Censorship While You Wait: An Azerbaijani Newspaper Struggles to Stay Alive

At 25, Gunduz M. Tairli is a chain – smoking, ink – stained journalist. His face is angular; his expression intense. He is also chief editor of Azadliq, one of Baku’s most popular newspapers, and the organ of the opposition Popular Front party. Putting out Azadliq is a daily struggle for Tairli, who labors 12 hours a day, six days a week for the equivalent of $50 a month.

The censors are especially tough on Azadliq (daily circulation about 9,000) because the head of the National Front Party is Abulfaz Elchibey, who ceded the presidency to Aliyev during the political crisis of 1993 and now is considered a dangerous opponent. Every night, Tairli’s colleagues run the tabloid’s eight pages across town to the headquarters of the Main Administration for the Protection of State Secrets (also referred to as Glavlit, the acronym for Soviet censorship) to get the censor’s stamp of approval before it is published in the Azerbaijan Publishing House. There are no private publishing houses available to newspapers; presses for large print runs are expensive, as are newsprint and electricity.

Azerbaijan’s president Heidar Aliyev (left, with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in July 1997) has courted Western leaders and media while suppressing press freedom at home. (AP Photo/Emile Wamsteker)

Approval comes only after the censor ponders each page and cuts material deemed undesirable as the Azadliq journalists wait. Explanations for cuts are not offered, and when journalists ask, they get evasive answers. Azadliq (the Azeri word for “liberty”) keeps a collection of cartoons to fill in the holes; censors don’t like blank spaces. Sometimes, though, there is not enough time before the presses roll to engage in this trickery, so the newspaper occasionally appears with white spaces. If the gaps are too large, the censors may ban the entire edition. Tairli maintains a remarkable equanimity about it all and reveals that, from time to time, the newspaper gets telephone calls of approval from secret admirers within the official establishment.

Between 1992 and 1997, censorship in Azerbaijan has waxed and waned, depending on the administration in power. In the first months of Elchibey’s Popular Front in 1992, censorship was all but abandoned, only to be revived by the Karabakh war. On coming to power in 1993, President Aliyev continued the military censorship of his predecessor and added two other layers of restraint: political censorship and military censorship by the Baku commandant.

During the parliamentary elections of November 1995, Aliyev eased censorship and allowed the media to report instances of election fraud. This was interpreted as a limited gesture toward the West, which is critical of Aliyev’s authoritarian rule. According to editors, censorship is once again on the wane. The Baku commandant no longer reviews materials for publication, and military censorship was officially ended in September 1996. There have been recent complaints that military censorship persists despite its formal abolition last year. These days, censors focus mostly on guarding Aliyev and family members from embarrassment. For example, explains Tairli, “We could not publish the remarks of the Iranian speaker Ali Akhbar Natek Nuri in Moscow which were published in an Iranian newspaper recently. Why? Because the speaker said Aliyev’s greatest mistake was to allow American oil companies into the Caspian Sea to exploit the oil.”

One of the difficulties of living with censorship has been the absence of an official “taboo list.” During the Soviet era, censors used an index of forbidden subjects popularly called “The Talmud.” Until the passage of the official secrets act in January 1997, censorship has depended on the whim of individual censors, thus producing inconsistencies. Censors get oral instructions from the chief censor and his colleagues. They also keep a log book of what they have cut and pass notes among themselves. (See box on censorship, page 6). The chief censor is Jahangir Ildrimzade, a man with long – time censorship experience under the Soviet regime. While censorship is occasionally acknowledged, officials mention it as little as possible. In 1995, Ildrimzade gave an interview about his work to the Sharg news agency. But when it was readied for publication, he ordered it killed. Having been reprimanded on one occasion for lack of vigilance, Ildrimzade is a man of caution. His official calling card gives only his name, not his job.

The Many Targets of Azerbaijani Censorship

The Aliyev administration, which wants good relations with the West, has allowed charitable foundations and human rights monitors to set up shop in Baku. Among them is the Yeni Nesil journalists’ association, which keeps a month – by – month tally of censorship incidents. In 1996, Yeni Nesil recorded 428 incidents of censorship in print media. Among them:
Human rights violations. Forty percent of censored articles in 1996 concerned human rights violations. Censored materials included coverage of court cases involving persons accused of plotting a coup d’etat or terrorist acts against the president, conditions of imprisonment of the accused, and instances of torture. Also censored were protests of local and international organizations decrying human rights violations. Articles suggesting incompetence on the part of government organizations charged with defending human rights were also deleted. Criticism of government. In this category were articles critical of the president’s policies, the pace of democratization, and Azerbaijan’s position on the Nagorno – Karabakh problem. In December 1996, independent and opposition newspapers found much of their coverage of the OSCE summit in Lisbon was censored.

