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The freedom of speech and press is perfectly protected in our country

Interview with  Editor-in-Chie of Iki Sahil newspaper, member of the Board of Directors of the Press Council Vugar Rahimzade

Q: On the eve of the National Press Day, we would like you to highlight the history of the press in the country.

A: As a representative of the press I can say with great pride that considerable work has been done to ensure development of the free media in Azerbaijan. Our country embarked on the path toward democratic state building. Azerbaijan has been confidently moving forward on the path towards development. As one of the critical factors of democracy, development of the freedom of speech and press has been among key priorities. The freedom of press and speech, independent press is one of the essential requirements of democracy.

The process of building independent press was started by national leader Heydar Aliyev. In 1998 the national leader signed a Decree "On additional measures in ensuring the freedom of speech, thought and press in the Republic of Azerbaijan", which was considered a turning point the development of the press in the country. The Decree envisaged strengthening material and technical resources of the media, increasing government support of them, preserving the freedom of speech, thought and press, developing the ideas of political pluralism in Azerbaijan.

Q: In 2003 steps towards ensuring development of the free media were continued…

A: President Ilham Aliyev is successfully continuing the national leader`s policy of ensuring the freedom of speech and press in the country. Several years ago the Head of State signed Executive Orders to cancel the debts of the country`s newspapers to the Azerbaijan publishing house, confer honorary titles and awards upon journalists and provide financial support to the mass media.

In 2008 President Ilham Aliyev approved a State Conception of Government Support of Mass Media. In 2009 the Head of State signed a Decree to set up the State Fund for the Government Support for Development of Media under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Besides, on the occasion of the 135th anniversary of the founding of the press in Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev signed a number of Executive Orders and Decrees to provide financial support to the media, confer honorary titles and awards upon journalists, improve living standards and building new houses for media-related people. This year the Head of State ordered the construction of a 156-flat apartment block for journalists, whose inauguration he personally attended.

Taking all this into consideration, RUH Committee`s conferring “The Friend of Journalists” award upon President Ilham Aliyev is recognition of his attention to development of the media and press in the country.The freedom of speech and press is perfectly protected in our country.

Q: What can you say of the role of the media in the information struggle?

A: The government of Azerbaijan is determined to promote the global awareness of the truth of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which is the only and most painful problem for our country.

The 21st century is the age of information warfare. The Azerbaijani press certainly bears a great amount of responsibility in making the country`s realities known to the world community.

Particularly extensive work should be done in terms of the coverage of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in foreign media. Of course, this problem is sufficiently covered at home. But the main goal is to take this topic to foreign media.

Government and public institutions have taken important steps in this direction in recent years. Nongovernmental organizations have also been active in this area. Media workers are also accessing foreign media. We have to cover this topic even more broadly. The state is ready to provide its support. The Head of State expressed his confidence that using various projects and grants we have to further expand our activities in this direction. We should try to fully communicate the realities of Azerbaijan to foreign media. Today we have such a versatile tool as the internet. We need to make broader use of it because the realities of Azerbaijan should be communicated to the international community - in the public sphere, in the sphere of national and religious tolerance, in the area of economic and foreign policies.

Q: What is the main task facing the media in Azerbaijan?

A: As President Ilham Aliyev said, we must pay particular attention to the issue of independence. Although Azerbaijan is a young country, it is capable of protecting its national interests, and managed to occupy its place in the international world.

The head of state says that independence is not just a state attribute. Independence is an independent life, independent policy, and the protection of state and national interests.

Q: Protection of statehood is one of the major principles of the press…

A: The patriotism of journalists, I think, is also a very important issue. In general, Azerbaijani journalists are attached to their state, people and statehood. Regardless of political views, the interests of the state are mostly dominant. But there are also cases when personal, party or corporate interests come to the fore. This, of course, can’t be tolerated. Patriotism should be even stronger in our young independent state, and I constantly express my views on the matter.

I want to reiterate that this is not just a slogan and mere words. This is a necessity. Our young people should grow up in the spirit of patriotism, and journalists have a very large role to play in this. We have been living as an independent state, as a free people for about 22 years. It is our great happiness, a great asset. Our society must appreciate that.

Therefore, the patriotism of journalists is an issue of great importance. The principles of statehood should prevail. First of all, we should defend our state interests. Any steps that can damage the state are unacceptable. At the same time, the problems existing in society should be addressed within the country.

Q: If the press is the mirror of society, then it should express its opinion on the problems too…

A: The role of independent journalism in Azerbaijan is great. Journalists play a very large role in the formation of a democratic society in our country. I am sure that the freedom of speech and all other freedoms will continue to be guaranteed in Azerbaijan in the future. Azerbaijan is taking major steps to promote democracy. We have all the freedoms – the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly. The fight against corruption and bribery should be a nationwide cause. The state will pursue its policy, but the media and press should also be actively involved in this work. Journalists should not remain indifferent and notify the government about all the negative things on time.