The new Media Law restrictions In Azerbaijan

A new Media Law of Azerbaijan was adopted by the Parliament of Azerbaijan on 30 December 2021 . It consists of 78 articles and differs from the old law in terms of scope and issues regulated by it. The new bill plays an important role in eliminating a number of shortcomings the government claims that exist in the field of media in the present world. It provides all the details, from raising the level of professionalism of journalists to solving their social problems. One of the main issues is associated with the presence of so-called ‘random’ journalists and media outlets ,according to its Government.

Some excerpts :-

The new law, inter alia, defines “media entities” (art. 25); certain main principles that all information published or disseminated by media entities must abide by (arts. 14–15); the right to refute, respond, or correct (arts. 18–19); limits to foreign ownership or sponsorship of media entities registered in Azerbaijan (arts. 26, 69); the establishment of the Audio-visual Council as the body regulating the field of audio-visual media (art. 43); rules concerning the activities of journalists (art. 70 et seq.); and the establishment of a “media register” (art. 73 et seq.).

“Media entities” are defined as entities whose main activity is the publication or dissemination of non-legally prescribed information to an unlimited number of persons (i.e., “mass information”). (Art. 1.1.3.) Media entities are categorized as “audio-visual,” “print,” and “online” media entities, and news agencies. (Art. 25.) The law provides licensing requirements for all audio-visual media entities, which include all television and radio broadcasters, as well as re-transmitters of such broadcasts, using any technology, including over the internet. (Art. 50.)

The law defines “journalists” as persons who are employed by media subjects under an employment contract, or operate independently on the basis of their own copyright and a civil law contract, and whose main and continuous activity is collecting, preparing, editing and  producing, transmitting, and commenting on information for the purpose of gaining income. Therefore, journalists must have a labour contract, which could affect freelancers.

Significantly, the law would establish a “media register” in which media entities and journalist are registered. While registration in the media register would be voluntary (although it is automatic upon licensing for audio-visual media entities), registration would be necessary for accessing certain journalistic privileges, including, inter alia, accreditation of journalists by state and nongovernmental bodies (art. 72.1); the obtaining of a journalist card, which is required for accreditation and entering places where events of public, political, social, or economic significance are taking place to collect and report information on such events (art. 71.1.2–3); and access to certain benefits, including special trainings, participation in certain projects organized by the state, and financial benefits (art. 76).

The law provides grounds for the suspension and revocation of audio-visual media entity licenses (arts. 57–58) and for deregistration from the media register (art. 75).

President Aliyev signed the new law on 8 February 2022. It was approved by the Azerbaijani parliament on 30 December 2021, last year.

The official journalist registry excludes anyone with a criminal record and requires prospective journalists to take an as yet unrevealed ‘test’!. Additionally, the law further requires that owners of media organisations operating in Azerbaijan also live in Azerbaijan. As a result, journalists reporting for opposition outlets based outside of the country will be subject to criminal prosecution. Online news outlets that have an output of under 20 pieces a day, will also be barred from legal recognition as media.

The law also envisages broad restrictions on what journalists can report, with a legal requirement that journalists only report ‘objectively’, without a definition of what ‘objectivity’ actually means giving leeway for authorities to make their own interpretation of the law. This law aims to step up control over the media and legalise censorship.

Among the many new regulations: The state will now create a registry of journalists, who have to fit specific criteria (sans criminal record) to be included. Owners of media outlets will have to live in Azerbaijan, which would effectively ban many of the country’s independent media which are run by Azerbaijanis who fled the country’s already repressive media environment. Online news outlets will be required to publish at least 20 news pieces on a daily basis. The intent appears to be to give the government more freedom to block media it deems unfriendly.

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