The “power” ministries. Articles critical of defense, security, police, and other law – enforcement agencies were frequently targeted, particularly articles which revealed corruption in the Defense Ministry. In 1996, seven articles were entirely removed from four newspapers (Azadliq, three articles; Mukhalifat, two articles; Press – Fakt, 1 article; 7 Gün, 1 article), while another 25 articles were partially cut from these publications Opposition leaders. About 17 percent of censored articles related to opposition leaders, or contained interviews with them, or statements by them. The September 5, 1996, issue of 7 Gün lost an entire article about former president Elchibey. Azadliq was prohibited from publishing an address by Ali Kerimov, first deputy leader of the National Front of Azerbaijan party. Censors cut sections of an interview with Ibraghim Ibraghimli, secretary of the Musavat party, from the June 17, 1996, issue of Mukhalifat and parts of an interview with Etibar Mamedov, chairman of the National Independent party of Azerbaijan, from the December 19, 1996, issue of Millet.

Miscellaneous subjects. Other targets of censorship included the subject of censorship itself, socio – economic problems in Azerbaijan, news from the regions, notes from travelers reporting local conditions, and some letters to the editors.

Making Offending News Disappear in Azerbaijan:
Methods of Censorship

Removal of paragraphs. This was the most frequently used method in 1996 and often resulted in blank spaces. Cuts were made 131 times in articles published by Azadliq; 83 times in Mukhalifat; and 52 times in Yeni Musavat. Other newspapers which suffered a similar fate were 7 Gün; Ayna – Zerkalo; Millet; Press – Fakt; 525t – chi gezet (so named because it was the 525th newspaper to seek registration); Rezonans; and Khurriyet. Removal of an entire article. This happened to 23 articles prepared for publication in Azadliq in 1996; 21 articles for Mukhalifat; 11 articles and one photograph for Yeni Musavat; six articles for Rezonans; five articles for 7 Gün; four articles for Press – Fakt; and three articles for Ayna – Zerkalo. Suppression of the entire edition of a newspaper. Censors order confiscation to intimidate editors. In one case, the censor ordered removal of such a quantity of material from the July 17, 1996, edition of Mukhalifat that it could not be replaced in the remaining few hours before press time. In another case, the censor refused publication of the January 1, 1996, edition of Azadliq because the newspaper had previously published an article which displeased top government officials. As a result, the chief censor was reprimanded for lack of vigilance with his subordinates.

Aliyev Keeps Firm Hold on Azerbaijani Airwaves

The government of President Aliyev maintains strong control over Azerbaijani State Television and Radio, the only medium which reaches the entire nation. In the provinces where print journalism is especially weak, state television is the main, if not only, source of information. Control is exercised through loyalty of personnel in primary and secondary posts, verified by a censor’s office located at television headquarters, and monitored by the presidential office. State television broadcasts on two channels, Az/TV – 1, and Az/TV – 2. Channel 1 devotes large segments of its newscasts to coverage of President Aliyev, including repeated clips of his pilgrimage to Mecca and his kissing of the Azeri flag. Az/TV – 2 concentrates more on entertainment.

Strict control on both channels induces self – censorship among editorial employees. “After you’ve been censored three times,” says one TV journalist, “you either think, ‘I must do this or that to make the piece acceptable or it won’t go, and I won’t get my honorarium.’ If you are not able to accept that, you leave.” Paradoxically, however, the government allows one private television broadcaster, Azerbaijan News Service, to operate and broadcast news almost without censorship. (See section on television, page 12). For the moment, ANS is not considered a threat because it reaches less than 13 percent of the population, mostly located in the Baku area where the opposition press operates. In its seven – year existence, ANS has successfully resisted attempts to impose censorship; today it is something of a showpiece with which to court the West. But the ANS management has plans to extend the reach of its signal and so could become more threatening in the future.

