Media of Azerbaijan

The media of Azerbaijan refers to mass media outlets based in the Republic of Azerbaijan. Television, magazines, and newspapers are all operated by both state-owned and for-profit corporations which depend on advertising, subscription, and other sales-related revenues.

The Constitution of Azerbaijan guarantees freedom of speech, but this is denied in practice. After several years of decline in press and media freedom, in 2014 the media environment in Azerbaijan deteriorated fast under a governmental campaign to silence any opposition and criticism, even while the country led the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (May–November 2014). Spurious legal charges and impunity in violence against journalists have remained the norm.[1] All foreign broadcasts are banned in the country.[2]


The process of democratization of the Soviet Union started with the policy of Glasnost, meaning openness or freedom of speech.[3]

Legislative framework

The legislative framework on freedom of speech and access to information include the Constitution of Azerbaijan, the Mass Media Law, and the Law on the Right to Obtain Information. Yet, the rights afforded by these legislative instruments are severely restricted in practice. For instance, since 2009 journalists are not allowed to film or photograph individuals without their consent, even at public events.[2]

The norms on access to information (as well as others) have been amended after 2012, following a RFE/RL series of reports on large-scale corruption involving the Aliyev family. The amendments allow for-profit companies to withhold information on their registration, ownership and structure, thus limiting journalists' ability to uncover corruption and identify the assets of politicians and public figures.[2]

Defamation remains a criminal offense in Azerbaijan, and may be punished with large fines and up to 3 years in jail. "Disseminating information that damages the honor and dignity of the president" is a criminal offense (Article 106 of the Constitution and Article 323 of the Criminal Code), punishable with up to two years of prison - which may rise to five if in conjunction with other criminal charges.[2] This has been decried as an excessive limitation on freedom of expression by international bodies.[1] Since 2013, defamation laws apply to online contents too.[2] The Azerbaijan Supreme Court has suggested that the norms on defamation are amended to be brought in line with ECHR standards, but this has not happened yet.[1]

The Law on Grants and the Law on NGOs, amended in 2014, limit the capacities of local NGOs - including media rights groups - to receive foreign funding.[2]

Other legislative measures - from hooliganism to the possession of drugs and weapons, treason, and tax evasion - are regularly used by authorities to punish and prevent critical reporting.[2]

Status and self-regulation of journalists

Most journalists in Azerbaijan can only work without employment contracts or job security, receiving only irregular wages. Critical journalists are at risk of physical attacks, judicial prosecution, political and economical pressures.[2]

Media outlets

Print and broadcast media in Azerbaijan are almost wholly under control of the ruling Aliyev family, eventually through friendly intermediaries.[4] Ownership opacity is backed by law. Azerbaijan hosts 9 national TV stations (of which a public service broadcaster and 3 more state-run channels), over 12 regional TV stations, 25 radio channels, over 30 daily newspapers. Opposition media manages to work on the perpetual brink of survival.[2]

There are 3500 publication titles formally registered in Azerbaijan. The vast majority of them are published in Azerbaijani. The remaining 130 are published in Russian (70), English (50) and other languages (Turkish, French, German, Arabic, Persian, Armenian, etc.).[5]

Registered daily newspapers are more than 30. The most widely read are the critical Yeni Musavat and Azadlıq papers.[2] Critical newspapers remain under political, judicial and economic pressures, and have been particularly hit by the removal of Qasid and Qaya distribution companies' kiosks from central Baku in 2012. In May 2014 Zerkalo gave up on print publications due to financial losses.[2]

Azerbaijani newspapers can be split into more serious-minded newspapers, usually referred to as broadsheets due to their large size, and sometimes known collectively as "the quality press".[6]

Radio broadcasting

As of 2014, Azerbaijan has 9 AM stations, 17 FM stations, and one shortwave station. Additionally, there are approximately 4,350,000 radios in existence. Primary network provider is the Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies of Azerbaijan (MCIT). According to MCIT, the FM radio penetration rate is 97% according to 2014 data.[7]

Television broadcasting

Main articles: Television in Azerbaijan and Category:Television stations in Azerbaijan

There are three state-owned television channels: AzTV, Idman TV and Medeniyyet TV. One public channel and 6 private channels: İctimai Television, ANS TV, Space TV, Lider TV, Azad Azerbaijan TV, Xazar TV and Region TV.

