Friday, November 28, 2014


Azerbaijan

Baku Doles Out Apartments To Journalists

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev meets with journalists at the inauguration ceremony for the new apartment building in Baku.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev meets with journalists at the inauguration ceremony for the new apartment building in Baku.

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By Arifa Kazimova, Turxan Karimov and Deana Kjuka
Frequently criticized for its treatment of reporters and its crackdown on free media, Azerbaijan has thought of a way to give back to its journalists -- by housing 155 of them in one apartment block.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev inaugurated the Baku building on July 22 -- National Press Day -- in a move reminiscent of the Soviet-era practice of awarding apartments to writers and other cultural figures.

In a speech at the inauguration ceremony, Aliyev was full of praise for freedom of the press in his country, which Reporters Without Borders ranks 156th on a list documenting freedom of the press in 179 countries.

A sign on the building -- located in the Bibiheybat settlement -- quotes Aliyev: "It’s a great honor to be a friend of journalists."

In his speech, Aliyev said the housing project shows there is no discrimination in any sphere in Azerbaijan.

"Internet journalism is developing in Azerbaijan as in the world. The state carries out programs on the proliferation of the Internet. So we can say that freedom of speech has been fully ensured," he said.

'What's Free Media?'

Many independent journalists, however, would probably be reluctant to label Aliyev as a "friend." Earlier this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists called on Azerbaijan to halt its crackdown on the press.

According to the watchdog, imprisoned journalists such as newspaper editor Hilal Mamedov are serving time on politicized charges.

A sign on the apartment building -- located in the Bibiheybat settlement of Baku -- quotes President Ilham Aliyev as saying: "It’s a great honor to be a friend of journalists."
A sign on the apartment building -- located in the Bibiheybat settlement of Baku -- quotes President Ilham Aliyev as saying: "It’s a great honor to be a friend of journalists."
Just last month, the Azerbaijani president signed into law a bill that criminalizes online defamation. The move was criticized by media freedom groups who worry that the law could be used to restrict online dissent and provide obstacles for independent journalists ahead of the country's presidential election in October.

Vuqar Safarli of the state-run Fund of Mass Media Development, which underwrote the apartment project, noted that independent journalists were also awarded apartments.


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Independent journalists are often harassed and attacked for their work in Azerbaijan. Many have questioned whether the apartment-granting largesse is a government attempt to bribe journalists.

"What's free media? Free media must have some independence from all of the organizations which they cover, including the government," Qulu Maharramli, a media expert and professor at Baku State University's Journalism Department, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service. "The main mission of journalism is to facilitate public oversight of the government. How can you criticize the government if you receive an apartment from them? This is why I think it is better to quit than to look for arguments to justify the receiving of apartments from the government."

More Transparency Urged

In addition, not all journalists were happy with the process by which the apartments were awarded.

Roya Rafiyeva, from the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that her editors were asked by the government's Press Council to provide a list of journalists who needed apartments.

Rafiyeva said she was told that because of her short employment history at the newspaper -- she has worked there for four years -- she wasn’t eligible. The newspaper only considered those who had worked for the publication for at least 10 years. She called for a more transparent process in the future, noting that some people who were already owners of apartments were given an apartment anyway.

Written by Deana Kjuka, based on reporting by Arifa Kazimova and Turxan Karimov of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Elnur Aslanov from: Baku
July 25, 2013 14:50
Dear RFE/RL,

I would like to welcome news coverage of the opening ceremony of a new residential building for journalists on the occasion of the 138th anniversary of the National Press Day in Azerbaijan, provided by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). However, I object the tone of your report – your take on this event is unacceptable. You implied, that this was “a move reminiscent of the Soviet-era practice of awarding apartments to writers and other cultural figures,” while the title of the article on a front page stated “Beneficence or Bribery?”

Such approach is biased yet, unfortunately, predictable. RFE/RL failed to mention in this coverage, that this residential building for journalists was built as a result of the meeting on July 22, 2010, when board members of the National Press Council met with the President Aliyev and raised some issues regarding social conditions of journalists. Instead, you declared, that “apartment-granting largesse is a government attempt to bribe journalists.”

I would like to state, that in Azerbaijan, where citizens pay taxes and vote in their leaders, the government is obliged and does everything possible to take a good care of every single one of its citizens. But, somehow, RFE/RL did not want to see, that by providing housing to the journalists, Azerbaijani government just follows this simple logic and rules.

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States once said: “Man is not made for the State, but the State for man, and it derives its powers from the consent of the governed.”

Azerbaijan takes care of its citizens in any way possible – it can be a first residential building for a journalists or construction of a 77 new settlements, with new houses, educational, healthcare, communication and cultural facilities, that were build all around the country with an intent to improve social and housing conditions of almost 150 thousand our compatriots out of more, than one million refugees and IDPs, currently residing in Azerbaijan.

It does not surprise us, that RFE/RL almost never mention the priority problem for the Azerbaijan – occupation of 17 000 sq. km (10,563 sq. miles) – nearly 20% of Azerbaijan as a result of military aggression from Armenia. Just like your organization does not like to talk about ethnic cleansing on internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan by Armenian armed forces, as well as massive human rights violations of Azerbaijani citizens of Azerbaijani, Armenian and other nationalities. Looks like the faith of Azerbaijani citizens, as well as the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, the longest - standing conflicts in the former Soviet Union and a fundamental security threat to the South Caucasus and, sequentially, to the Europe - is not on your priority list.

