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 amd 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 refuse to self-censor. These reporters’ access to information is severely limited, with government agencies refusing to answer their questions. Directors of 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 laws have become increasingly repressive over the past 20 years. Many laws governing the sector violate the country’s international commitments on freedom of the press and of expression. 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 pressure, and blackmailing or corruption attempts, are thrown into prison on absurd pretences. For the past 20 years, no official or police officer has been sanctioned for hitting or insulting a journalist. As a rule, journalists are under official surveillance, and they cannot promise to protect their sources. The Baku regime tries to tame independent journalists in exile by pressuring their friends and family who remain in the country.