Azerbaijan’s new media law introduces wide restrictions on freedom of the press. One of the restrictions is the creation of a registry for all journalists, with opaque requirements for inclusion — those officially recognised as journalists will receive benefits including preferential mortgage rates.
President Aliyev signed the new law on 8 February. It was approved by the Azerbaijani parliament on 30 December, 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’, Jeanne Cavelier, the head of Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, is quoted as saying in an RSF press release.
The law has also come under fierce criticism from Azerbaijani journalists.
‘President Aliyev signed the draconic media law’, investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova wrote on Facebook. ‘We (journalists) are no longer legal in this country'.
When the law was first announced, a group of journalists held several demonstrations in front of the parliament building in protest of the law. The protests were dispersed by force.
Government figures, meanwhile, have remained steadfast in defending the legislation.
‘I think that the law will regulate relations between the media and state’, Aydin Mirzazade, an MP from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party told Voice of America. ‘The law protects media independence, freedom of speech, and does not impose any sanctions or restrictions on them’.
Azerbaijan has some of the highest restrictions on journalism in the world, ranking 167 out of 180 countries in press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders.