Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the Friend of Journalists award ceremony

24 november 2013, 12:00

Opening speech by President Ilham Aliyev

- Distinguished guests, representatives of the media.

First of all, I want to thank you for decorating me with the Friend of Journalists award once again. For me, it is really a great honour to win this title for the second time. As a Friend of Journalists, I will try to continue to do everything possible for the development of the free media in Azerbaijan.

This award has a great meaning because the fact that you gave the title of Friend of Journalists to the country's President, of course, testifies to the work done in the development of the free media in Azerbaijan.

As President, I will try to continue to support the development of free media in Azerbaijan and thus ensure the dynamic and successful development of our country, since in the modern world the level of free media in developed countries indicates the level of a country. The goal of Azerbaijan is to join the ranks of developed countries in the future. In this case, issues related to the media in Azerbaijan must find a solution at the highest level.

As you know, free journalism in Azerbaijan emerged in the late 1980s. Then in the early 1990s, this process was given an even more powerful impetus. But it is no secret that the existence of media censorship in Azerbaijan until 1998 did not allow the press to carry out their work completely free and without hindrance. The abolition of censorship in 1998 by the decision of great leader Heydar Aliyev created a turning point in this area and reflected the policy of Azerbaijan in this sphere, because the concept of the development of Azerbaijan has been implemented since the mid-1990s. The main directions of this concept are a reality today.

Azerbaijan had to integrate into the world community. Azerbaijan had to build its economic potential on the basis of a free economy. In Azerbaijan, it was necessary to build a free, democratic society. The adoption of this decision in 1998, of course, was no accident and was an example to many countries. I think that since that day, many important decisions related to the development of free media have been adopted in Azerbaijan. Every year, the state's attention to and support for this field is growing. In recent years, Azerbaijan, I believe, achieved a lot of progress in this area by various parameters.

Free media plays a special role in building a democratic society. The journalists, representatives and heads of media present in this room are people who played a special role in the establishment of free media in Azerbaijan, and today they continue their activities. I can say that in this room today there are representatives of institutions that direct the development of media in Azerbaijan. I believe that the activities of the journalistic community and the order coming from the journalistic community to society, of course, play an important role in the creation of free journalism and independent media. At the same time, without public policy, these processes cannot be arranged at the proper level. I believe that the combination of these two main trends in Azerbaijan secured today's positive trend.

There are all freedoms in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is building a democratic society. The conduct of economic reforms along with political reform, of course, will determine the future of our country.

The steps taken in this area, I think, are a perfect example, as our policy in all areas is open and clear. I have repeatedly expressed my opinion about it. I want to say once again that Azerbaijan is building a modern state and has built an independent state, and the further development of Azerbaijan will depend on economic and political reforms. I believe that the success achieved in this area in recent years provides a basis to say that we will move forward confidently in both directions in the future. Azerbaijan has already fully implemented the principles of market economy. I believe that the reforms, which will be carried out in connection with democratic development in the coming years, will raise the situation in this field in Azerbaijan to the highest level.

At the same time, I should note that in terms of democratic development our country is not behind any other country. Azerbaijan has secured freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of political activity, freedom of assembly and freedom of conscience. I believe that our daily life confirms this. Azerbaijan is a country where there is free Internet, and the number of Internet users exceeds 70 per cent. There are no limitations. Hundreds of press outlets are functioning. In short, the state provides only support for media development. As you noted, in some areas, in particular, in the issue of addressing everyday problems of media representatives, Azerbaijan takes one of the first places. This summer, I expressed my opinion about it. I think this is the right approach, because journalists do not have sufficiently great material opportunities. They cannot, like businessmen and people of other categories, become owners of decent apartments through their activities. Therefore, the state must definitely give them support.

Azerbaijan has secured freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of political activity, freedom of assembly and freedom of conscience.