Despite controls on television, Baku residents do not feel isolated from the outside world. The government does not jam foreign television broadcasts. Two Russian channelsÐORT and RTRÐare widely available, as are two Turkish channels (TRT and one private Turkish channel). In May, NTV, a leading Russian private television company, began broadcasting in Azeri, reaching viewers in Baku, Sumgait, and Absheron Peninsula. Just two weeks after NTV went on the air in Azerbaijan, however, some of its programs were censoredÐinstead of the scheduled programs, still shots occasionally appear. Evening movie broadcasts have been stopped altogether. These measures resulted from a decision by “the relevant body responsible for ideology,” as Vahif Musayev, an official of the Communications Ministry, explained, “because NTV’s programs are harmful to public morals.”

The Electronic Frontier in Azerbaijan

At present, the authorities have not addressed the issue of freedom of information on the Internet. Some observers believe that the Azerbaijan government has not developed sufficient computer literacy to appreciate the possibilities of the Internet, or to know how to block pornographic, or dissident materials. Free access to the Internet is limited and available only at the Academy of Sciences and a few other academic institutions. Private subscribers can gain access by subscribing for a fee through two companies, Intrans and Compuserve.

Azerbaijan’s Officials Strong – Arm the Press

As Azerbaijan finds its way in the post – Soviet era, powerful officials accustomed to an obedient press have taken matters into their own hands when censorship has failed them. Zardusht Alizadeh, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party and the editor of its newspaper, Istiglal, recalls how the national police minister, Iskendar Hamidov, reacted to the publication of a satirical article about him. Baku journalists still remember the 1992 incident as the most dramatic beating of a journalist to have occurred since independence. Alizadeh’s article, which suggested marital infidelity on the part of the minister’s mother, caused Hamidov to explode.

“He was terribly angry,” Alizadeh recounted in his downtown office, “and he rushed down here. He barged in, grabbed an ashtray, and hurled it at me in front of my colleagues. Then one of his body guards grabbed meÐblood was running down my faceÐhustled me out of the building and tried to stuff me in the baggage compartment of the minister’s Mercedes.” When Alizadeh resisted, the bodyguards pushed him into the rear seat and drove to a police station, where he was held for several hours in an unlit basement before being released. The same afternoon, Alizadeh tried to press charges against Hamidov but the city prosecutor never acted on the complaint.

Hamidov subsequently was forced to resign because of public indignation over the incident. But when Aliyev came to power in 1993, he restored Hamidov to his post. Later, Aliyev arrested Hamidov on charges of defrauding the government of $400,000.

Another beating involved Seyfulla Mustafayev, one of the founders of ANS, the independent television company. In 1994, Mustafayev called on Babek Gusseinoglu, head of State Television and Radio, to discuss continued use of office space at television headquarters. When tempers flared, Gusseinoglu’s bodyguards jumped on Mustafayev and beat him. Mustafayev spent 21 days in the hospital. No action was taken against the bodyguards or the official.

The year 1995 brought the killing of a journalist which has never been solved. Adil Bunyatov, a TV reporter for Reuters and the Turan news agency, was filming the government’s effort to put down a rebellion by OPON, the special assignment police department. During the storming of the OPON headquarters by Azerbaijani army troops, some 70 people were killed, and 200 people were arrested on suspicion of complicity in the alleged coup. As government forces approached the OPON headquarters where the mutineers led by OPON chief Rovshan Dzhavadov had barricaded themselves, Bunyatov was shot in the back of the neck at point – blank range. Although the Turan news agency protested Bunyatov’s killing as a wanton murder, no autopsy was ever performed; no perpetrator was ever found, and no trial was ever held.

In 1996, according to local press freedom monitors, at least 15 journalists were beaten while carrying out their duties. One case involved a Turkish journalist, Yashar Tezel, a correspondent for Turkish Radio. Tezel arrived in Baku on April 12, 1996, to cover the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz and planned to leave April 17. In the course of the visit, Tezel met with former Azerbaijani prime minister Panakh Gusseinov, who was wanted on charges of misappropriation of government property. Police tracked down Gusseinov to an automobile in which he was sitting with Tezel. Both men were arrested.

Tezel was taken to the 16th Police Station and beaten. He was charged with failure to report the whereabouts of a “state criminal,” aiding and abetting a suspect, and resisting arrest. In reply, Tezel asserted that he did not know Gusseinov was a fugitive. On May 6, he was again beaten while in detention. The Baku journalistic community protested Tezel’s arrest. He was finally released after six months in jail. On January 15, 1996, Valekh Magerramov, the executive secretary of the newspaper Ses, was arrested and held for five hours in the Gakh region. The arrest was ordered by the regional police chief F. Tanryverdiyev, who was angered by the journalist’s inquiries into a dispute between a local resident and the police. Magerramov was released only after authorities in Baku intervened.

