Broadcasters: Azerbaijan to look at media rights
GENEVA—A top Azerbaijan official told European broadcasters Wednesday that his government will probe alleged abuses of journalists, an announcement that comes as the country prepares to host the Eurovision song contest.
Ali Hasanov, who heads the Azerbaijan president's political department, pledged during a daylong closed meeting in Geneva that the "government would investigate fully a number of alleged cases of jailed and mistreated journalists," the European Broadcast Union said in a statement afterward.
Hasanov also agreed that the "Azeri leadership was open to changing state legislation to reduce defamation to a civil and not a criminal offense," the broadcast union said.
At a joint news conference with the broadcast union's director general, Ingrid Deltenre, Hasanov told reporters the government is working to improve the situation.
"We agreed that we should enlarge the circle of the free media in Azerbaijan, that we should pay attention to the professionalism of our journalists and we should do everything to work together to investigate the issues and that we should bring about practical solutions," Hasanov said.
Azerbaijan will host the glitzy Eurovision competition on May 22, 24 and 26 and hopes it will showcase the former Soviet nation.
"Unfortunately, we do have cases of pressure applied to journalists, we do have cases of journalists being physically beaten, harassed, and unfortunately several years ago there was also a case of a murder of a journalist," Hasanov said.
"But such cases also exist in all countries of the world. As the government, we take these issues very seriously," he said.
The European Broadcast Union says it also has agreed to craft a roadmap "to turn the Azeri state broadcaster into a true public service entity," provide editorial and management training and put in place a professional code of conduct for journalists.
Azerbaijan has stubbornly resisted impulses to implement democratic reform, and with its vast energy wealth, few in the West have been eager to apply pressure.
Representatives of media and human rights groups said after the closed-door meeting that media freedoms remain in grave danger in Azerbaijan, with the killing, imprisonment and harassment of journalists.
Emin Huseynov, director of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, described the meeting at European Broadcast Union headquarters as little more than window-dressing ahead of the Eurovision contest.
"I think this is only a meeting for a meeting," he said.