I believe that to ensure dynamic development in all other spheres of life in Azerbaijan there should be positive dynamics in the socio-political sphere too. This year's presidential elections showed that the socio-political situation in Azerbaijan is positive. In society there are no differences of opinion in relation to the overall development of our country. Azerbaijani society has already mobilized to achieve the main objectives. Principles of independence, statehood and modernity are a priority for us.

Independent Azerbaijan is a young state, but despite this, it is able to defend its interests and was able to take its rightful place in the world. As a result of economic independence, political independence has been secured too. Today Azerbaijan plays a role in foreign policy not only in the region but also globally. The processes taking place within the country are further strengthening it. Reforms carried out in Azerbaijan in recent years, infrastructure projects that have been implemented and the resolution of social issues have significantly strengthened our country.
Of course, along with all these positive results and achievements, progress was needed in democratic development. We see it. Of course, a lot remains to be done, and there are mistakes and shortcomings. But the main thing is that the state leadership of Azerbaijan has a very clear idea and strong political will on these issues.

The history of independence was a chance. Most people in this room are people who lived and worked in the Soviet era. We all remember those years very well. We remember that the independence cost the Azerbaijani people very dearly. Therefore, we not only should not miss this historic opportunity, we will never miss it. At the same time, it is necessary to make the most of the period of independence. We need to build a state whose foundations would be inviolable, a state that would live forever so that from now on, the Azerbaijani people always live in freedom and independence.

But independence is not just state attributes. There should be possibilities of conducting an independent policy. We know a number of independent countries whose possibility of conducting an independent policy is limited. Azerbaijan is a country that, despite all difficulties, did not miss this chance in the period of independence, was able to strengthen the independence of the state and laid the foundations of a strong state. Today, neither society nor the expert community have any doubts related to the future development of Azerbaijan. We will only take the path of development, increase our power and continue to pursue an independent policy, and we will create a strong state. Many questions in this direction have already been solved. Democratic principles take a special place in the building of a strong state.

I should also note that in the mid-1990s, the concept of the development of Azerbaijan was adopted. A special place in this concept is taken by issues of freedom and democratic development, because without building a democratic society it is impossible to ensure the sustainability of our success. So I want to reiterate that the Azerbaijani leadership has very strong political will in relation to the development of democracy. Thanks to the support of society, including the active participation of representatives of the media, we will achieve even greater success in this field.

At the same time, we need to build all policies so as to achieve the sustainable development of the country, since large forces are acting against Azerbaijan worldwide today. First and foremost, of course, the Armenian lobby is campaigning against Azerbaijan, engages in regular activities to blacken and tarnish our country, and creates a distorted view about Azerbaijan.

The 21st century is a century of information warfare. The presence of the Internet, of course, exacerbates this fight. We must be ready for this and inform the world community about our realities. The state undertakes the fundamental task here, of course. But representatives of the media should also try to inform the international community about our fair position, in particular, on the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It is necessary to create online resources in different languages. It is necessary to inform the world community of the historical truth about Nagorno-Karabakh. In this case, we can achieve even more impressive successes in the information war. In any case, Azerbaijan has been able to break the information blockade in recent years. In a number of cases, Azerbaijan was able to deal tangible blows to the Armenian lobby. But the struggle continues and will continue. Therefore, we must be ready for this.

You are probably also well aware that some foreign circles do not want to see our country develop successfully and conduct an independent policy. Some foreign circles are conducting a "black PR" campaign against Azerbaijan. In particular, we witnessed this on the eve of Eurovision.

A well-thought out, coordinated, deliberate and libellous campaign was conducted against Azerbaijan, which certainly caught our attention. For our part, we took the necessary measures to put an end to this. I believe that in this area, as in all areas, we need to use and did use not defensive principles but offensive tactics. I think we managed to protect the interests and image of our country.