Turan News Agency correspondent Tapdyg Farkhadoglu was accosted on the street on November 17, 1996, and beaten by unknown persons after interviewing Neimat Panakhov, the leader of the National Statehood party. The journalist later identified one attacker as the chief of the Sabail police station No. 39. Farkhadoglu brought suit against the station chief Hafiz Rzayev and persons unknown, but the Baku prosecutor closed the case on January 28, 1997, on the grounds that the suspects could not be found. In 1996, in addition to Farkhadoglu and Tezel, the following journalists were arrested or beaten while on assignment, according to “Mass Media: Principles and Reality,” the bulletin of Yeni Nesil:

  • Valekh Magerramov of the newspaper Ses
  • Chinghiz Sultansoy, State Radio and Television
  • Aacy Gun, Mukhalifat
  • Kamal Ali, Yeni Musavat
  • Israfil Agaev, Lenkoran khayaty
  • Elchin Guseinbeili, Radio Azadliq
  • Matin Yasharoglu, Mukhalifat
  • Faik Novruzov, Panorama
  • three journalists of Khurriyet and Jumhkurriyet
  • two journalists of the program “Day,” Azeri television.

In May 1997, police stopped Azadliq correspondent Elchin Seljuk while he was on assignment in Nakhchivan to report on the political intentions of former president Elchibey. They accused him of disorderly conduct and held him overnight. A local court rejected a prosecutor’s demands for a guilty verdict and 15 days’ imprisonment, but fined Seljuk 22,000 manats (about $5.50). Azadliq editor Gunduz Tairli said the police action did not surprise him. “The authorities are not anxious for us to report on Elchibey’s plans,” he said.

On June 6, 1997, a security guard slapped Ayna – Zerkalo correspondent Kamal Ali in the face while Ali was conducting an interview in parliament. The guard claimed that the interview had gone on too long. When Ali and fellow correspondents refused to leave, the guard began striking the others. In the aftermath of the incident, the parliament’s security chief acknowledged the misbehavior and both he and the guard apologized for the attack.

Azerbaijani press critics say there have been fewer physical attacks on journalists in the last two years, prompting some to assert that media conditions in Azerbaijan are improving. Others disagree. “Not so,” says one journalist for Ayna – Zerkalo. “What’s really happening is that we have learned what irritates the authorities and we are censoring ourselves.”

Qutb, an indepedent local television station in Guba, Azerbaijan operates in meager resources and has yet to receive frequency from

Media at a Glance in Azerbaijan

* Television: Forty – seven radio and television companies are registered with the government, but only eight are currently operating:

* State Television and Radio Company reaches the whole country, with Az/TV1 and Az/TV2, providing news, entertainment, public affairs programming.

* Seven independent companies in operation, of which ANS (Azerbaijan News Service), located in Baku, is the most powerful (1,500 watts). ANS provides news and entertainment to 1.2 million viewers in Baku, Sumgait, and the Absheron Peninsula. Sara – TV in Baku provides entertainment programs only.

* Foreign television: ORT and RTR (Russian); two Turkish channels (TRT/1 and private Turkish channel). The government does not interfere with other foreign broadcasts which require a satellite dish.

* Radio: State radio broadcasts nationwide and abroad in Azeri, Russian, English, Turkish, Farsi, Arabic, French, German

* Independent radio: ANS – Radio, Radio – Sara, BTR.

* Newspapers: 375 newspapers are registered throughout the country, but less than 50 appear more or less regularly. Regional newspapers are weak,

and most popular newspapers are published in Baku, among them:

* Government – financed and supported: Azerbaijan (organ of the Milli Medjlis) Bakinskii Rabochii (president’s office) Yeni Azerbaijan (New Azerbaijan party of President Aliyev) Khalg Gazeti (president’s office)

* Party – financed: Azadliq (Popular Front/advertising) Yeni Musavat and Mukhalifat (Musavat party/advertising) Millet (National Independence party) Istiglal (Social Democratic party) Khurriyet (Democratic party of Azerbaijan)

* Independent/Commercial: Ayna (Azeri edition)/Zerkalo (Russian edition) and Birzha (both financed by advertising sales) Avrasiya (financed by two Turkish brothers with support from BayHoldings bank in Turkey) Panorama (founded by Eldar Namazov, who now works for President Aliyev. Publication of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, financed principally by advertising, but tends toward political support of Aliyev.) Günay (wealthy individual, Makhmud Makhmudov) 7 Gün (wealthy individual) Press – Fakt (wealthy individual)

