At the start of 2009, Azerbaijan enacted a ban blocking international radio stations from using local frequencies, raising fears of censorship and shifting international alliances.
The ban targets broadcasts by the British Broadcasting Corporation, as well as the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, according to the Moscow Times.
As of January 1, all Azerbaijan radio frequencies became government property and no foreign broadcasting licenses will be renewed.
Although foreign broadcasters will still be able to find an audience using satellite, Internet and cable technologies in Azerbaijan, the ban will eliminate the majority of the stations’ regular audience.
Kenan Aliyev, director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Azerbaijan, told the Christian Science Monitor, “If we lose FM, we lose 95 percent of our audience.”
While the government claims the ban is not politically motivated, critics say it will effectively stifle voices that oppose President Ilham Aliyev.
The U.S. State Department said it is “a serious setback to Azerbaijan’s freedom of speech and democratic process.””
Experts quoted in the Christian Science Monitor say the ban could indicate Azerbaijan’s interest in getting closer with Russia.
Charles Rice, from the International Center for Journalists, said that if the licenses for foreign broadcasters aren’t renewed, Azerbaijani citizens “will have almost no access to uncensored media.”
“Azeri Radio Curbs Raise Concerns”
The Moscow Times, December 4, 2008
“Azerbaijan threatens to muzzle independent radio”
The Christian Science Monitor, December 23, 2008
“Azerbaijani Police Detain Opposition Activists for Radio Protest”
Voice of America (U.S. Congress-funded), January 9, 2009
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Azerbaijan International – AZER.com