(continued...)
In Response

by: Jonathan from: Toronto, Canada
July 25, 2013 21:47
Mr. Aslanov, there is a saying in English: "if the shoe fits". Before you accuse RFE/RL of "unacceptable" reporting, you should ask yourself why 2013 Press Freedom index has ranked Azerbaijan at the bottom, 156th out of 179 countries.

The fact remains that Azerbaijan is a single-family dictatorship where official line must be abided by or (literally) else!

You can ostensibly accuse Radio Free Europe of being unfair for purportedly "not mentioning Armenian aggression", which has nothing to do with the subject and it is a poor attempt on your part to divert the issue. If you want to talk about ethnic cleansing then it would be fair for RFE to start with the Azerbaijani massacres and extensive ethnic cleansing of peaceful Armenian citizens from Azerbaijan which triggered the war in the first place in 1988.

The least your government can do is at least close the gap with your adversary, Armenia, which has ranked 74th in the above mentioned freedom index. Permit free association, and free political discourse which Armenia has excelled markedly in comparison.

Oh, and finally, stop jailing all those brave Azerbaijanis who dare to challenge the current despotic leadership you so passionately are paid to defend!!!
In Response

by: journalist from: without home
July 25, 2013 23:26
Elnur? why do not you offer one of those apartments to the president of RFE/RL or at least to the journalist who wrote this article? You never know.....if it works, next time, we would all be talking about great achievements of Ilham Aliyev and have pictures of Heydar Aliyev all over the RFE/RL website

by: Elnur Aslanov from: Baku
July 25, 2013 14:51
(continued...)

Instead, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty speculates, that there is a lack in media freedom and existing political repressions in Azerbaijan. However, there is no state censorship, no media restrictions and with more than 50 political parties Azerbaijani citizens have the opportunity to participate in the political life of the country.

We have more, than 3 000 newspapers in print with different political, social and economic agenda. And while RFE/RL is trying to dramatize the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom in Azerbaijan, we enjoy newest addition to a modern political life of our country, such as online political activism. With dozens oppositional news outlets, tens internet-based television streaming different ideas and political agenda, this newest addition is becoming a part of a daily routine for an average Azerbaijani and is taking political participation of a citizens to the next level.

The reason for this is the efforts of an Azerbaijani government to ensure the widest possible outreach that materialized through the special pricing and government support – we have the lowest prices on Internet in the region, they make approximately 2% of average salary in Azerbaijan. Also, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report, Azerbaijan ranked 20th for affordability of ICT services among 144 countries of the world.

Our country may spend some part of a profit from the export of carbohydrates, or “oil dollars” how some media outlets coined that, on this effort. But it is our belief, that access to information is essential to the health of democracy, to the health of the state. Main reason for that is because Azerbaijani government wants to make sure, that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation.

The press is often called the fourth branch of government (or “fourth estate”). That’s because it monitors the political process and helps to further develop the democracy. Azerbaijani society appreciate the work of journalists, while enjoying freedom of expression and political pluralism – and this is testified by the action taken to improve the living conditions of journalists and to solve their social problems.

We do aware, that as it goes with all countries, Azerbaijan has some minor problems. We take it normal to be criticized. However, we think that the criticism should not be biased and unfair. A selective approach should not be applied to nations. Only a fair criticism can serve the co-operation and allow overcoming various threats and challenges.

Best regards,
Elnur Aslanov
Chief of the Political Analyses and Information Department,
Office of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan
In Response

by: Sahib from: Baku
July 25, 2013 22:51
Elnur, write whatever you want but please do not try to quote from Thomas Jefferson to justify state sponsored corruption to control the media! It is an insult to Mr. Jefferson's memory trying to validate corruption and arrest and torture of journalists, and 11 young educated Nida activists by quoting from him! Mr. Jefferson did fight for freedom! Please, quote from Heydar Aliyev - your so-called national leader who provided an opportunity for you to be able to drive expensive cars and live luxury live style while millions of Azerbaijani citizens live in poverty and whose dignity insulted everyday by corrupt government officials!
If you ever wondered why RFERL is biased towards Azerbaijan, just remember when the head of the radio visited Azerbaijan last time no government official was there to meet him. What he wanted was to try to protect Khadija Ismailova, RFERL journalist, whose bedroom was bugged by the members of the secret service from the order from your president’s administration!
Before trying to influence others, try to change yourself and the way your government operates!

by: John from: Canada
July 25, 2013 18:33
Very ironic that the Baku building for regime-friendly reporters is indeed very reminiscent of both Soviet era architecture and of Soviet-era practice of awarding apartments to loyalists.

In fact, it is SO reminiscent of Stalin's Moscow Show Trials, where Uncle Joe's regime could just show up to take hundreds out of the now-famous Дом на набережной [House on the Embankment] - to shoot them, to Gulag many, exile some and put their children in orphanages.

Maybe Aliyev has similar ideas??
In Response

by: Jack from: Canada
July 25, 2013 22:54
no Alive is a new style dictator! he has learned from experience of western educated people like Elnur! In fact, many of those who received apartment were from opposition media! So, he just bribes everyone to ensure to remain in power.

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