However, it is also true that the ongoing processes in the world and the struggle for influence - overt and covert - cannot but affect Azerbaijan, of course. The importance of our country, its natural resources, our independent policy and faith in our own strength, of course, turn Azerbaijan into a very attractive country in this area. Over the past 10 years, continuous attempts have been made to influence Azerbaijan, put pressure on it and win it over. Media representatives learn about some questions and analyze some questions very well. There are, though limited, opportunities to carry out a correct analysis using information. However, many questions remain dark for society.

But I can say that this struggle continues, and the independent policy of Azerbaijan, in particular, its uncompromising position related to foreign policy, transportation of energy resources, internal policies and the Karabakh issue have set some circles in motion. In this case, the steps we take in connection with the development of our country cause concern in some circles. At the same time, different methods can and are being used - the "black PR" campaign and attempts to tarnish our country.

They are trying to present Azerbaijan as an undemocratic country, and sometimes they use it in connection with the elections, that is to say once every five years, as soon as there is an opportunity. Azerbaijani society is aware and should be aware of these realities. In this case, we should certainly be stronger to protect ourselves and our independent course.

The professionalism and responsibility of journalists and conveying accurate information are all very important questions.

Azerbaijani society must unite more closely economically, politically and in terms of public thought. I think that the media plays and can play a huge role here. First of all, I think that the main thing is that our local media should be free from external influence. Of course, we live in a democratic society, and in conditions of pluralism there may be different opinions and political views. Some of our media are still connected with political parties. This is a separate issue. I have my own thoughts on the matter. I do not want to talk about it in detail, but in any case, the experience of developed countries shows that strong media should be free from political influence. However, for the time being, this is the case. Of course, there are and should be a variety of opinions regarding the further development of our country and the national policy being conducted in the country. This is natural. But on one issue - the issue of the protecting our national interests, in my opinion, there should be a consensus as the further development of Azerbaijan depends on us.

The Azerbaijani people are masters of their own fate today and on the basis of our policy, the development of Azerbaijan is ensured. So first of all, if additional state support is needed to liberate our media from external influence, we are ready to do it.

Azerbaijan's problems should be discussed within the country. Any self-respecting society and country operate on this basis. Often we try to build on the experience of developed countries. This is also the case there. This is the case in several neighbouring countries. This must be the case in Azerbaijan. Internal problems, issues related to the political struggle and relations between the opposition and the government should be discussed within the country. When these issues go beyond our borders, an opinion is primarily formed about Azerbaijan, and they say, look, in this country they cannot sort out their relations. This is first and foremost. In addition, it provides the forces that do not want Azerbaijan to develop successfully with an additional lever and additional opportunities that are being used. We know that. We know what levers are being used to divert processes in Azerbaijan in another direction. Therefore, if the leading persons engaged in journalism show solidarity in this matter, I think it will be good for our society.

That's what I wanted to express my main thoughts about. We conducted an exchange of views on the development of journalism in previous meetings. The professionalism and responsibility of journalists and conveying accurate information are all very important questions. You know it better than anyone else. I know that these issues are regularly discussed in the Media Council. The Azerbaijani media must constantly evolve. In retrospect, we can see that in recent years Azerbaijani journalism has really come a long way. It is not just fine words, it is the truth. If you look through the newspaper of 15 years ago, you can see that they were dominated by slander and insults. Sometimes we see it today, but much less. Therefore, responsibility, professionalism and accurate information will certainly show the image of any media.

At the same time, the media, of course, should always have their say about problems existing in society. Ensuring of public interests also lies in the identification of shortcomings. In the media there is sufficient information about negative phenomena in Azerbaijan. I welcome this. In particular, the topics and investigations related to bureaucracy, corruption, bribery, arbitrariness and arrogance provide support to our common cause.

Issues related to national and spiritual values and the fact that some officials are ignoring these values - all this attracts attention. At the same time, the work of media organizations on these issues draws attention to them and perforce has a positive impact. Therefore, we must strive to identify and treat the wounds of society together. I think that this function of the media is also very important.

