Ismi Agha! OC Medi:a:
Protests took place in front of the Azerbaijani parliament after the adoption of the bill “On Media” in the first two readings. The bill has been criticized by journalists for fearing it would restrict freedom of the press and access to public information.
The bill has been long awaited since the beginning of this year, as President Ilham Ali set up an independent regulatory body, the Media Development Agency (MEDIA), which instructed him to draft the bill and submit it to the state within two months.
On December 10, the Parliamentary Legislative Committees of the Parliament of Azerbaijan և Human Rights և MEDIA met with the heads of many pro-government media outlets to acquaint them with the bill.
A few days later, the bill was leaked to several news agencies, and on December 14, the day of the first hearings, it was published on the parliament’s website.
The bill covers a wide range of regulations, including defining who can be a journalist, and a number of substantive restrictions on various grounds.
According to the bill, the government will create a centralized state register. The registration of journalists and media outlets is voluntary, but those who refuse to register will be deprived of the right to receive information from state bodies or to participate in state events or press conferences.
If passed, the law would restrict journalists from reporting on military emergencies, religious extremism, or prohibiting the release of material obtained through hidden cameras or audio recorders.
Many experts – independent journalists – have spoken out against the bill, urging the authorities to revise it.
“The state can not get all the media licenses,” Alasgar Mammadli, a media human rights activist, told the BBC Azerbaijani Service. “It is groundless.”
A group of journalists held two protests in front of the parliament, protesting against the proposed law and promising to continue the protests if the bill is passed.
The police also intervened in the protests, killing the posters from the protesters and removed them from the building.
Journalist Nargiz Absalamova was injured during the last protest rally on December 28, falling and breaking her leg as a result of police actions.
Azerbaijan is already one of the “leaders” in the world restricting media freedom. Reporters Without Borders ranks Azerbaijan 167th out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Media Freedom Index.
Translation by Zara Poghosyan