and political viewsÐdiversity of information unheard of in Soviet times.

In the last 12 months, newspapers have presented the political views of opposition leaders like Isa Gambar of the Musavat party and Ali Kerimov of the Popular Front; they have speculated whether Abulfaz Elchibey, Aliyev’s arch rival, will return to Baku for the 1998 presidential elections; they have probed domestic issues such as child prostitution (Zerkalo, February 1, 1997), and presented sensational stories such as an interview with an Azeri who boasts of an insatiable appetite for human flesh (Zerkalo, January 13, 1996).

Furthermore, there has been a slow relaxation of censorship. At one point in 1994, the Baku press endured political censorship, censorship by the Baku commandant, and military censorship by the Special Department of the president’s office. By September 1996, however, Aliyev had removed these later two layers of censorship by executive order and today only the political censorship of Glavlit operates on the media. Furthermore, political censorship has narrowed, according to editors, and is now principally involved in protecting President Aliyev’s administration from charges of human rights abuses, accusations of corruption, and embarrassing disclosures affecting the reputation of the chief executive and his relatives. Occasionally, public acknowledgments of the existence of censorship surface; the chief censor has been known to receive officials from the U.S. Embassy complaining about cuts in the Embassy’s press releases which were published in local newspapers.

Azeri journalists still must live on large quantities of hope and enthusiasm and little remuneration. Under the Soviets, journalism was an elite profession which could produce access to privilege and trips abroad. Its price, of course, was loyalty to the Communist Party. Today, journalists must scrounge to make ends meet. Salaries vary from $40 a month to a maximum of $200. The salary of the editor in chief of Azadliq is $50 a month. Journalists survive through a variety of coping strategies: help from family members, second or third jobs, belt-tightening.

Needless to say, these financial stringencies sometimes lead to corruption: accepting payments for publishing puff pieces or withholding information which could be embarrassing. Explains one TV journalist: “I was not clean. I had to take money to survive. People would offer money for good coverage. This happens especially when you are on a shoot with the police. I remember one time my cameraman said to me, ‘In your bag you’ll find your share.’ I understood that the police had given both me and him a bribe to insure positive coverage. What was I to do? I couldn’t ask my colleague to give up his share. In the end, I donated my money to the Ministry of Defense Fund. It was during the Karabakh war.”

Newspapers are inherently vulnerable in the economic conditions prevailing in Azerbaijan. They depend on additional revenues from sponsors such as political parties, wealthy individuals, or Western non-governmental organizations such as the Westminster Fund (United Kingdom), The Soros Foundation (United States), or The Nauman Fund (Germany). The government occasionally plays on this vulnerability. Azadliq says it is losing advertising revenue because government officials have warned some clients to remove their ads.

The government holds another card: control of premises. The Turan news agency and Azadliq are both housed in a building on Hagani Street in central Baku belonging to the city. Neither pays rent but neither feels secure. For this reason, neither is anxious to spend on repairs and repainting and wonder about their long-term future.

The government also monopolizes printing and distribution. All dailies are published by the Azerbaijan Publishing House, accountable to the president’s office. This presidential link is occasionally exercised. In August 1996 the printing house refused to print the newspaper Avrasiya for several weeks because of critical articles it had published; and in February 1997 it declined, without explanation, to publish the opposition newspaper Jumkhurriyet.

The Azerbaijan Publishing House can also cause trouble by inflating the price of newsprint. During the mid-1990s, when there was a newsprint shortage, the publishing house charged $1,500 a ton. Zerkalo editor Rauf R. Talishinsky says he now pays $750 a ton by importing newsprint from Russia.

Newspapers in Baku and Azerbaijan are distributed principally through the state distribution service, Metbuat Yaiymy. Their charge for this service is extravagant: 48 percent of sales. Recently, this service imposed a new financial burden on newspapers by requiring them to pay in advance and delaying the forwarding of receipts to editorial offices.

Azerbaijan prints regional newspapers, and newspapers in a number of ethnic languagesÐGeorgian, Kurdish, Avar, Talysh, and Lesguin. These newspapers are having trouble finding financing and often are at the mercy of the regional governor in obtaining and maintaining office space and gaining access to information.

