Gerb

22 july 2010, 20:43
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Thank you very much. First of all, I would like to congratulate you and all the people of Azerbaijan on the 135th anniversary of the national press. Our press has long traditions which carry on living.

I am giving a positive assessment to the work of the Press Council. I think that from the day of its establishment the Press Council has played a very positive role in the development of cooperation between state bodies and the media of our country, has always demonstrated a principled stance in protecting the rights of journalists and, on the whole, taken major steps to develop freedom of speech and democracy. In your remarks you described the recent history of the press. This is a wonderful history indeed. Azerbaijan emerged on the world map as an independent country in 1991. As you know, independent media were only appearing in Azerbaijan at the time. The free press appeared in Azerbaijan back in the Soviet times and its activity in that period deserves a very high assessment. But conditions required for the free press were not yet available in 1991.

However, shortly after Azerbaijan regained its state independence, major progress was achieved in the sphere of the media, as newspapers, media outlets, private TV channels appeared. In other words, after the country regained its independence, the Azerbaijani press started developing rapidly. As you indicated, cancelation of the censorship in 1998 was a truly historic step. By today’s measure, this, of course, cannot be viewed as a major phenomenon, but in those years Azerbaijan became the first country in the CIS to scrap censorship. After that, serious measures were taken to develop freedom of speech. In 2000, the Ministry of the Press and Information was abolished, while in 2003 the Press Council was established. These developments show that the Azerbaijani state has been conducting a consistent and coherent policy in this sphere.

In general, freedom of speech is one of the most important issues for every country and its development. Freedom of speech, democratic development, rule of law – all these are very important issues in Azerbaijan. I think our country has covered a very long and successful road in this area. There are numerous facts to confirm that. There are hundreds of media outlets in Azerbaijan. Our citizens can easily follow the developments unfolding in the world through 30 daily and almost 100 weekly newspapers, eight channels which broadcast their programs to the whole of Azerbaijan, 14 regional TV channels and the Internet.

The number of Internet users in Azerbaijan exceeds 40 per cent. We are applying a computerization program to all schools and connecting them to the Internet. In other words, everything is being done in Azerbaijan to develop freedom of speech. All necessary regulatory acts are being adopted. Measures are being taken to step up state support for the media, the state concept has been adopted. The state is supporting and will continue to support the strengthening of the material and technical logistics of mass media.

In other words, I am giving a positive assessment to the present state of affairs of the media. I think that our press has covered a long and successful road. Of course, there are certain problems, and you spoke about them in your remarks. We must interact in resolving these problems. This is our common cause. Our common goal should consist in developing Azerbaijan, turning it into a modern state, applying the best practices available in the world, providing for all freedoms, taking even more tangible steps towards construction of a law-governed state. Only in this case can Azerbaijan fully demonstrate the possibilities of a long-term and sustainable development.

Our economic opportunities are certainly enhancing. This creates additional possibilities for us. But I am absolutely sure that without political reforms, economic ones cannot yield long-term success. They may only bring about short-term progress. Namely, thanks to prudent economic reforms, countries possessing extensive hydrocarbon resources may achieve short-term successes. But if we want to secure long-term development, political reforms must be supported by economic transformation. Political and economic reforms must go in parallel. Of course, in our policy we consider the existing situation in the region and Azerbaijan. At the same time, we closely follow the developments unfolding in the world and know history well. We know what challenges and problems countries in transition are encountering. Azerbaijan must pursue a precise, thought-out and consistent policy aiming to minimize these problems and reduce the risks. Political reforms should not be ahead of economic ones, but should not lag behind them either. I think we have managed to create a model in which both economic and political reforms are conducted in parallel to secure comprehensive development of the country.

Azerbaijan has a long and rich history. We have national and spiritual values. These values form our foundation. We share universal human values and successfully cooperate with European bodies on all directions – both economic and political reforms.

European values are also very important to us. In other words, these values are not alien to us and Azerbaijan’s historical and geographical location has brought about this situation.