I hope that the number of adverse events will be reduced in the future due to the dynamic and comprehensive development of our country. In any case, we strive and must strive for this. Once again I want to say that we are building a modern state. We have all the possibilities for building a modern state. First of all, we must continue to demonstrate our political will, pursue an independent policy and apply in Azerbaijan the positive practice existing in the world. I do not see any problems about this. Azerbaijan should apply the most progressive experience appropriate to our conditions and national customs. Therefore, the experience of developed countries associated with democratic development and freedom of the media is very interesting and attractive for us. We use and will use this experience.

Once again I want to thank you for this award. I have been awarded this title for the second time. It is a great honour for me. In my life there have been many prizes and awards. But the prize of the Azerbaijani media takes a special place among them. As a friend of journalists, I shall continue to do everything possible to promote free journalism. I am a man loyal to friendship, and I think that our friendship will successfully continue. Thank you.

 

Closing speech by President Ilham Aliyev

- Thank you very much, dear friends! Thank you for your kind words about me. Several suggestions were made here. I would like to express my attitude to this. As for aptitude exams, I believe that it is a very correct proposal, and we must consider it because journalism is a special profession. The professionalism and abilities of future journalists cannot be determined only by tests. Therefore, if it is an aptitude exam in any form, I do not mind. See in what form it can be done.

In connection with the serials, Agil muallim expressed his opinion that the state supports television serials in Azerbaijan. It is true. As you know, the reason for this was that Azerbaijani TV channels showed mostly foreign serials. In many cases, these serials reflected the lifestyle and personal relationships in foreign countries. In fact, serials should be national in order to ensure the national interests of Azerbaijani citizens. Therefore, it was decided to temporarily stop showing foreign serials on Azerbaijani TV channels. Then the question arose that there are no possibilities to shoot local serials. That's why we made this decision. Today I see that although there are some difficulties, in any case, local serials are already causing interest, and there are several goals here. First of all, we inform viewers about our own themes. At the same time, the filming of serials, in particular with public funds, creates jobs, and it becomes an additional source of income for actors, directors, screenwriters and those who are engaged in this business. Of course, both movies and TV serials will continue to be shot in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani state will continue to provide its support for this area.

The speech by Shirmammad muallim caused a great interest in me. Indeed, it was somewhat unexpected. To be honest, I did not know that you communicated with my grandfather Aziz Aliyev. For me it is very interesting and dear memories. Indeed, in the 1950s, you met with my grandfather.

I want to express my respect for you. I greatly appreciate your activities. I remember that in the 1970s, you led the program "Political Review" on Azerbaijani television. I watched your programme with interest at the time. At the time, there was such a programme on Soviet television - "Political Review". It was led by Zorin and after him, by others, and here – by you. At that time, we had no information about foreign policy and events that took place in other countries, because there was little information about this in the papers. Therefore, we received information from this review. Since then, I have known you in absentia and I greatly appreciate your activities.

The Azerbaijani people have given a very high assessment of your work related to the activities of the Democratic Republic. It really is a glorious page in our history. The ADR was the first democratic republic in the Muslim world. The founders of the Republic have great services before the Azerbaijani people. Mammad Amin Rasulzada, Fatali Khan Khoyski, other leaders, their vision, courage and affection for the people are an example to every Azerbaijani. Therefore, their cherished memory is always a source of pride for us. There is great demand for works created as a result of studies on the theme of independence. Since today's Azerbaijan is a successor to the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, our main Independence Day holiday is 28 May, because the foundations of the Azerbaijani state were laid then.

