The role of the press in building trust and cooperation between the Azerbaijani and Armenian societies, the view of the Azerbaijani media space, its problems and ways of development were the subject of an interview with Turan by German Ambassador to Azerbaijan Wolfgang Manig.
Question: Mr. Ambassador, today the Azerbaijani and Armenian media have a significant impact on the public opinion of the two countries, which have just ended the war but have not yet signed a peace agreement. Does the German government have any ideas or projects to involve the media of both countries in the reconciliation process?
Answer: - We cooperate with civil society and the media in Azerbaijan, and our colleagues at the German embassy in Armenia also cooperate with the media and NGOs there.
We are working on a project aimed at increasing the responsibility of Azerbaijani journalists. The press must be independent and organize free discussions in order to find ways to reconcile. It would be very good and useful if the Armenian press also took part in it.
We hope to be able to implement this project this year. It is important that the representatives of the two countries meet and discuss these issues together.
Question: - You have been working in Azerbaijan for a year and a half. How do you assess the situation of freedom of speech and press in Azerbaijan? What do you think should be done to improve the situation?
Answer: - In countries like Azerbaijan, the financial independence of the press is a big problem. In addition, some political circles are trying to control the press, there is no free advertising market. In this situation, journalists become dependent on the government, making it difficult for them to operate as a free press. At the same time, journalism cannot develop as a business.
In a democracy, the government must create conditions for the financial independence of the press. Similar processes are taking place in Eastern European countries, where interest in the print media is declining and the activity of websites and social media is increasing.
The OSCE and the Council of Europe have institutions that support independent media in addressing these issues. Therefore, legislative restrictions that prevent such cooperation should be removed. The media and civil society must be able to work with foreign donors.
The government must take all these issues into account and ensure the financial independence of the media and civil society. In order to overcome the existing problems, it would be useful to organize discussions between the government and journalists, to use the experience of other countries. The situation in Azerbaijan is not uncommon, such problems arise in other countries, so there is enough international experience to solve them. We are ready to share our experience and help. For this, dialogue and goodwill are necessary to combat fake news, hostility and hostility.
Question: Don't you think that the existence of a free press depends more on the implementation of existing laws and, most importantly, on the political will of the government than on the issue of legislation? Can an independent press exist in an authoritarian regime?
Answer: - If there is an independent press, it means that there is no authoritarian regime. So, the press influences public opinion. The political system is a living organism, which can change depending on the processes and actions of citizens.
If we compare last year's parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan with the previous ones, it is not just a difference, but progress, I mean the activity of the population and the steps taken by the government. In this sense, social media plays a very big role.
The experience of many former USSR countries shows that these processes cannot be prevented. It is in the government's interest to take this into account and to understand that civil society can be an active contributor to many issues, including the fight against corruption, social justice and human rights. The press plays an extremely important role in all these issues.
If we want Azerbaijan to rise above the last places in the International Press Freedom Index, it is necessary to implement the above.