However, national values are our priority. It is our goal to build a modern state on this foundation. I think we are approaching this goal because all necessary measures are being taken to develop our society. Our main objective is to build a modern, secular and open state on the basis of our national and spiritual values. This requires economic opportunities, economic independence and political freedoms. Today Azerbaijan has a very positive image in the world. We are a member of the Council of Europe and the Organization of Islamic Conference. We are one of a handful of countries included in both these organizations. Our positions in both these organizations are strengthening. Azerbaijan is and will be playing an important part in promoting the dialogue between civilizations. A number of international activities have already been held in Azerbaijan in this sphere. Our geographical location, our past and, in general, our policy will further bolster Azerbaijan’s role in this direction.

I think very positive changes have taken place in Azerbaijan in the area of economic and political reforms. This, however, does not mean that all the problems in this sphere have been resolved. We are aware of our problems and are trying to resolve them. When necessary, we consult international organizations and treat their advice seriously. But the final decision is made by the Azerbaijani people. This is our right. The history of our independence has repeatedly shown that the decisions based on the will of the Azerbaijani people yield positive results. We will continue taking independent steps to successfully and rapidly develop our country.

I think the media-related issues you have raised represent tremendous importance. We must all work together, fight against racketeering in journalism. This fight must have civilized rules. I think we shouldn’t respond to racketeering with racketeering. Citizens committing such negative acts should be publicly condemned. The public should react to them harshly, while the state is ready to perform its mission. But all this work must be done within legal frames. I do hope that these drawbacks, which run counter to our customs and traditions, will be eliminated soon. I think it will take some time because we have only been independent for about 20 years. We need some time to resolve our problems in this and all other areas.

As for defamation issues, you know very well that even Europe’s developed countries don’t have an unequivocal position on this issue. We have repeatedly conducted opinion exchanges as part of our relations with the Council of Europe. We are not against adopting this law. Considering the fact that no-one is arrested for the freedom of speech in Azerbaijan, we can say that there is some kind of an unofficial moratorium in this sphere. But we want all countries to work in accordance with these criteria. In some cases international organizations pay special attention to Azerbaijan. Maybe this special attention is worthy of applause in connection with certain issues, but in some cases this partiality carries a different meaning, and this is demonstrated by the development of our relations with the Council of Europe. As someone directly involved in these issues and as the first head of the Azerbaijani delegation to the Council of Europe, I am well aware of these issues. I can say that the unfair campaign against Azerbaijan which has been under way since 2001 is causing a great deal of indignation. Everything must be fair. Fairness is the main criterion. Of course, Azerbaijani society does have problems. We know what they are. But all countries must be judged against the same criteria. The countries of the same region have no fewer problems than we do. In some cases, this is either ignored or false information is provided, while even minor issues pertaining to Azerbaijan lead to a hue and cry. It looks as if someone wants to deal a blow to Azerbaijan’s reputation. We know very well that following the 2008 presidential election in Armenia the army killed over 10 people, hundreds were arrested, a presidential candidate was placed under a house arrest, MPs and representatives of the media were detained. However, some media only published small reports about that several days later as though nothing had happened. This information did not emerge in international media and was not raised by the Council of Europe or elsewhere. Although this issue is raised sometimes now, the topic is essentially closed. 

But as soon as an incomparably smaller event occurs in Azerbaijan, it is immediately covered by international media. Attempts are made to portray Azerbaijan as an allegedly undemocratic country. This is a targeted and unfair fight against us. We are ready for this fight. We must and will counter it only with our policies and persistence to protect the interests of Azerbaijan. Therefore, as far as defamation issues are concerned, I think this issue must be resolved and relevant amendments made to the legislation. However, we would like developed countries, which consider themselves to be the cradle of democracy, to take steps in this regard.

Unfortunately, Azerbaijan’s advertising market is not very large. However, the figures you have provided show that distribution is not very fair. If print media get only 2 million worth of advertisements out of a total of 40 million, this, of course, is intolerable. I will try to ensure that certain steps are taken in this regard. Certain recommendations will be provided by the state.

