President Ilham Aliyev has wiped out any semblance of pluralism, and since 2014, he has sought ruthlessly to silence any remaining critics.
Virtually the entire media sector is under official control, and state-owned television is the most popular information source. No independent television or radio is transmitted from within the country, and all print newspapers with a critical stance have been shut down. Most independent news sites, such as Azadliq and Meydan TV, targeted by state censorship, are based abroad.
Authorities are trying to suppress the last of the still-independent media, as well as journalists who reject self-censorship. The latter’s access to information is restricted, with government agencies refusing to answer their questions. Tensions with neighbouring Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave provides an additional pretext for censoring the media. The heads of the media regulation agencies, as well as the journalists’ federation, are government appointees. The authorities use pro-government media to threaten critics with the publication of compromising personal information.
Media legislation has become increasingly repressive over the past 20 years and the law “on the media” that took effect in February 2022 legalises censorship. Several other laws affecting the media also violate the country’s international obligations with regard to freedom of expression and of the press. In addition, any social media user who criticises the government on platforms such as Facebook or YouTube faces severe penalties.
Collaboration with foreign donors has been prohibited since 2014. The government controls the advertising sector, so no independent outlet can operate in the country. Pro-government media, for their part, receive cash bonuses and official subsidies. The authorities don’t hesitate to bribe journalists who side with them with apartments or other material benefits.
Some taboos, especially concerning religion, pose obstacles to journalists. Outside the capital city of Baku, most women in the media cannot carry out their work freely. And media outlets are regularly pressured by criminal groups to not publish information about them. Criminals pay some outlets to polish their images, while individuals with no ties to journalism, and in some cases controlled by government representatives, use websites made to look like news sites to run criminal enterprises.
Journalists who resist harassment, blackmail or bribery attempts, are thrown into prison under absurd pretexts. For the past 20 years, no official or police officer has ever been sanctioned for hitting or insulting a journalist. Generally under surveillance by security forces, journalists cannot guarantee protection for their sources. In an attempt to bring journalists who have left the country to heel, the Baku regime harasses their relatives and friends who stayed behind, or directly threatens them in their place of exile.