Geneva, 2 May 2012 – How should governments ensure that the freedoms of expression and information take precedence over political or economic interests, and that people have free access to their chosen media? These questions were central to a conference today at the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) about media freedom in Azerbaijan, where the EBU will stage the 57th Eurovision Song Contest finals, on May 22, 24 and 26.
The conference brought together representatives of the Council of Europe, the Government of Azerbaijan, several EBU television and radio members, the EBU itself and various human rights and press organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Azerbaijan Media Center and Azerbaijan League of Independent Journalists (see separate list of participants).
During two plenary and three breakout sessions, the participants of the conference debated such topics as “independence of the media”, “the harassment, intimidation and arrest of journalists”, “free access to media of choice” and “responsibilities of the media and journalists”.
In closing, Mr Hasanov said his government would investigate fully a number of alleged cases of jailed and mistreated journalists, which were raised by various participants throughout the day. He also said the Azeri leadership was open to changing state legislation to reduce defamation to a civil, and not a criminal, offence.
EBU Director General Ingrid Deltenre, who chaired the conference, said, “The discussions took place in a very constructive and open atmosphere of mutual respect. All participants agreed that free and independent media, together with technological infrastructures and legislative frameworks that allow unrestricted, uncensored distribution of media content, are cornerstones of any democracy.”
At the same time, Ms Deltenre said, all parties recognized that media freedom is only applicable if the media also respect democratic principles and human rights. She said, “Media that foster hatred and distribute content of racist and discriminatory nature should not be granted such freedom.”
During the talks, participants expressed a desire to see the EBU and the Council of Europe stage a follow-up workshop in Baku in the latter half of 2012, principally for the benefit of Azeri journalists. Ingrid Deltenre said the EBU would gladly be instrumental in such an event, which would in principle focus on quality of journalism and professional best practices, as well as media independence.
Various other ideas were also tabled to push for better working conditions for journalists and greater media freedom in Azerbaijan, and the EBU, backed by the Council of Europe, has committed to the following:
• An EBU-led roadmap to turn the Azeri state broadcaster into a true public service entity
• Implementation of a modern, industry regulated code of professional conduct for journalists in Azerbaijan
• Intensive EBU training of Ictimai TV staff on strategic, editorial and management matters
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About the European Broadcasting Union (EBU)
The EBU serves 85 national media organizations in 56 countries in and around Europe. It represents its Members and promotes the values and distinctiveness of public service media in Europe and around the world. The Eurovision and Euroradio networks deliver news, sports, events and music to EBU Members and other media organizations. Services to Members range from legal advice, technical standardization and development to coproduction and exchange of quality European content. For more information about the EBU: www.ebu.ch and www.eurovision.net/