Provision of freedom of thought, speech and press in Azerbaijan has always been in the focus of attention of the state. Azerbaijan's media palette has been fully formed.
Ali Hasanov, the assistant to the Azerbaijani President for Public and Political Affairs, Head of the Department for Socio-Political Affairs of the Presidential Administration, made the remark addressing a roundtable discussion on the joint media project of the European Union and the Council of Europe on "Freedom of expression and freedom of media" in Baku on May 31.
The conference provided a good platform for open discussions on how to improve national legislation concerning defamation and journalistic practice in the country.
Hasanov stated that a large number of media outlets freely operate in the country: “Because it is very easy to open press agency in Azerbaijan. Only implementation of necessary works is required. Azerbaijan closely co-operates with the OSCE and Council of Europe to develop democracy in the country”.
After Azerbaijan gained its state independence, ensuring the freedom of expression and media, creation of independent media outlets has always been in the limelight of the state as one of the main directions of creating a civil society and democratization process, according to Hasanov.
He stated that broad public debates were organized regarding draft law 'On defamation'.
The Presidential Aide said that Azerbaijan's 1995 Constitution reflects the relevant norms, adding that the censorship was abolished in the country in 1998 in accordance with the decree of national leader Heydar Aliyev.
Hasanov pointed out that the legislative framework was improved and brought in line with the international standards in order to ensure the freedom of media.
Today, more than 50 television and radio stations, hundreds of newspapers, magazines, news agencies, e-resources, media organizations and broadcasting centers are operating in the country.
"Azerbaijan's law ensures everyone's right to freely search, receive and spread information," the top official added.
Hasanov pointed out that Azerbaijan closely cooperates with the OSCE and the Council of Europe in developing the democratic norms and building a civil society.
The joint project of the European Union and the Council of Europe on "Freedom of expression and freedom of media" holds a special place, he said, adding that the draft laws "On defamation" were worked out as an initiative in 2005, 2011 and 2013.
Hasanov said that a one-time financial aid was allocated to editorial offices of newspapers and news agencies and measures were taken to strengthen the social protection of journalists in accordance with the orders and decrees of Azerbaijan's president.
The "Concept for State support for the development of media in Azerbaijan" was worked out in 2008 at the initiative of Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and the State Fund for Support of Mass Media Development under the President of Azerbaijan was created in 2009, said the president's aide.
The top official recalled that in 2009, President Aliyev said it is inexpedient to hold the media criminally liable for the journalistic activities and defamation cases.
Meanwhile, removing the relevant articles from the Criminal Code deprives the citizens who are not involved in journalistic activities of the opportunity to protect their rights, honor and dignity, said the top official.
"Those articles still remain in the legislation of the majority of the EU member states, including the leading countries," Hasanov reminded, adding that when coming to their non-application, there is a similar situation in Azerbaijan as well.
The top official pointed out that on December 27, 2011, Azerbaijan's president approved the National Action Program to Raise Effectiveness of the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms in Azerbaijan and that program included a paragraph on adopting the law "On defamation".
The Press Council declared 2010 the Year of Defamation in Azerbaijan, journalism organizations put forward various initiatives regarding the law "On defamation" and draft laws were worked out with OSCE's support and submitted to Azerbaijan's parliament, he added.
"Although in 2013, Azerbaijan developed a relevant draft law and submitted to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe for examination, it became impossible to adopt the law due to the disagreements on a number of issues," said Hasanov.
Adoption of the law "On defamation" in Azerbaijan is not a finished issue, he said, adding that consistent work was carried out on this project.
Delivering a speech at the event, the head of the Council of Europe's Office in Baku, Dragana Filipovic, said that her organization promotes media pluralism in all CoE member-states, including Azerbaijan.
Reminding that the CoE cooperates with the European Union in this regard, she noted that the project ‘Freedom of expression and freedom of media’ carried out in Azerbaijan is also directed at this.
She stressed that the aim of the Defamation Law is to support the freedom of expression.
Filipovic further reminded that CoE Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland called on all 47 member states of the organization to pass this law: “After Azerbaijan gained independence, the state improved legislation on media freedom; however it still has criminal liability for defamation. The CoE Committee of Ministers has urged member states to review legislation with regard to freedom of media,” she said.
Patrick Penninckx, who heads the Department Information Society at Council of Europe, stressed that the EU is trying to support the freedom of expression through training of journalists under the project ‘Freedom of expression and freedom of media’.
“The aim is to raise awareness about the rights and responsibilities of journalists. Recently, we have organized the visit of 15 journalists to the Council of Europe,” he added.
He said that the Defamation Law should be applied in exceptional cases. “High-ranking officials should be more tolerant of criticism. There shall be no restrictions on open discussion of political issues. Journalists and the media should not exceed the limits in respect of human rights and reputation, the rules of ethical journalism must be followed. We should not be engaged in any defamation legislation. These points should be removed from both the Criminal Code and the Civil Code. "
Azerbaijani Press Council Chairman Aflatun Amashov, for his part, underlined that freedom of expression and freedom of media is well ensured in the country.
Noting that journalists are not arrested in Azerbaijan because of the expressed opinions, he further added that democracy does not mean abuse of the freedom of expression.
Follow us on Twitter @AzerNewsAz