* News Agencies: Azertadj (controlled by presidential office)

Azeri Television: Tight State Control, With One Notable Exception

ANS Television broadcasts programs 16 hours a day on Channel 6, using a 1,500 – watt transmitter located at the Institute of Geology on the westerly hills overlooking the city. Its signal reaches out across the capital, to the industrial town of Sumgait on the Absheron Peninsula. Its potential audience today is roughly 1.2 million citizens, or approximately 13 percent of the population.

President Aliyev, so concerned with media control, apparently does not consider ANS a threat, and has even helped it at crucial junctures. Why? Partly because ANS reaches only a small fraction of the population, and partly because ANS is a showpiece with which to court the West.

An example is a morning talk show on ANS I participated in as a visiting American in April 1997. The conversation turned to democratic protests, flag – burning, and whether it is libelous to criticize political leaders for official actions. I plunged into controversy by pointing out that the Azerbaijani government violates its own constitution by engaging in censorshipÐa taboo topic. My remarks, I learned later, were greeted approvingly by many Baku intellectuals who oppose Aliyev’s authoritarianism. When I inquired if ANS suffered reprisals for my outburst, the answer was: “No. And probably the government will make virtue of necessity by citing your remarks as diversity of views in the media.”

ANS won its unique position through a long struggle during which it was nearly quashed several times. Today the company is well – established enough to make it difficult to disband without a major cause. The company was conceived by two brothers, Chinghiz and Seyfulla Mustafayev, in 1990, and officially founded in 1992. In 1989 – 1990, a rising nationalist tide threatened to overthrow Azerbaijan’s Communist leadership. Seyfulla, a graduate student in history at Leningrad University, rushed back to Baku to film the Soviet tank invasion of January 20, 1990, ordered by Moscow to bolster the Communist regime.

Assisted by friends, the Mustafayevs amassed 60 hours of tape, which they edited into a one – hour video. The video contains in graphic footage of Soviet tanks crashing into Baku, bullet – riddled corpses of fallen citizens, interviews with outraged doctors and defensive Soviet commanders. The brothers copied the tape onto 30 cassettes and circulated them to break the Soviet news blackout.

The brothers then volunteered to become the Baku stringers of Russian State Television (RTR), a television company founded after the fall of the Soviet Union. They covered all the Caucasian hot spotsÐChechnya, North Ossetia, Abkhazia. Seeking access to Azeri broadcasts, the brothers approached President Mutalibov, who eventually gave them permission to prepare news reports for Azeri State Television. Finally, on March 2, 1992, with help from Mutalibov and Premier Gassan Gassanov, they received official registration for their own company. “We did what we wanted, and criticized whom we wanted,” Seyfulla Mustafayev recalled in an interview. Evidently, their on – air frankness irritated some officials, and they were reassigned to an inferior channel. Under Elchibey’s Popular Front, ANS was temporarily closed as tensions escalated over the Karabakh war. Chinghiz Mustafayev was killed while filming in Karabakh and became a national hero. When Elchibey abandoned the capital in June 1993, ANS gave prominent coverage to Aliyev’s arrival from Nakhchivan and his takeover of the government. ANS was allowed back on the air.

Once again, in November 1994, ANS was closed down briefly, this time on orders from the Baku commandant. Seyfulla Mustafayev appealed to Aliyev who, claiming he knew nothing of the stoppage, gave orders to resume broadcasting. But in March 1995, after the OPON affair, the government sent a censor to read ANS’s copy.

“We received him politely, gave him a place to sit, and brought him tea,” Seyfulla Mustafayev recalls. “Occasionally, we gave him some copy to read. We also wrote a letter to the government saying we would submit to censorship only if they sent us an official order in writing. That never came, and eventually the censor went away.” “Much has changed since 1994,” Mustafayev adds. “That was a time of much confusion and little stability. I doubt now that we could be closed down. We are not an opposition medium. We give all sides of the story. We don’t support and we don’t oppose.”

ANS could become troublesome for Aliyev in the future if the management succeeds in extending its range to the whole nation. One obstacle to expansion is that owners of Soviet – made television sets must purchase an additional “decoder” because of the frequency ANS uses.