Azerbaijan has a total of 47 television channels, of which 4 are public television channels and 43 are private television channels of which 12 are national television channels and 31 regional television channels. According to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies of Azerbaijan (MCIT), the television penetration rate is 99% according to 2014 data.[7] The penetration rate of cable television in Azerbaijan totaled 28.1% of households in 2013, from a study by the State Statistical Committee of the Azerbaijan Republic. Almost 39% of the cable television subscriber base is concentrated in major cities. The penetration rate is 59.1% in the city of Baku.[8]

From 2010 to 2014, the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) produced Obyektiv TV, an online news channel with daily coverage on freedom of expression and human rights.[2]


Scene from the Azerbaijani film "In oil and millions kingdom", 1916
The first film studio in Baku established in the 1920s.

The film industry in Azerbaijan dates back to 1898. In fact, Azerbaijan was among the first countries involved in cinematography.[9] Therefore, it's not surprising that this apparatus soon showed up in Baku – at the start of the 20th century, this bay town on the Caspian was producing more than 50 percent of the world's supply of oil. Just like today, the oil industry attracted foreigners eager to invest and to work.[10]

In 1919, during the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, a documentary The Celebration of the Anniversary of Azerbaijani Independence was filmed on Azerbaijan's independence day, 28 May, and premiered in June 1919 at several theatres in Baku.[11] After the Soviet power was established in 1920, Nariman Narimanov, Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee of Azerbaijan, signed a decree nationalizing Azerbaijan's cinema. This also influenced the creation of Azerbaijani animation.[11]

In 1991, after Azerbaijan gained its independence from the Soviet Union, the first Baku International Film Festival East-West was held in Baku. In December 2000, the former President of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, signed a decree proclaiming 2 August to be the professional holiday of filmmakers of Azerbaijan. Today Azerbaijani filmmakers are again dealing with issues similar to those faced by cinematographers prior to the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1920. Once again, both choice of content and sponsorship of films are largely left up to the initiative of the filmmaker.[9]


The Azerbaijan economy has been markedly stronger in recent years and, not surprisingly, the country has been making progress in developing ICT sector. Nonetheless, it still faces problems. These include poor infrastructure and an immature telecom regulatory regime. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies of Azerbaijan (MCIT), as well as being an operator through its role in Aztelekom, is both a policy-maker and regulator.[7][12]


61% of the population of Azerbaijan had access to internet in 2014, although this is mainly concentrated in Baku and other cities. Social networks as Facebook and Twitter are common and are used to share independent informations and point of views.[2]

Media Organisations

Media agencies

The Law on Grants and the Law on NGOs, amended in 2014, limit the capacities of local NGOs - including media rights groups - to receive foreign funding.[2]

Azerbaijan's main media watchdogs were the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and the Media Rights Institute (MRI). They both ceased operations in August 2014, after being forecefully evicted from their premises by police forces. This was the latest action in a series of harassing moves by the Azerbaijani authorities, starting from the freeze of bank accounts up to allegations of unpaid taxes, fines, and criminal charges.[2] From 2010 to 2014, the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) produced Obyektiv TV, an online news channel with daily coverage on freedom of expression and human rights.[2]

The International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX), an international NGO working to reinforce independent media in Azerbaijan, ceased operations in September 2014 after its premises were raided, its equipment seized and its bank accounts frozen by the authorities.[2]

Regulatory authorities

The National Television and Radio Council (NTRC) is the media regulator of Azerbaijan. Its 9 members are appointed by the government, without limited terms (only 7 of them were active in 2014). The NTRC has been criticized for an opaque licensing process, biased in favour of state-owned broadcasters.[2]

Since 2009 the BBC, RFE/RL, and Voice of America are off air in Azerbaijan, since NTRC banned foreign broadcasters. In 2012 all foreign television shows were banned.[2]