Opposition Press in Azerbaijan Faces Closed Doors

Information is power; denial of access to information is double power. Under the Law on Mass Media, government agencies are granted the authority to accredit and disaccredit correspondents. This provision (Article 37) provides for the removal of accreditation if a journalist is found to have published “incorrect” data or information damaging “the honor and dignity” of the accrediting organization. While disaccreditation is ostensibly subject to judicial approval, a Turan news agency correspondent was deprived of accreditation without it (February 28, 1996), as was an Azadliq correspondent (March 16, 1996).

President Aliyev meets regularly with reporters. If, however, opposition journalists are present, they are not allowed to ask questions. Transcripts of these sessions are cleaned up to avoid embarrassing the chief executive. Journalists for the opposition newspapers Azadliq, Yeni Musavat, and Press-Fakt report that they were included on a list of invitees to meet with President Aliyev, but disinvited at the last moment.

Not surprisingly, government ministries favor journalists of government-supported newspapers. Thus, officials leak information to favored reporters, or invite only friendly journalists to briefings or press conferences. Authorities try to restrict access, fearing that journalists will uncover incompetence in the military, instances of corruption, and a variety of social ills. Journalists have periodically had difficulty gaining access to conflict zones. Foreign correspondents must get clearance from the Ministry of Defense. Azeri journalists generally favor having a military pass system; without it, permission for access lies with field commanders, who prefer to exclude the press. In the Karabakh war, however, Azeri journalists managed to get to the front lines by hook and by crook.

There have been several instances in recent years of police denying journalists access to special events. Reuters News Agency in 1996 was denied access to a mosque in Azhdarbek where a memorial service was held for Gen. Dzhokhar Dudayev, the late leader of Chechnya; ANS-TV was denied access in April 1996 when former Defense Minister Ragim Guliyev was extradited from Moscow to Baku, although state television was allowed into the airport.

Democracy on a Short Leash: An Interview with Sirus Tabrizli

Tabrizli, Minister of Press and Information in the Aliyev government, is a writer, poet, and former journalist who backs Aliyev’s press-control measures. I questioned him about his apparently contradictory views.

Q: Mr. Minister, why is it necessary for Azerbaijan to maintain rigid control of the media by continuing censorship of newspapers and broadcasting?

A: Stability is necessary for now. The West must uphold stability in this republic. We can’t give everything right away to the people. For the moment, democracy must be regulated.

Minister of Press and Information Siruz Tabrizli, 54, received me in his Baku office as part of my study of freedom of the press in Azerbaijan and Armenia. I found the former school teacher and journalist, who is a devoted supporter of President Aliyev, in an ebullient mood.

From the start of our hour-and-40-minute meeting, he declaimed in a high voice on the virtues of a political opposition and an opposition press for

democracy. But he stressed that Azerbaijan had to move deliberately from communism toward government by the people.

Azerbaijan’s concern about dropping censorship, he said, was the fear that the media could be hijacked by criminal elements who could precipitate a new period of instability. An uncontrolled press, he suggested, might assist the emergence of a serious rival to President Aliyev.

“As minister,” Tabrizli continued, “I must fight for freedom of the press, but we can’t allow praise and promotion of the activities of criminals. ” Tabrizli was apparently referring to some wealthy businessmen, particularly in Russia, who are thought to have criminal connections and are ready to buy up media outlets.

“I promise you,” he added, “if the Karabakh war is finally ended, I, as Minister of Press, will be the first to demonstrate to liquidate censorship.” Tabrizli said he personally appreciated opposition newspapers because they have printed some of his more critical outbursts in parliament which, he asserted, government newspapers were to cautious to record.

He also disclosed that he wants to create a fund which would reward five of the best journalists every year with $1,000 prizes (the average wage in Azerbaijan is $40 a month). He asserted that he would be happy if Azerbaijan¹s journalists chose the winner, while he confined his role to providing the money.

Journalistic Vitality, Against All Odds

Despite difficulties, the Baku journalism community is productive and feisty. One indicator is the determination of Yeni Nesil to keep a detailed list of censorship abuses. This list has been difficult to compile because some editors prefer to avoid attention. Government officials do not relish publicity for the dark side of state control. Nevertheless, Yeni Nesil publishes these incidents in Azeri, Russian, and English in its monthly bulletin, “Principles and Reality,” which circulates in Baku and among human rights and press freedom organizations in the West.

