It was a year of arrests, harassment, and lawsuits with excessively high fines for journalists. With eleven imprisoned in 2012, Azerbaijan remained one of top 10 global jailers of the press. Journalists work under restrictions and constant harassment. Crimes against the press are poorly investigated. At least 60 reported cases of violence against journalists were logged, and many more unreported due to fear of further reprisals. Another 35 lawsuits were filed against media outlets. Libel remains a criminal offense. Access to public information is a struggle. Press enquiries are delayed or ignored altogether. In many areas, the government of President Ilham Aliyev, who took over the job from his father, appeared to be cracking down on the press.
An impressive number of over 5,000 TV channels, radio stations, and newspapers does not translate into a pluralism of views. Broadcast media, including Public broadcaster ITV and state-owned AzTV, are under the strict control of the government. Only one TV station, ANS, provides anything approaching balanced reporting, but it struggles to attract revenue due to selective advertising by risk-averse companies in the market. Newspapers that are critical of the government are struggling with court-imposed fines.
In 2012, parliament further restricted public access to information by banning information about registration and ownership of commercial companies in Azerbaijan. Independent experts criticized this as a step backward, at a time when the country has made public commitments to become more transparent. Self-censorship is widely practiced. Journalists don’t feel that law enforcement and juridical systems can secure them. Suspect investigations of crimes against journalists further contribute to the feeling of impunity among enemies of the free press.
In contrast, Internet media is gathering momentum. In 2012, Internet users reached more than 3.6 million, about 40 percent of the population. In the absence of freedom in the traditional media, blogs are used to comment on political developments, and YouTube to post videos showing mass protests and crackdowns at rallies.
In the absence of any advertising, the government continued to offer news outlets grants through its newly established State Council to Support the Media. Observers say newspapers, barely surviving, are reluctant to lose this new found source of income.
While the Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies lowered online service tariffs, Internet still remains expensive compared to neighboring countries. Azerbaijan’s Internet access and digital broadcasting are expected to increase with the country’s first telecommunications satellite, to be launched into the orbit in 2013.
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