Media freedom under scrutiny: Radio Azadliq (RFE/RL) faces accusations of mistreatment and unjust practices

Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, lettering on the wall of the American station’s headquarters in Prag, Czechia. Source: geogif/shutterstock

Tensions at Radio Azadliq Service Surface in International Media

In recent days, the dissatisfaction of former employees of Radio Azadliq (the Azerbaijani service from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) has become a topic of discussion in both local and international media, as well as on social media platforms within the Azerbaijani segment.

Current employees of the outlet are also among those who are advocating for the highlighting of these grievances on platforms such as Meydan TV. According to them, despite voicing concerns about the sentiments expressed by those who have left the organization, no changes have been made in the treatment of the staff, and complaints directed to the leadership have been left unanswered. Consequently, several more individuals are reportedly considering leaving the radio station in the coming days.

Former colleagues of the radio station have taken to social media to voice their concerns, asserting that they have been subjected to bullying by individuals representing the leadership of the Azerbaijani division of the organization.

These concerns encompass a range of allegations. Both Prague and Baku bureaus’ employees have reported being subjected to undue pressure, unjust criticism, and, ultimately, being dismissed from their positions without prior notice or warning.

One of the allegations is related to the newly hired staff members. It is alleged that Mammadsherif Alekberov, who currently holds a leadership position in the Social Media Management (SMM) group, previously worked at Azerbaijani government-affiliated television channels and was involved in editing video materials related to wartime propaganda. Furthermore, the brother of this individual is believed to be connected to influential figures within the government.

Following the publication of the staff’s discontent, Radio Azadliq’s Azerbaijani service issued a statement expressing deep concern about baseless allegations that stain the reputation of their journalism and circulate on social media.

When presented with examples of treatment at other media organizations related to staff relations, the response often resembled, “Is it better there? Go work there!” – indicating a defensive attitude.

The statement also emphasizes the commitment to ethical and just journalism.

In response, former colleagues of the radio, including Ramin Deko, Islam Shikheli, Revan Seyfulla, Orxan Rustamzade, and Arzu Aliyeva, characterize the radio’s Azerbaijani service’s statement as “primitive and consisting of only two sentences.”

In a joint statement, they question how their allegations were assessed within a day and labeled as “baseless.”

These colleagues assert that their dissatisfaction lies with the figures representing the leadership of the Azerbaijani service of Radio Azadliq: “Our issues are with the service’s leader, Ilkin Mammadov; the section editor, Vusala Alibayli; and the chief editor, Zeynal Mammadli.”

According to them, serious dissatisfaction remains directed at these named managers:

“Employees are treated poorly, subjected to threats and ridicule. Those who protest face retaliatory measures, are dismissed from their jobs, or are placed in situations where they are forced to leave.”

In response to the allegations, Radio Azadliq’s Azerbaijani service issued a statement attempting to deflect attention away from the accusations by focusing on the limitations faced by the radio as a whole. However, these former colleagues assert that each of them, who worked in both Prague and Baku, experienced pressure from powerful structures.

The joint statement addresses several nuances of the alleged issues, including:

  • The use of inappropriate language by Ilkin Mammadov, who allegedly told colleagues they were “sleeping in the same bed” or “married.”
  • Unequal treatment regarding equipment provision, with some employees having equipment taken back without notice.
  • Selective distribution of equipment and different treatment when providing equipment to different employees.
  • Respond to examples from other media outlets regarding staff relations with dismissive answers.
  • Unequal distribution of leave rights, only offering benefits to the core team.
  • New work systems are being applied without consultation, leading to reduced productivity or decreased skills.
  • Reducing employees’ productivity and skills through unwarranted shifts in roles.
  • Appointing some employees to tasks unrelated to their expertise.
  • Responding to staff’s requests with punishment measures or dismissing their suggestions.
  • Assigning problem-free employees to work with “problematic colleagues” in Baku.
  • Attempting to conceal the limitations faced by the radio under the guise of responding to allegations.
  • Different responses are given when considering collaboration with other media organizations.
  • Ongoing mistreatment of staff in the Baku office.
  • Sending complaints to the management regarding the Prague office’s issues but receiving no significant response.
  • The possibility of facing a similar situation in Baku as faced by their colleagues in Prague.

These colleagues urge Radio Azadliq to conduct a transparent investigation into these allegations and demand that their claims be addressed and rectified.

They call for:

  1. An independent financial investigation into the Baku office’s activities over the last 8 years and a transparent inquiry into their claims.
  2. Investigations into allegations of mistreatment, bias, bullying, and favoritism towards both current and former employees in the Prague and Baku offices.
  3. Independent and transparent investigations with shared public results.

This collective group of journalists also calls upon defenders of democracy and free media organizations to pay attention to the raised issues and support their fellow journalists facing denigration, humiliation, and threats within the workplace.

Notably, Jeff Gedmin, the president of Radio Azadliq, has not yet responded to the incidents, despite attempts to contact him through various channels, including letters and inquiries.

The Swedish media outlet Blankspod published an article related to the situation without receiving a response from the radio station. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty informed them that their inquiry ended up in the spam folder.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the Council of Europe’s media freedom institution have responded to the unfolding situation and have demanded an impartial inquiry.

The escalating tensions and controversies within Radio Azadliq’s Azerbaijani service raise pertinent concerns about media freedom, the well-being of journalists, and the need for transparency and accountability within media organizations.

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