Another initiative by Yeni Nesil was to organize top editors to protest the new licensing regulations adopted at the end of 1996. This protest was also published in “Principles and Reality” but produced no results. Another journalistic protest, however, proved more successful. In June 1996, the Special Department of the president’s office asked all newspapers to supply lists of their reporters with home addresses and home phones. The editors of Zerkalo, Azadliq, and 7 Gün pointedly refused. In view of public indignation over the issue, the request was dropped.

Editors are coming up with new initiatives. Günay and the Assa-Irada News Agency decided independently to publish two English-language weeklies, Günay and Azernews, for the growing international community. (Zerkalo and Azadliq also contemplated such a move but decided against it for financial reasons). Azadliq recently inaugurated a weekly Russian edition to make its news available to the long-time Russian community of Baku. The Center for Strategic and International Studies puts out a weekly news bulletin in English.

One of the more imaginative developments is Monitor, a glossy monthly magazine, which avoids Azerbaijani censors by being published in Turkey. The magazine recently ran such pieces as “Do We Need Censorship?” “Freedom of Speech in Azerbaijan,” and “The Great Sexual Revolution”Ðtopics inconceivable during Soviet times. Officials could stop Monitor at customs, but so far this has not happened.

“There are two views of the Azeri press today,” says Arif Aliyev, president of the Yeni Nesil. “The view from the trenches is that there are too many restrictions. But the longer view is that there has been a big change and there is hope it will develop some more.”

Azerbaijan’s New Journalists

Today’s journalism in Azerbaijan calls for a new kind of reporter. More often than not, the recruits are members of the younger generation who are not burdened with the fears or ideology of the communist era. Journalists at ANS television, for example, are youngÐ17 to 35Ðand hard-working, trained on the job rather than in the old-style journalism school of Baku State University. Some of the new journalists, like Nourani (a pseudonym) of Zerkalo, began other careers (medicine in her case) and switched to political reporting almost by accident.

To spur these young people on, Yeni Nesil has developed a series of annual awards. The Institute of Human Rights and Democracy also awards prizes for the best human rights reporting. Sensing the need to promote accuracy and decency in journalism, Yeni Nesil has proposed a code of ethics.

Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian (left) talks to reporters after voting in the first round of presidential elections in Yerevan, September 22, 1996. Ter-Petrossian ordered a crackdown on press coverage after opposition protests against the balloting turned violent. (AP Photo/Rouben Mangasarian)

New professional associations have sprung up, sometimes in reaction to beatings and arrests of journalists, as in the case of the Independent Trade Union of Journalists of Azerbaijan and the Association of Parliamentary Correspondents, both founded in 1997.

Several non-governmental organizations in the West take an interest in the new journalists by underwriting training sessions and seminars. These include Internews, ISAR/Azerbaijan, the Open Society Institute of the Soros Foundation, the National Development Institute, the National Democratic Institute, the Eurasia Foundation, the Westminster Fund, and the Nauman Fund.

Vestiges of Soviet-Era Laws Constrict Armenia’s Media

Armenia declared its intention to become independent in 1991, before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet its new constitution, proclaiming Armenia to be a democratic, sovereign state based on the rule of law, was adopted only on July 5, 1995, by referendum. A laborious process is now underway to redraft Soviet-era legislation to conform with the new order.

Journalistic freedoms, meanwhile, are regulated by a Soviet-era media law, adopted on October 8, 1991, which is considered out of date by most political and journalistic leaders except the communists. A new media law was drafted but rejected as inappropriate. Yerevan journalists have submitted a draft law of their own, which has yet to be debated in the National Assembly.

As in Azerbaijan, the operative law on the press and other mass media derives from Soviet legal thinking of the late 1980s and strikes a restrictive balance between press liberties and limitations. Article 2 of the Armenian law, for example, forbids censorship but qualifies that ban by Article 6: a list of vaguely worded prohibitions (adapted from Article 4 of the Soviet law) against appeals to war or illegal acts, violence, religious hatred; against publication of pornography, against promotion of drug usage, or disclosure of details of discreet adoption of children, or facts about a person’s sexual life.