But we know very well, and you know better than anyone else that the processes occurring around the country and even in the country at the time did not allow us to defend this independence. After only two years, we were robbed of our independence. This was one of the greatest deceptions of the Bolsheviks at the time, because we know that the Bolsheviks came to power with several key slogans: land to farmers, factories to workers and independence, autonomy and freedom to peoples. And they did not fulfill any of them. They took the last thing we had - our independence. However, history decreed that this happiness should befall Azerbaijan again. But it might not have befallen us. Since the Soviet Union, of course, was in a difficult position at that time, but it might not have collapsed. If it had not broken up at the time, it is possible that today, as they say, the country could still exist. In any case, there was also such a possibility. So it was a historic chance. The popular movement, the struggle for the independence of Azerbaijan and the struggle in some other post-Soviet countries, of course, led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Once again I want to say that we cannot miss this chance. Unfortunately, in the early years of our independence developments were alarming. And today our state independence is indestructible. Topics of independence should always be on the agenda and historical parallels should be drawn. There is a great need for that too. What are the advantages of independence - I always say that. Today Azerbaijan is stronger than ever in its history. Today's Azerbaijan is a country highly respected globally. Our art and sports have risen to the highest level in history. A few days ago I received the members of our chess team. The Azerbaijani chess team, which has already become a European champion, is a European champion again. In Soviet times, it was impossible even to imagine this. We had one or two chess players who were in 10th or 15th places in the chess rating. That is the advantage of independence - an independent policy, a strong economy, the atmosphere reigning in society and national consensus. All these are the benefits of our independence. I think that journalists will continue to have their say on these topics.

We can also consider the question about the situation of old-age journalists and give them government support. In what form it may be, it is up to you. We must consider this issue, because in Azerbaijan, in general, great attention is paid to the veterans who made their own contribution and did a lot in any area. This is what it should be. This is the basis of our society. Every society, including Azerbaijani society, has its own foundations and pillars. Among them, the attitude to the older generation, I believe, is in the foreground. This is not the case in all countries. In Azerbaijan, both trends in this field coming from history and orders show that our society can serve as an example in this area. Some time ago I visited a new home for the elderly and inquired. Of course, the conditions there were lovely like in a five-star hotel. I inquired and was informed that in Azerbaijan there are very few such homes for the elderly. Why? Because there is no need for them, since respect for the elderly has always been a pillar of our society. This is the case today. The supports of any society must be strong. Our national traditions and customs, national holidays, respect for the elderly and relations between fathers and children must always be protected, and more attention should be given to this in the globalizing world, since in many cases, globalization is presented as the principle of identification. This cannot be tolerated. We must cherish and keep our own national and religious customs and traditions, the future generation and the younger generation should be raised in the national spirit. I have repeatedly expressed my thoughts about it. Once again I want to say that, and I am sure you will all agree with it, young people should be raised in the national spirit, in the spirit of patriotism while respect for the older generation further enhances these wonderful feelings.

I would like to touch on other issues raised here and related to problems of the media. In connection with sales - I believe that here, of course, there is a need for serious adjustments. I can say that the initiative to bring new kiosks to Baku came from me, since our city is becoming prettier and is improving, and I saw that the old, dilapidated kiosks are not suitable for our city. Therefore, new kiosks were purchased at the expense of the state and began to operate. But after a while, visiting various parts of the city, I saw that these kiosks are turning into a sort of mini-markets, and people sell vegetables, fruits, meat, etc. around them. I gave a serious instruction to remove all that. From the inside the kiosk is so conveniently arranged that you can sell newspapers, chocolate, various objects – everything – there. But we should not turn the area around the kiosk into a market.

At the same time, I always saw that there were also newspapers there. But if the question is raised now that newspapers are not sold there, then I'll investigate it. If it is true, I will give an instruction to sell, first of all, newspapers in these kiosks without restrictions. Ali Hasanov informed me that, in some cases, newspaper are exhibited, but in limited quantities. Citizens cannot buy as many newspapers as they want. We will address this issue. There can be no restrictions here. In connection with the sale of newspapers there are not and should not be any restrictions.

I should also note that sometimes some international, in particular non-governmental organizations try to unreasonably criticize us, claiming that in Azerbaijan the policy on the media is wrong, the media are being stifled and the media have problems. I always say in response that in Azerbaijan there is free Internet and the number of Internet users exceeds 70 per cent of the country's population. Today the Azerbaijani state is extending broadband Internet to each city at public expense.

