Freedom of Speech and Press Is an Indicator of Democratic Development in Azerbaijan

July 22 – the date of the publication of our first national press “Akinchi” newspaper – is being marked as National Press Day every year since Azerbaijan gained its independence.
And it will be the 145th anniversary of the Azerbaijani national press this year.

The publishing of “Akinchi” well-resonated throughout the whole Caucasus with it’s 56 issues were published during it’s operating period in 1875-1877.

The newspaper has played a great role in the nationwide awakening of our people and the strengthening of national unity. That is why the Tsarist Russia’s ruling elite were alarmed by it’s progressive ideas, so that the newspaper’s activities were suspended within two years of operation.

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After the publishing of the first evangelist of the Azerbaijani press, Akinchi, significant progress has been made in this area. At the end of the 19th century, Ziya (1879), Kashkul (1880) and Kaspi (80s-90s) newspapers began to be published. At the beginning of the 20th century, J. Mammadguluzadeh, M. Shakhtakhtinski, S. Huseyn, O. Faig Nemanzadeh, U. Hajibeyov and others fought for the establishment of a new democratic press.

As a result of this intense struggle, some democratic-spirited, nationally ambitious newspapers such as Molla Nasreddin (1906), East-Russian (1903), Hayat (1905), Achiq Soz (1915), and Azerbaijan (1918) emerged.

After Azerbaijan regained its independence, the come-back to many national and moral values was seen in the media as well. The abolition of censorship of the press in Azerbaijan in August, 1998, gave a serious impetus to the development.

One of the greatest events in the history of our press was the regaining of independence from the Soviet Union on October 18, 1991. This was the main requirement for the formation of a free and democratic Azerbaijani press. Of course, at that time there were serious obstacles to the emergence and development of a democratic press, one of which was the existence of censorship. After it’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic space, Azerbaijan joined a number of international conventions and agreements to ensure freedom of speech and press.

The decree “On measures to ensure freedom of speech, opinion and information in the Republic of Azerbaijan” signed by the national leader Heydar Aliyev on August 6, 1998, eliminated censorship of the media completely. This decree gave a serious impetus to the rapid development of the media in Azerbaijan and played a major role in increasing the effective role of the media in public life.

Subsequent decrees and orders on the development of the media in the country, especially the law on the media in 1999, laid a solid foundation for the establishment of freedom of speech, opinion and the press in Azerbaijan.

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Article 50 of the first Constitution of the independent Republic of Azerbaijan, prepared and adopted by Heydar Aliyev, provides for the free expression of the opinion of citizens of the country.
According to Article 1 of the Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan “On Mass Media”, the mass media in Azerbaijan are free. This freedom is based on the state’s guarantee of the right of citizens to legally seek, obtain, prepare, transmit, produce and disseminate information. According to the current law, the establishment, ownership, management and use of the media may not be restricted, except as provided by law.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the press was developing in its own way. Thus, in March 2000, by the Order of national leader Heydar Aliyev, the “Program of Measures to Improve the Material and Technical Condition of the Mass Media in 2000-2001” was approved. Debts of a number of newspapers were written off.
In March 2003, the Press Council of Azerbaijan, a body regulating media-government relations, was established.

All these, in turn, were significant events in the history of our independent press. The national leader ensured the improvement of the legislative framework to eliminate artificial barriers to the development of freedom of speech and press, and set the goal of increasing the role of the media in Azerbaijan – the country which has chosen civil society building as its model of development.

It should be noted that over the past 20-25 years, Azerbaijan has seen the rapid development of electronic media. Today there is a strong competition between electronic and traditional media.

Almost all media outlets in Azerbaijan already has a website. As a result of the rapid development of information and communication technologies, the readership of traditional media is declining, but they prefer to receive news via the Internet. In recent years, the development of computer technology in Azerbaijan, as well as freedom of speech and opinion, the acceleration of the process of integration into the world and globalization, as in all spheres of society, in the media also revealed some new approaches.
In our country, which has been a prisoner of information blockades under the Soviet Union for many years and far from the events in the world, the media is currently experiencing a phase of transformation.