Questionable from a Western point of view (which holds that errors are inevitable in journalism) is a clause prohibiting the publication of “false or unverified information.”

Article 11 provides for a three-month shutdown of a journalistic enterprise if a court finds it in violation of Article 6 restrictions. An appeal process is provided under Article 13.

As in the Azeri legislation, the Armenian law contains a separate section (Chapter 4) which outlines the rights and responsibilities of the journalist. Troublesome from a democratic point of view is Article 28.2, which requires publication only of “verified and reliable information” and Article 28.3, which obliges journalists, “If required, to indicate the persons supplying information, or its source, if the data is being published for the first time.” The article fails to spell out which conditions necessitate disclosure, leaving this regulation open to interpretaton of the authorities.

The Yerevan Press Club and other new press associations have drafted a model law published in January 1997 by the newspaper Azg and forwarded to parliament’s Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture, and Youth. This draft emphasizes media independence from government and forbids prior restraints. It addresses such issues as the need for protection of anonymous sources (Article 21), the permissibility in cases of the public good of hidden cameras and recordings (Article 22), and the possibility, within certain guidelines, of publishing or broadcasting erotic material (Article 19).

Even the press club draft, however, reflects what could be called a “Soviet mentality.” Article 4 of the draft repeats the prohibitions of the Soviet press law-appeals against illegal action, war, forceful overthrow of the constitutional order, violence, ruthlessness, and vice-without precise definitions of these acts. The draft retains a requirement to register a journalistic operation with the authorities (Article 6). Chapter III (Articles 10-12) outlines the rights and responsibilities of journalists. Article 12.2 calls on the state to guarantee protection of a journalist’s “honor, dignity, health and life while exercising his professional activities…,” a clause intended to counter a rash of beatings of journalists.

The journalists’ draft also preserves a procedure for closing down a journalistic operation (Article 29). For Armenian journalists, creating a process for closure may be a lesser evil: In December 1994, 13 newspapers and presses associated with the Dashnak party were closed without due process when President Ter-Petrossian decreed a temporary ban on the party’s activities.

Armenia’s Soviet-era criminal code contains restrictions so vaguely worded that they could be twisted by the authorities. They include Article 65, forbidding any call for change of government by force; Article 66, banning war propaganda; Article 69, prohibiting articles which might inspire racial enmity; Article 70, punishing publication of state secrets; Article 131, against defamation; and Article 132, against public insults.

The new Armenian constitution, composed of 117-articles, is based on the model of the French Fifth Republic with some borrowings from the 1993 Russian constitution. It is cautious about media freedom.

Article 24 guarantees freedom of expression: “Everyone is entitled to freedom of speech, including the freedom to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas through any medium of information, regardless of state borders.” But the fundamental law does not explicitly ban media censorship. Furthermore, in a borrowing from the Russian constitution, Articles 44 and 45 allow temporary suspension of media liberties to protect “state and public security, public order, public health and morality, and the rights, freedoms, honor and reputation of others.”

Another instance of restrictive policy was the adoption in 1996 of a law on state secrets. As in Azerbaijan, the terms of this law are derived from the Russian Official Secrets Act of July 21, 1993, and it groups sensitive topics under four broad headings: military, international, economic, and intelligence. Before this law was adopted, secrets slipped into the public domain without serious consequence, according to editors.

Currently, Armenia has no law regulating television or radio broadcasting, although one is being developed. The draft of March 18, 1997, has been forwarded to parliament’s Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture and Youth. In several respects, this bill reflects the spirit of the Law on the press and other mass media: It bans censorship and repeats the restrictions found in Article 4 of the print law. Additionally, it requires broadcast media to give immediate air time to government officials in emergencies. The draft has been criticized for not creating an independent television authority to run state television and radio, and for requiring all programs (including foreign films) to be in Armenian.

Despite its professed support for freedom of expression, the Armenian government betrays a disinclination to allow a wide-open approach to media freedoms. As Vano Siradeghian, Minister of Internal Affairs, has warned, “To give democracy in its full extent, in its Western form, to a society that has never known what democracy is, is to destroy that society. I am convinced that the transition to democracy should be accompanied by a certain demonstration of authoritarianism.”