This project will be implemented by the state. I am confident that in the next few years, broadband Internet will be extended to each city. At the same time, there is Internet in villages too. On my instruction, during ministers' visits to the regions, proposals from the public are also analyzed. One was that a villager who came to the appointment said: "In our village, the Internet does not work very well, it is intermittent, I cannot work." That is to say the state undertook to do this job.

When there is free Internet, there can be no question of any restrictions. If someone bans the sale of newspapers or puts limitations in place, it is unbearable. This cannot be tolerated. Perhaps they will hear me now. And I will give you further instructions so that there are no restrictions.

Rashad also touched on the fact that sometimes the media are focusing their attention on negative issues. I also said this. It is true. This, as it were, is a trend - a trend that came from the West. The first news is news, which can cause only a negative reaction - an earthquake, or a car accident, loss of life. Of course, this does not have a positive impact on people's minds. The advantage of our society is that - and, one might say that the majority of visitors coming to Azerbaijan note it – there is a great atmosphere in society. When I receive foreign guests, they often tell me that the beauty and development of Baku certainly impresses them. But most of them admire the smiles on the faces and people in a good mood, because in many cities, we are faced with another picture. And I see it while abroad, you, too, go abroad and see it. Perhaps this is the advantage of our society. The positive processes in the country, improvements in the welfare of people in general, stability, peace and security - perhaps we, as they say, have become accustomed to all these factors. However, this is the case everywhere. But I'm not saying that for the development of positive trends in society all news should be entirely positive.

Of course, there are different kinds of news. However, in any case, a balance must be maintained here so that Azerbaijani society, as always, can be optimistic. I think that one of the factors that distinguish Azerbaijan from many countries is that every guest who arrives in Azerbaijan feels very comfortable.

Our people are very welcoming and tolerant. At the same time, public order is protected in Azerbaijan and security measures are at a high level. Compared with other countries, crime is very low. During the day, about 30-40 offences are committed throughout the country and most of them are domestic in nature. So, of course, I would not want to give any instruction to this effect, but I think it would be nice to maintain a balance between positive and, as they say, other news.

Our meeting fell on Sunday, but this is usual for my work schedule. For me, Sunday is a working day. Today I will have another meeting. I had one yesterday. Sometimes I spend weeks working on Sundays. Sometimes there is more time to take a rest. The kind of job presidents have does not fit into any schedule. Last Sunday I was in Kiev and then in Austria. In Baku there were guests. Yesterday, today and tomorrow. Life goes on. There is a lot of work. If we really want to achieve great success, then everyone should work actively. I am sure that every citizen enjoys seeing the results. In particular, when I see that there is a lovely atmosphere in the media community, it really makes me very happy. This is what it should be.

Once again I want to say that political views are different, and it's natural. The political struggle is and should be conducted. Of course, I would like this fight to be civilized. The latest presidential election and the subsequent period testify that political culture in Azerbaijan is growing.

Media representatives, representatives of the government and opposition should also resolve issues among themselves. We are all citizens of Azerbaijan. We all have one Motherland - Azerbaijan. We are all patriots and love our motherland. Perhaps, we may have different opinions regarding the development of our country. Someone may dislike someone. And this is natural. But around the main ideas, we should always be together. Today's meeting, I think, shows this. In Azerbaijan, there can be no discrimination associated with issues of media and other issues. This was demonstrated once again by the allocation of apartments to journalists. I was told that after I left that event, a draw was held openly and transparently. This is what it should be.

I believe that our meetings make a lot of sense. We meet. I cannot say that we meet often, but we meet regularly. I am sure that such meetings will continue. But there may be a problem here. In the future, if I continue to support the media and increase it, then it is possible that you will choose me as "a friend of journalists" for the third time. Once again, I thank you for this award. I wish you health and success. Thank you.