Two Azerbaijan journalists have made an application to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge an effective monopoly of control over the country’s broadcasting system. Yashar Agazade and Rasul Jafarov, represented by Gerry Facenna, have brought a case regarding the repeated refusal of the Azerbaijan authorities to grant a licence for an independent radio station.
The former Soviet republic controls most TV and radio outlets, while international broadcasters have been banned and nominally independent broadcasters are controlled by those close to the Government. The President also appoints all nine members of the broadcasting regulatory body, the National Television and Radio Council, whose responsibilities include granting broadcast licences.
Agazade and Jafarov argue that the refusal to grant licences to independent broadcasters not only denies their right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention but means that Azerbaijan is failing to ensure a pluralistic media landscape, as the Convention requires.
Freedom of speech is officially guaranteed by the constitution, although there is little public debate on political, economic and other vital issues. The matter has particular urgency because elections are due in 2013, and a favourable decision by the Court could force the government to make media reforms that would allow for more open debate.
Gerry Facenna is instructed by Finers Stephens Innocent, working with the not for profit organisation Media Legal Defence Initiative, which exists to help journalists and media outlets to defend their rights.