At the same time, it is true that print media can’t compete with electronic ones. This is the case in any country. This is the peculiarity of mass media even in developed countries with extensive traditions, countries where media have a long history. You know this very well too. But I will attend to this matter nonetheless.

The issue you have raised regarding the training of journalists is very important. I want to highlight that and think we must tackle this issue on the basis of different programs. As you know, the state program on educating Azerbaijani youth abroad is being implemented now. Every year almost 10 million manats is allocated under this program. Using these funds we send our youth to the world’s leading educational institutions. Perhaps we should include the journalistic profession on the list of specializations because there is a great need for that indeed.

The issue of improving professionalism should be a priority not only in the media but also in any other sphere. We don’t have enough qualified professionals in all spheres – economics, public sector, industrial production, services, etc. Azerbaijan’s successful and rapid development necessitates the presence of professionals in all spheres. Therefore, issues relating to professionalism are of general nature. It is important to have professionals in the media too. I think that as the level of professionalism in the media rises, the issues of racketeering will be eliminated. Other phenomena not typical of our traditions will also be removed afterwards. An end will be put to insults, slander and lies. I think this is the time to do that.

We have the freedom of speech. We will be protecting the freedom of speech. The Azerbaijani state and authorities are tolerant of criticism and even insult. As president, I don’t pay attention to that. But this is not the point. The point is that such phenomena are not received well by our society. Dissemination of false information in the media is unacceptable. In previous times, this was a widespread approach. To publish false information, create a stir, start discussing this lie by presenting it as a fact, pass it on to foreign media and bring it back as accurate information – we know this all. I think that this method of political struggle should be removed from the political scene in Azerbaijan. The role of the media in that is, of course, great. Today, in the Internet age, one can read any story, and when a lie is written once, twice and three times, the fourth time the media outlet publishing it will have little respect and public confidence.

I would like to express my views regarding the responsibility of journalists. The problems I have mentioned boil down to this. Journalists should be very responsible. It is important that they stay impartial. I see future development of the media through the strengthening of truly independent media. Politicization trends in this area, especially in the print media, are still very strong. Maybe at a certain stage, when the political system and political relations were emerging in Azerbaijan, this was inevitable. But I think that for the media to develop, politicization should weaken because Azerbaijani society is not politicized. Azerbaijani society is patriotic. This is a society adhering to the state, statehood and not politicized. I think that an artificial politicization of society cannot bring us any success. Everything must be natural, including the media. The fewer media are published on political orders, the stronger they are and the better their reputation.

I can’t issue any instructions on this issue. I simply want to express my opinion. I think the Press Council will also take necessary measures in this direction so that we could make further progress in enhancing the responsibility of journalists and strengthening independent journalistic bodies.

I am also aware that some media are published under influence from outside circles. Articles are written to order. I have sufficient information on that. I wouldn’t like to mention any names now, and will simply say that this is unacceptable. Although article or reports written and prepared on political orders from inside Azerbaijan are also unacceptable, they will not pose a major threat to us. But attempts to create an opinion about a certain topic on orders from foreign circles and on the basis of their plans must be stopped. I am simply calling on journalists to be patriotic. We mustn’t allow foreign forces and circles to turn Azerbaijan into an arena for their stand-offs. I have repeatedly said this. I said it as soon as I became president and would like to repeat it now – Azerbaijan will never be a place where the interests of other countries clash. We have achieved that although such attempts are and may be present in the future because our geographical location, our policy and, in general, our position in the region are, of course, attracting interest. We must make sure that Azerbaijan continues to be governed by the will of its people in the future, for decades, so that we could continue working to build our statehood in accordance with the will of the Azerbaijani people.

Therefore, let me repeat: such cases do exist. I would like them to be eliminated. Foreign circles have sufficient media resources to express what they want through them. In the present Internet age it is not too difficult to do that.