ANS’s independent stance has attracted the attention of Internews, the California – based foundation, funded in part by USAID, which promotes independent television broadcasting in Russia and states emerging from an authoritarian past. ANS is now an Internews partner in the Caucasus and is organizing a network of seven independent stations within Azerbaijan. It is also seeking to exchange television feature programs with independent stations in Georgia and Armenia. Given the belligerence between Azerbaijan and Armenia, this aspect of the exchange is particularly sensitive.

To assist the process, Internews in December 1996 opened a Baku office. Pending receipt of legal status from the Azerbaijani government, Internews is planning several television features and reinforcing contacts with local television stations (ANS/Baku; Sara – TV/Baku; Guba; Tauz; two stations in Ganja; and Zakatala). A visit to Qutb, the television station in Guba, located near the Azeri – Russian border, demonstrates how difficult it is to get a local station up and running. The idea for Qutb came from Mahir Orudzhov. Back in 1991, he began by transmitting entertainment programs even before getting official permission, but was obliged to shut down on orders from Baku in 1992. He has since received permission to operate from the Ministry of Press and Information and the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Communications, however, has yet to assign him a frequency. Since the mayor of Guba (population: 40,000) has not objected to the Qutb transmissions, however, Orudzhov and colleagues put out a 20 – minute news program once a week from a makeshift studio. (I was not able to determine how he found a suitable frequency. One source suggested that the Ministry of Communications might have suggested a frequency prior to formally assigning one, or Orudzhov may have chosen one which does not interfere with other area broadcasts.)

“A television station without a news program is no more than a video shop,” Orudzhov said during a tour of the station, located in four rooms of the former Guba Palace of Culture. The station has nine employees, who receive up to 20,000 manats ($5.00) a month in salary. Since the local economy supports no businesses which can pay for advertising, the station covers its running expenses by charging for televised birthday and anniversary greetings, an adaptation of Azerbaijani newspaper practice.

Orudzhov is keenly aware that he must stay on the good side of Guba’s mayor – especially since Baku may ask him to attest to Qutb’s “loyalty” before assigning a frequency. Nevertheless, Orudzhov has produced several news programs which spurred the local authorities to take corrective actions: one on the problem of stray dogs eating garbage in the streets, another about the deterioration of a historic bathhouse. For the vast majority of Azerbaijan’s population, however, the main source of news and information remains the two state channels, Az/TV – 1 and Az/TV – 2. President Aliyev’s office makes sure that these channels project constant and upbeat views of his activities. Az/TV – 1 lavishes air time on press conferences, airport arrivals and departure statements, and visiting foreign VIPs. (The newspapers Bakinskii Rabochii and Khalq Gazeti do the same in print). One joke currently circulating in Baku portrays the televised Aliyev personality cult this way:

A frustrated viewer calls the television repair man to his apartment. The repairman examines the television set which is producing a distorted image on the screen. He offers this explanation: “I can fix Channel 1 pretty easily, but I’ll have to go back to the shop to get some parts for Channel 2. Will that be all right?” The owner, anxious to restore reception, agrees. The repairman writes down on a piece of paper what parts he needs to fix Channel 2. As for Channel 1, he takes a portrait of President Aliyev out of his pocket and tapes it over the screen.

State television has apparently succeeded in convincing the population that Aliyev is the man of the hour. Ask people on the street what they think of the president and they will tell you: He is a strong leader, which is what we need at this moment. He knows the world. After all, he rose to the top of the political establishment of the Soviet Union and became a Politburo member. He, if anyone, can solve our greatest problem, returning the lost land of Nagorno – Karabakh to Azerbaijan and sending the one million refugees back to their homes. (Azeri intellectuals have more critical views, but carry less weight in the Azerbaijani political world).

The chief television censor’s office is in Room 46 on the second floor of the State Television and Radio building. All broadcast material must receive the censor’s approbation as well as the approval of editors. Because of the length of the approval process, state television is often behind the curve with important breaking news. When a major event occurs, like the explosion in the Baku metro in the fall of 1995, state television was days behind the ANS reports.

One former state television employee questions whether the censor is really necessary. “On Azeri television you can’t have free opinions,” he says. “Government television workers are like birds who have grown up in a cage. They don’t know what freedom is. If they step out of line, they soon find themselves out of work.”

The management considers it inappropriate to allow political opponents access to state television, other than at times stipulated by election laws. Furthermore, the president’s control of the airwaves gives him carte blanche to smear his opponents.