Censorship and media freedom

Despite the existence of independent news outlets, journalists who criticize the government are often severely harassed, imprisoned, and even physically assaulted.[13] In the 2013-14 Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders, Azerbaijan ranked 160th out of an overall total of 180 nations.[14] Azerbaijan is ranked 'Not Free' by Freedom House in its annual Freedom of the Press survey with a score of 79 out of 100.[15] The three broadcasting stations BBC, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, which were the only ones that ensured political pluralism for its citizens, are banned in Azerbaijan since 2009.[16]

The authorities use a range of measures to restrict freedom of the media within the country. Opposition and independent media outlets and journalists have their access to print-houses and distribution networks limited, or can find themselves facing defamation charges and crippling fines and are subject to intimidation tactics, including imprisonment on fabricated charges.[17]

Azerbaijan has the biggest number of journalists imprisoned in Europe and Central Asia in 2015, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and is the 5th most censored country in the world, ahead of Iran and China.[18]

Most Azerbaijanis receive their information from mainstream television, which is unswervingly pro-government and under strict government control. According to a 2012 report of the NGO "Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS)" Azerbaijani citizens are unable to access objective and reliable news on human rights issues relevant to Azerbaijan and the population is under-informed about matters of public interest.[19]

During the last few years, three journalists were killed and several prosecuted in trials described as unfair by international human rights organizations.

Reporters Without Borders has called on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to firmly condemn Azerbaijan for tolerating escalating press freedom violations.[20]

Activists such as Sing For Democracy and Amnesty International brought up the issues of Azerbaijan's rights as it hosted the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, after the song Running Scared by duet Ell and Nikki won the 2011 contest (these activists described its title as ironic.)[21] The issues included harassment of journalists, and the organisations met with the EBU on 1 May 2012 to discuss the problems.[22]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, The Protection of media freedom in Europe.Background report prepared by Mr William Horsley, special representative for media freedom of the Association of European Journalists
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 Freedom House, Azerbaijan 2015 Press Freedom report
  3. Alexeyeva, Lyumila and Paul Goldberg The Thaw Generation: Coming of Age in the Post-Stalin Era Pennsylvania: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990.
  4. Kazimova, Arifa: "Media in Azerbaijan: The Ruling Family Dominates TV, the Opposition Has Some Papers" in the Caucasus Analytical Digest No. 25
  5. List of newspapers in Azerbaijan
  6. "Mətbuat Şurası "reket qəzetlər"in yeni siyahısını açıqadı - SİYAHI". (in Azerbaijani). Retrieved 8 August 2014.
  7. 1 2 3 Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies - Radio-TV yayımı (Azerbaijani)
  8. Telecompaper - Azerbaijan cable TV penetration reaches 28% in 2013
  9. 1 2 "Cinema in Azerbaijan: Pre-Soviet Era". "Azerbaijan International". Autumn 1997. Retrieved Autumn 1997. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  10. Celebrating 100 Years in Film, not 80 by Aydin Kazimzade. Azerbaijan International, Autumn 1997
  11. 1 2 "Azerbaijani cinema in 1920–1935: Silent films".
  12. Azerbaijan - Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Forecasts
  13. Azerbaijan: Media Freedoms in Grave Danger, Human Rights Watch, 3 May 2012, retrieved 6 August 2012, ...independent and opposition journalists in Azerbaijan are frequently subject to harassment, intimidation, and physical attacks.
  14. Press Freedom Index 2013/2014, Reporters Without Borders, January 2014, archived from the original on June 4, 2011, retrieved 6 March 2014
  15. Azerbaijan - Freedom House. Freedom House. Retrieved 4 August 2013
  16. Azerbaijan - Reporters Without Borders Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 22 February 2013
  17. 10 Most Censored Countries. CPJ. Retrieved 20 February 2013
  18. Committee to Protect Journalists
  19. "Semi-annual Azerbaijan freedom of expression report, January 01 – July 01, 2012" (PDF; 3,0 MB). Retrieved 21 February 2013
  20. "Reporters Without Borders". Archived from the original on November 27, 2006. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
  21. Amazing Azerbaijan - Documentary. Retrieved 4 August 2013
  22. EBU holds Workshop on Media Freedom in Azerbaijan. EBU. Retrieved 4 August 2013
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