In addition to what I said about the responsibility of journalists, I want to say a few words about journalists’ rights. We must work hard on this issue too. The rights of journalists must be fully protected. There shouldn’t be disrespect and violence against journalists. We are no longer encountering such phenomena in Azerbaijan, but I still think these words will have some importance.

At the same time, the rights of all citizens must be protected in Azerbaijan. Of course, we must take further steps in this direction. I am also absolutely sure that all people of Azerbaijan – from an ordinary citizen to the president – must have equal rights. In other words, no-one can be privileged before law. To be of a certain profession should not give anyone immunity. Journalistic solidarity is very good and I do approve of it. But sometimes we can see journalistic solidarity flouting laws, expressing views only about the protection of journalists’ rights. While protecting human rights, we must ensure the rule of law.

I think that more serious work should be done in the media regarding patriotism. This is particularly important for countries at war. Azerbaijan is at war. Therefore, media should play an exceptional role in educating our youth in the spirit of patriotism. Of course, state support and state policies are very important, and these policies are being pursued. The subject of patriotism in Azerbaijan is covered very extensively. Issues relating to the education of youngsters, our successes in sports, army construction – all this serves one goal: we must further elevate and strengthen the spirit of patriotism in the Azerbaijani people.

The work of the media in this sphere is indispensible. For instance, I am very pleased to see a report or an article touching upon very serious and meaningful topics relating to patriotism. I think we must further strengthen this area. In general, I am pleased to say that Azerbaijani media have an unequivocal position regarding the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Upper Qarabag. This is very important. This is a national, nationwide issue. Political interests should be put aside in this issue. There should be no authorities-opposition relations in this issue. No-one should speculate with it. This is our nationwide issue, the main issue, the main problem. By uniting, the Azerbaijani people can resolve this issue. Therefore, we must work even harder in the country and especially in our relations with representatives of the international media. We mustn’t say that we already know what happened.

This topic must always be on the agenda. I expressed my views regarding that at a meeting with the Azerbaijani community of Upper Qarabag. Until Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity has been restored, we must pursue a policy against Armenia in all directions and at all forums.

Therefore, this topic must always be covered in the country. As for the foreign media, we must try to deliver our message more intelligently, especially since truth is on our side – facts, materials, the Xocali genocide, occupation of Azerbaijani lands, policy of ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijanis. Those who have perpetrated these crimes are war criminals. Time will come when they will be held accountable for these crimes before an international tribunal. Therefore, I think we must work even harder in this direction.

Of course, as I have mentioned, there is a unity in the Azerbaijani media on this issue, but there are also exceptions. This, of course, is very unfortunate. There shouldn’t be a different opinion on this issue in Azerbaijani society, in Azerbaijani media. To justify separatists, interview them, put forward monstrous accusations against Azerbaijanis is unforgivable. Just imagine how much hatred these people have for the Azerbaijani people to propagandize those guilty of shedding the blood of innocent Azerbaijani citizens in Azerbaijan’s own media and beyond. This provides international circles biased against Azerbaijan with additional arguments, plays into their hands, and they take full advantage of that. The appearance of such articles in the Armenian and international media is part of a coordinated policy against Azerbaijan. I am lost for words, it is difficult to put ideas on this issue into words. I think the Azerbaijani media should seriously and quickly respond to such facts. There should be civil, not journalistic solidarity in this issue.

Please submit your suggestions on other issues you have raised, issues pertaining to the living conditions of journalists. I will try to resolve them quickly so that the Azerbaijani state could provide its support in this sphere.

Please let me congratulate you again on this remarkable occasion and wonderful event. I think that today’s holiday is an opportunity for us to meet and talk openly, for me to share with you my views and for us to continue working in cooperation with each other.

Х Х Х

Then President Ilham Aliyev presented members of the Press Council Board of Directors, Vusala Abisova and Aflatun Amasov, with Honorable Journalist certificates, while Umud Mirzayev and Abbas Tapdiq with the titles of Honorable Culture Worker.

In conclusion, a picture was taken. 


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