The role of the Internet as a means of free speech is growing in Azerbaijan as well. Although new media is still in it’s infancy in our country, there are many blogs, forums and news portals operating all over the country.
Finally, it can be concluded that the ancient literary and cultural heritage of the Azerbaijani people, the traditions of the press have laid a solid foundation for the future development of democratic national journalism.

Today, the country’s media plays an important role in the development of our socio-political and cultural life and introduces us to the world. As a result of national leader Heydar Aliyev’s special support to the media, he was awarded by the “Friend of Journalists” award in 2002. Mr. President Ilham Aliyev also provides special support to journalists in the country.

In order to strengthen the material and technical base of the press, in accordance with the Presidential Decree “On repayment of debts of newspapers to the Azerbaijani publishing house” signed on February 8, 2006, the debt of newspapers to the “Azerbaijan” publishing house was paid from the state budget.

It should be noted that the majority of debt-paying newspapers were independent and pro-opposition.
On July 31, 2008, the President signed a decree entitled “Concept of state support for the development of mass media in the Republic of Azerbaijan.” This concept is an important document that provides for comprehensive measures to ensure freedom of speech and information, the independence of the media.

The State Support Fund for the Development of Mass Media under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, established to address the issues reflected here, is taking consistent measures. The Foundation successfully supports the development of the media, including the financing of individual newspaper projects. This shows that the state care for the press in our country is sustainable and systematic. Today, freedom of thought, speech and information, pluralism is at a high level in Azerbaijan.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. State support for the development of independent media has led to freedom of speech and expression.
It should be noted that the protection of human freedoms is one of the important activities of the modern Internet.

The development of Internet media, freedom of thought and speech on the Internet, the expansion of social networks, ensuring open and transparent government activities, the involvement of citizens in governance processes are new opportunities provided to people by the global network. It is commendable that there is internet freedom in Azerbaijan. Internet radio and internet television programs, electronic newspapers and magazines, foreign and domestic social networks are widespread in our country.

Thousands of bloggers operate freely on the Internet in Azerbaijan.
This development is reflected in the provision of freedom of thought, speech, information and expression in the country, as well as the strengthening of the material and technical base of the media.

As I mentioned, today the condition of our media, mass media, logistics is much better than in previous years, which is due to the development factor of the country. The positive trend is that the work done to ensure freedom of thought, speech, information and expression, the steps taken are not of a natüre of a campaign. Instead, this is a whole process and it is very systematic.

First of all, President Ilham Aliyev is interested in this process, and the President has repeatedly stated in his speeches that the necessary steps will be taken to ensure freedom of thought, speech, information and expression in the country.

Every year, on the eve of the National Press Day, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Mr. Ilham Aliyev, provides one-time assistance to the mass media published in the country.

These funds are regulated by the Fund of State Support for the Development of Mass Media under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan by maintaining a balance between the mass media and newspapers published in Azerbaijan. Naturally, these funds allocated by the President every year serve to strengthen the material and technical base of the media published in the country, to further improve the activities of various media outlets and organizations.

As mentioned above, one of the steps taken by the state, personally by President Ilham Aliyev, to serve the media, their development, as well as to improve the social and housing conditions of our colleagues working in this field, is the construction of residential buildings for media representatives.

On July 22, 2010, the President signed a decree on the construction of a residential building to improve the living conditions of journalists. A 17-storey, two-entrance, 156-apartment residential building was built in the 20th area of Bayil settlement of Sabail district and handed over to journalists on July 22, 2013 with the participation of President Ilham Aliyev. On the same day, July 22, 2013, the President signed a second decree “On additional measures to strengthen the social protection of journalists in Azerbaijan,” adding more to the festive mood of journalists.

According to the order, a 17-storey, 3-entrance, 255-apartment residential building in the 20th area of Bayil settlement of Sabail district has been handed over to journalists. As a continuation of this process, in 2017 the head of the state laid the foundation of another residential building for journalists.

This year, on the 145th anniversary of the establishment of the National Press, it will be handed over to our colleagues. Obviously, this process, which has no analogues in the world, is the true indicator of the state’s attention and care for the media, freedom of thought, speech and information.

We believe that as a logical consequence of the multifaceted, effective policy pursued under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, our press will be further refined and improved, working on the principles of professional journalism and providing the public with objective information.

Javid Shahverdiyev
(Journalist, Azerbaijan, “Khalg Jabhasi” newspaper)

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