Is Azerbaijan Buying Positive Coverage of the European Games?

After refusing to admit the Guardian, Amnesty International, and others into Azerbaijan during the European Games, Azerbaijan has struggled to attract the positive foreign press it anticipated when the Games were first awarded.

After refusing to admit the

Guardian

, Amnesty International, and others into Azerbaijan during the European Games, the Caspian nation has struggled to attract the positive foreign press it anticipated when the Games were first awarded. However, a series of articles at the Brussels-based weekly newspaper and website


New Europe


appear to indicate that Baku may have turned to buying favorable coverage instead.

Since June 9,

New Europe

has been publishing official European Games press releases under the bylines “Baku European Games 2015” and “New Europe.” The press releases and a single unique article are posted with the unelaborated qualifier “

this article is part of the Baku 2015 European Games Knowledge Network of New Europe.”


New Europe’s

“Knowledge Network”

is comprised primarily of essays licensed from

Project Syndicate

and a series of articles sponsored or authored by private entities

.

There is


Energy Future



by Lukoil,


Connected Europe


by Huawei,


AT&T Europe’s Public Policy Blog


,

an open letter to Mikheil Saakashvili and Carl Bildt

by Georgian MPs labeled “advertorial,” and most recently, the

Baku 2015 European Games Knowledge Network

.

These series are by all appearances

native advertising

: media industry jargon for articles that are designed to look like normal news, but are in fact produced by or for a brand seeking to improve its public image. It is a lucrative form of revenue in the modern media environment – according to the


Wall Street Journal


, the average

Buzzfeed

native advertising campaign earns about $100,000.

Sites that depend on native advertising generally try to protect their journalistic credibility by ensuring sharp-eyed readers will not confuse native advertising with editorial content. Gawker Media blogs tag every non-editorial post “sponsored content.”

Quartz

has

a thousand-plus word explainer

on its advertising guidelines.

The Atlantic, Quartz’s

parent company,


caused a media firestorm

in the US after it published a native ad by the Church of Scientology that readers viewed as sullying the venerable magazine’s reputation.


New Europe

does not explicitly label any of its content native advertising, has no uniform format among corporate-branded posts and bylines, and has no publicly available policy on the matter. Although the reader can assume the content on

AT&T Europe’s Public Policy Blog

is paid for and written by AT&T Europe, it is unclear who is behind

Baku 2015 European Games Knowledge Network

, if it is not the European Games Organizing Committee itself.

When reached by phone at their Brussels office, New Europe declined to comment on the topics of native advertising or their relationship with the European Games Organizing Committee. Meydan TV was told to contact the website’s director, Alexandros Koronakis, who has not responded to multiple requests for comment or an emailed list of questions.

The series does include one piece of unique content by Ariti-Marina Alamanou,

New Europe

‘s Legal Affairs Editor, who has written only six articles in her seven years in the position

.

Alamanou, who does not have a working

New Europe

email address, also did not respond for requests for comment or an emailed list of questions.

The editorial,


European Games: Sports or Politics Competition?



is written in imperfect English and includes numerous grammatical errors. It primarily rehashes claims in Azerbaijani state media of a conspiracy of international NGOs bent on defaming and dominating Azerbaijan (led by the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, and “the foundation of Soros”) and explains, in great detail, the opinions of Ali Hasanov, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s chief aide for Public and Political Affairs, and other unnamed Azerbaijani officials on Azerbaijan’s international relations.

In

a recent interview

with

Buzzfeed

, Hasanov accused the US State Department of leading an international “anti-Azerbaijani campaign” that convinced most European leaders to boycott the European Games’ ceremonies. In

New Europe’s

editorial, Hasanov reiterates his belief that the goal of Western countries is to “turn Azerbaijan from its independent policy.”

The editorial also includes a lengthy, fabricated quotation attributed to the Spanish website

Larepublica.es

. The quotation, which is critical of Armenia and references international criticism of the Sochi and Beijing Olympics, does not appear anywhere in

La República’s

archives, the news site confirmed on Monday.

A supporting quotation attributed to an “official statement” by the European Union also could not be verified, and did not specify which EU agency purportedly issued the statement. Alamanou did not respond to requests for clarification.

The day after publication,

European Games: Sports or Politics Competition

was translated into Azeri and published in both languages by state-run and allied media, including

News.az

,

APA

, and

AzerNews

. Not one noted

New Europe’s

relationship with the Baku European Games.

Earlier this month, the same treatment was given to

a glowing editorial on the European Games in

The Hill



by Raoul Lowry Contreras. While

The Hill

noted that Contreras’ trip to Azerbaijan was paid for by Trend News Agency, a private Azerbaijani company, reprints by

all


other


Azeribaijani

media outlets omitted

The Hill

‘s qualification.

A recent

Foreign Policy


investigation

into Azerbaijan’s lobbying of the United States Congress unearthed a recent

FARA filing

by the Podesta Group stating the Washington-based lobbyist would “advise Azerbaijan on its online engagement” for the month of June for a fee of $10,000. At the time, analysts speculated the Podesta Group would be tasked with fighting back against the negative publicity the games were attracting in international media.

Ana səhifəNewsIs Azerbaijan Buying Positive Coverage of the European Games?