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Azerbaijan's Highest Court Considers Restrictive Media Amendments


An unauthorized photo of President Ilham Aliyev?

An unauthorized photo of President Ilham Aliyev?

The constitutional court of Azerbaijan is considering amendments that would ban the broadcast or publication of video, audio, or photographs of any person without his or her prior approval, except in yet-to-be defined special cases.

The proposed amendments have alarmed media law experts. One such observer, Alasgar Mammadli, said that so far, “there are no specific laws that would describe the cases in which a journalist is allowed to record or film a public official in a public place, without his her approval.”

Mammadli suggests one hypothetical case that illustrates the law's absurdity. If a journalist catches a member of parliament sleeping during proceedings -- a dereliction of duty the public should be informed of, he said -- the amendment would “require the journalist to wake the MP, ask his permission to shoot, wait for him to fall asleep again, and then push the record button.”

The newspaper “Bizim Yol” last week published pictures from the birthday party of a Moscow-based Azerbaijani oligarch, showing high-level Azerbaijani officials handing gifts worth thousands of dollars to the oligarch. Editor in chief Bahaddin Haziyev said that citizens have a right to know how much Azerbaijani officials spend on gifts, and to ask where the money comes from. “However, the [draft] amendment to the Constitution makes it illegal for us to do our jobs,” he said.

The legislation would even restrict the broadcast of a public figure's refusal to be interviewed. “I have never heard of a country that says you can’t record someone saying 'I don’t want to talk to you,'” said Patrick Butler of the Washington-based nonprofit International Center for Journalists. In the United States, Butler said, “we would certainly be able to record someone saying they don’t want to talk to us. We could continue to ask them questions and record their answers and refusal to talk to us. I think banning recording in public places without permission would severely restrict freedom of information.”

-- Kenan Aliyev

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