A recent review of proposed amendments to the Election Code in Azerbaijan has sparked varied perspectives, with an election expert characterizing the adjustments as reactionary. In contrast, a legal expert deems them to be technical.
According to a report, the proposed modification involves substituting the term “mass media” in the code with “media subjects.” The rationale behind this change, as stated in the project, is to align with the provisions of Presidential Decree No. 2089 issued on April 8, 2023. This decree instructs adapting laws and presidential acts in Azerbaijan to conform with the “Law on Media.”
However, concerns have arisen regarding the potential impact on independent media organizations that are not officially registered as media entities by the Media Development Agency.
Anar Mammadli, Chairman of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Education Center (EMDT), expressed apprehension about the potential negative repercussions on journalists’ ability to cover elections transparently. Mammadli emphasized, “Now a certain number of journalists will be able to report on the election. This, in itself, is a limitation of the right to obtain information and will lead to a new limitation regarding the openness and transparency of the elections.”
In contrast, media law expert Alasgar Mammadli views the changes as a technical adjustment rather than a substantive shift. He argues that the expiration of the Law “On Mass Media” necessitated the adoption of the Law “On Media,” resulting in the replacement of “mass media” with “media subjects.” Alasgar Mammadli contends that media organizations, whether registered or not, possess the right to cover elections until a court order halts their activities.
Regarding the compatibility of the proposed amendment with international norms, the legal expert clarified that restrictions on media activities are permissible only in specific contexts, such as state secrets or restricted facilities. He emphasized that all types of media organizations can observe the election process without requiring explicit permission.
Regarding the upcoming extraordinary presidential elections set for February 7, 2024 and the candidates in contention, it is noteworthy that the incumbent President, Ilham Aliyev, has held office for two decades and will take part in it again this year. Certain parties have declared their intention to boycott the electoral process due to alleged unfairness in the electoral process.
The proposed changes to the Election Code in Azerbaijan have triggered a debate on the potential implications for media coverage during elections, with differing opinions on whether the modifications are reactionary or merely technical. The discourse also encompasses concerns about the transparency of the electoral process and the status of independent media organizations.