Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the 16th meeting of the council of heads of state news agencies of the CIS

25 february 2013, 17:00

- Welcome! I am very glad to see you here! I am very pleased that the meeting of the heads of state news agencies of the CIS is being held in Baku this time. I think that it will be successful and, of course, along with the issues that are of great interest, our guests will be able to see our city again.

In general, I believe that this format of cooperation is very positive, as it reflects the realities of the present-day world when relations between friendly countries should develop in all areas, including the field of information policy and information security. In today's world, these issues are becoming much more important than ever before. It is no coincidence that the issues of information security are discussed today as actively as those of energy security, food security and security as a whole. Baku has recently hosted the World Forum on Internet Governance, where issues of information security were high on the agenda. And, of course, these issues are of paramount importance for any state, especially in the present-day information era when information and communication technologies are entering every household.

Azerbaijan has covered a long road in this field. In the years of independence we have created all the conditions for the free activity of the media. There are hundreds of newspapers, dozens of news agencies and TV channels. Your Azerbaijani colleagues will probably speak in greater detail about what has been done in our country in recent years. But not the entire period of our independence was accompanied by reforms in this area. I must say that in the first years of independence there was censorship in Azerbaijan, which was abolished by the decision of President Heydar Aliyev. It was after this, I would say, historic decision for the country that Azerbaijan embarked on drastic media reforms. Today Azerbaijan has all the conditions for the free activity of the media, there is complete freedom of action, freedom of speech, freedom of expression and free internet, which I think is also one of the achievements. And besides the fact that there is a free Internet, I am also pleased that more than 70 per cent of our population are Internet users.

As a result of the State Program on the development of information and communication technologies, which is fully funded by the state, we will build broadband Internet lines to every city of Azerbaijan at the expense of the state in the next few years. And then we will probably count on the contribution of the private sector in taking broadband Internet to every residential settlement and every village. By doing that, I believe that we will resolve the most critical issue of access of any person living in this country to objective information, regardless of whether this person lives in a city or in a remote village. There are all the necessary prerequisites for that today. I believe that Azerbaijan's policy in this direction also reflects the essence of the developments unfolding in our country and is fully consistent with the latest international trends.

Of course, access to comprehensive information is an inalienable right of every citizen. And in this case, perhaps to an even greater extent, the issue of media responsibility for the accuracy and objectivity of information will be quite relevant. Unfortunately, as you will probably agree, this is not always the case. Sometimes information is presented in a distorted or lop-sided manner due to some political priorities, ideologies or political motives. There are many examples of that. I think that the events that attract global attention and the way they are presented by certain media outlets are clear evidence of what I am talking about. Therefore, our citizens need not only truthful and accurate, but also objective information from different sources. Information may be completely accurate, but it may be lop-sided, it can serve certain goals. Sometimes the media of some countries act as conductors and promoters of certain views. Under such circumstances, of course, access to full and comprehensive information is vitally important. The role of the media in the world and in society will only grow in the future. This is an objective process and, of course, great responsibility falls on the shoulders of those who bring this information to the public. In this regard, of course, the active cooperation among news agencies of friendly countries is of particular importance – in terms of information background, in terms of the objective coverage of realities and in terms of the exchange of experience and information. I think that this format which has been in existence for many years – the cooperation council of CIS news agencies – is fully consistent with these objectives.

Of course, in today's world it is necessary to respond more quickly to unfolding events and, of course, have very strong partnerships in order to be able to communicate the information that interests people in real time. We were all once part of the same country and historical links remain to the present day. We are also united by the Russian language in which we communicate with all our neighbors. Therefore, there are all the opportunities and conditions for more comprehensive access to information about what is happening in our friendly neighboring countries. So I think this should also be the subject of discussion and perhaps even some suggestions. For our part, we are ready to work in this direction in order to cover more fully what is happening in the CIS in Azerbaijan and to communicate our realities to our neighbors.

I must say that 2013 has been declared the Year of Information and Communication Technologies in Azerbaijan. This is a priority area for the development of Azerbaijan. This sector will enable us to follow even more actively the course towards modernization and diversification. The ICT sector covers several aspects. First of all, it is information, it is new technologies, it is business, because this sector is also very attractive for the business community. It is also modernization, information and knowledge. Earlier this year, at the beginning of this month, a very important event happened in the life of our country – on 8 February the first Azerbaijani telecommunications satellite "Azerspace-1" was launched and has already taken its place on the orbit. So Azerbaijan has joined the club of countries with space industry. Several years ago we established the state company "Azerkosmos" and are also counting on the development of this sector. Of course, we will not be complacent with the launch of the first satellite. We are currently working on the second and third Azerbaijani satellites to be launched in the next two to three years. So we have made some progress in this area.

Also, in the near future we will begin to set up a high-tech park, an industrial park, where we hope to bring together local and major foreign ICT companies in order to give an even greater impetus to the development of this sector. Just recently I signed a decree on the establishment of the ICT University in Azerbaijan so that we could train qualified professionals right in Azerbaijan. Because so far all the personnel, in particular, those engaged in the management of our satellite – the control center is located in Azerbaijan: in Baku and in Nakhchivan – most experts have been educated abroad. Therefore, I believe that the establishment of such a university in Azerbaijan will meet our strategic plans for the modernization of our country.

For us, the development of the ICT sector is also another opportunity for economic diversification. We have made great strides in this area too. We have managed to significantly reduce the economy's dependence on the oil and gas sector. In fact, the non-oil sector of the Azerbaijani economy registered growth of about 10 per cent last year, which happened specifically because of technology, innovation and active investment in the non-oil sector of the economy. Thus, as I have said, this area is one of our top priorities.

Going back to the beginning of my comments, I want to say again that in the field of information technology, information relations and cooperation in the field of journalism, we are completely open and there are very close contacts with our partners. First of all, I would like to mention our traditional ties with ITAR-TASS. Under the leadership of Vitaliy Nikitich Ignatenko and our fellow countryman Mikhail Solomonovich Gusman, ITAR-TASS has become a world-class news agency. And we are very happy that there are very strong links between our structures and ITAR-TASS. Also, we have very good contacts with all the CIS news agencies. I think that the meeting in Baku will also be very useful and important from all points of view – from the point of view of bolstering our contacts, strengthening our friendship, mutual understanding, mutual support and cooperation. I know that your meeting will soon begin. I don’t want to take too much time. I would like to welcome you all again and wish you successful work.